Having an abundance of centers is the least of problems for Nashville Predators head coach Barry Trotz and GM David Poile. There are some teams around the NHL that after their top two lines have very untested talent up the middle to enter the 2013-2014 season. The wing situation on the Predators' current roster has been shored up a bit with the signings of Viktor Stalberg and Eric Nystrom, but there are still question marks as to how the Opening Night lineup will look.
According to the roster provided from nhl.com, the Predators have three options at right wing:
- Patric Hornqvist (one of the Predators best offensive options)
- Zach Budish (zero NHL experience)
- Miikka Salomaki (zero NHL experience and shoots left)
However, NHL.com's listings are often inaccurate, and players such as Stalberg, Nystrom, Matt Hendricks and Nick Spaling have all played a significant amount of time at right wing in recent years.
There are six left wingers on the roster each having NHL experience except for Brendan Leipsic. Colin Wilson will presumably on the wing, a position where Trotz has kept him the vast majority of time in previous seasons. Stalberg and Gabriel Bourque are locks to be on the opening night roster, Rich Clune and Eric Nystrom are battling for the grit/depth/4th line position, and we're not quite sure yet where Taylor Beck fits in.
The real question comes down to who can go from center to help the right wing:
Fisher is a mainstay at center due to his face-off prowess and his size allows him to be most effective from the pivot. Filip Forsberg and Craig Smith are intriguing options for the right wing. Smith shows speed and willingness to take shots and being right-handed always helps when playing on that side. Smith found immediate chemistry working on the right wing at the World Championships with Paul Stastny playing center.
While usually listed as a center, Forsberg is still learning the North American game and making that transition on the wing could help him make the best use of his puck handling skills. His ability to snatch the puck away from opposing forwards will help the transition game and control of neutral ice, something the Predators have been lacking for a long time. This would allow Forsberg to setup the trailing center or take the puck in deep and set up the man advantage, instead of the oft-used dump-and-chase, bringing the kind of offensive output the Predators so desperately need.
Taking all this information into consideration, the Predators lines under the careful lens of Trotz may look something like this:
The angles from a speed and shooting point of view are heavily stacked in favor of these lineups. The experience runs straight down the middle while the younger/hungrier/faster wingers are primed to move the puck into the zone and create mismatches for the opposing squad. Each line possesses a defensive/offensive player (typically the center) as a safety valve should the top lines of the opponent start pushing back into the Predators zone. These centers are key to anchoring the line and producing results pushing the play into the offensive zone, trailing the wingers to set up shop in the slot and most importantly winning key offensive/defensive zone faceoffs. Aside from Fisher (48.8%), every other center listed above was above 50% in faceoff wins:
Gaustad - 59.7%
Hendricks - 56.8%
Cullen - 54.7%
Legwand - 50.2%
Nashville was ranked 18th in FO% last season averaging 49.7%. With these centers intact, based on last years numbers, the Predators stand to average 54.04% on the dot (which would have been second in the NHL behind Boston). Control of the puck in the offensive and defensive zone proves to be a major factor in winning games and succeeding in the playoffs. For example, eight of the top ten teams leading the FO% category made the playoffs, the number one team being Boston who went to the Stanley Cup final.
This is one of many combinations that Trotz may use for training camp or the regular season. We are interested in what you OTF'ers want to see in the forth-coming training camp/season and how an overflowing abundance of centers can and will help shape the 2013-2014 Nashville Predators.