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Nashville Predators 2015-2016 Season Preview: The Forwards Part II

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The top-six is pretty much set in stone, but there are still small questions facing each of the forwards on it.

Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Part II of our look at the Nashville Predators forwards. For Part I, click here.

Mike Fisher

After suffering a serious injury to his Achilles tendon last summer, Fisher's season was rightfully shrouded in doubts. The timetable for the injury wasn't good, and having to miss so many games rehabbing sounded daunting to an aging forward.

Needless to say, Fisher and the Preds pretty much got the best case scenario. Not only did he come back as soon as expected, but gave a much needed boost to the power play and penalty kill, as well as put up his expected amount of points.

Nashville is going to be leaning on Fisher hard this year, which is both good and bad. He's still a reliable forward that contributes to both special teams, adds value in the locker room, and plays with a bit of physicality. Yet, he just turned 35, so there are still rightful questions about whether he'll still be able to produce at a 40-point clip. (He also got a pay raise.) Thankfully there now seem to be a few other forwards ready to score as well, assuming he doesn't drag down his line with some unforeseen talent tank. (Unlikely.)

Make no mistake: Fisher is still valuable and important to this team, even if their current center depth isn't exactly what many would want.

Colin Wilson

Nashville's Divisive Son returns, now with a brand new 4-year contract barely shy of $4 million a season.

Wilson had the best season of his NHL career last year, and for 3/4 of the season he was one of the best forwards on the team. No one, other than Ryan Ellis, brought their teammates possession numbers up as much as Wilson did when he was on the ice. Even though he got off to a bit of a slow start, the writing was on the wall for a breakout.

Of course, the black mark on his season was the ridiculous scoring slump he went through in his last 20 games or so. Hell, it wasn't even a slump... Wilson was broken. He only had nine points from February 1st until the end of the season. At some point, that strays out of team struggles and into personal ones. That's exactly what he's been known for throughout his career so far, unfortunately. Flashes of brilliance followed by stretches of invisibility.

He did a bit of rectification during the postseason when he scored Nashville's first goal of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, followed by lighting the Chicago Blackhawks up for four-straight power play goals. Just remember he got butchered the rest of the series, posting some of the worst possession stats on the team. Very un-Wilson like, but small sample size and all.

Wilson isn't playing for a contract this year, but has a bigger price tag to live up to. He'll predictably be one of the analytic darlings on the team, but how that translates to the scoresheet is a different matter. Expect him to be in the 40-point area. Anything more is gravy, anything less is disappointing.

Craig Smith

Smith has basically become a guy you can basically set your watch by. He'll nab you somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 points (give or take), by scoring around 20+ goals. And more than half the league doesn't even know who he is.

He'll always be overshadowed on the ice buy the likes of Filip Forsberg and James Neal, but Smith provides an excellent secondary scoring threat when those guys are on the bench. He also has the ability to fill in on the first line, as he did for much of the season in 2015.

Beyond that, there isn't much to say about the Honey Badger. Pray he stays healthy and doesn't come down with a case of Stone Hands.

Mike Ribeiro

We're pretty sure that Ribeiro can be productive next year, and the team better hope so. Nashville made a very controversial move in re-signing him, and the 35-year-old career 2C is going to be tasked with setting up the Preds' main offensive weapons. That's a lot of eggs in one basket, especially when there's no backup plan at the moment.

James Neal

It's pretty incredible to think that Neal was acquired to be an elite sniper, and he wasn't even the biggest threat on the ice last year.

It was a foregone conclusion that the former Penguin was not going to reach the same type of point totals away from Evgeni Malkin and the rest of the Pittsburgh offense. It was just a matter of how much of a drop off there was going to be.

Well, 37 points in a season doesn't exactly scream "high scoring winger." What happened? Missing 15 games to injury didn't help, but possibly the biggest problem was Nashville's struggle on the power play. Neal had his worst 5v4 season in his career, only scoring four points (three of those goals) on the man advantage.

He got significantly fewer shots and shot attempts in, and finished the year with only 1.32 P/60 5v4 minutes. Contrast that with 6.38, 5.76 and 4.96 P/60 the last three years. Again, Nashville's power play unit isn't as good as Pittsburgh's, but that's alarming. He had his struggles at even strength as well, though it wasn't nearly as pronounced.

Neal did have a tendency (as all scorers do) to disappear for multiple games at a time, though when he was on point he was terrorizing the other teams.

Whether or not you label last year as a disappointment, the team will certainly expect more out of him in 2016. He has too much skill to go to waste, so If he doesn't have a better season (and challenge Forsberg for the team lead in goals), that will, in fact, be disappointing..

Filip Forsberg

The Swedish rookie sensation completely shattered expectations last year when he broke out for an impressive 26 goals and 63 points. Forsberg broke Predators records, and at just 20 years old paced the team in both of the previous stats. He seemed a lock for the Calder trophy for most of the year, but surprisingly didn't even get nominated.

Much of that had to do with his end to the season. Forsberg maintained a very steady point pace through much of the year, but tailed off to score only five goals and six assists in his last 21 games. That included a goalless drought of 12-straight. Yes, it was during the middle of the team's big slump, but it didn't look good for a while.

Now, much will be expected of him. He'll be relied on for a huge chunk of Nashville's offense this year, and it will seem like a disappointment if he doesn't crack the 30-goal mark. But what about that dreaded Sophomore Slump? There's so much more to a player's second full year than just "was he better or worse." Consider lineup changes, special teams, overall teams performance and so on.

Let's have a bit of fun, though. We'll quickly look at players who reached the 60 point plateau in their rookie year, and see what they did the following year:

Rookie Season Age GP P PPG Soph GP Soph P Soph PPG
2007-08 20 82 69 .84 82 88 1.07
2005-06 23 82 69 .84 81 46 .57
2001-02 21 82 67 .82 77 89 1.16
2014-15 21 80 64 .80 x x x
2014-15 22 80 64 .80 x x x
2003-04 23 81 63 .78 81 55 .68
Filip Forsberg 2014-15 20 82 63 .77 x x x
2013-14 18 82 63 .77 64 38 .59
2010-11 18 82 63 .77 64 44 .69
2000-01 20 82 62 .76 82 62 .76
2006-07 19 72 61 .85 82 77 .94

So three players increased, four decreased, and three we don't have data for. It doesn't tell us much more than some players do better, some do worse. And, again, the raw numbers are largely irrelevant.

As an individual, Forsberg finished the year with a 56.94 5v5 SACF%, and performed over five-and-a-half points better relative to his team. That's really good. Forsberg was also on the ice for 57% of the total even strength scoring chances for. Only Wilson, Neal and Mattias Ekholm were higher, which means Forsberg makes things happen.

Even though he did have a relatively high shooting percentage, that's nothing he has control over. He's shown a flair for offensive creativity, has incredible hands, and even knows how to dish out a hit or two.  Forsberg still has room to develop, and if he can continue the path he forged last year, there shouldn't be much of a worry about a major fall off in production. (Knocks on all the wood.)