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Nashville Predators 2016-17 Season Preview: The Wingers

With the NHL regular season only three weeks away, the preseason preview season is in full swing. OTF has you covered.

Colorado Avalanche v Nashville Predators Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

The season is upon us, which means it’s time to roll out some previews for the upcoming Predators season. If you are like us, you are jonesing for some relevant hockey talk. Let OTF give you the fix you need.

But since we still have a few weeks, it makes sense to spread it out a bit. So you don’t over indulge before the season starts, we’ve split up the previews by the following categories and positions:

  • Wingers
  • Centers
  • Top 4 Defense
  • Bottom Defense
  • Role Players
  • Fringe Players
  • Goaltenders

We will start with what is sure to be a productive group: the wingers.

Position Strengths

Excellent shooting, dynamic playmaking ability, and solid defensive play. While everyone knows guys like James Neal and Filip Forsberg for their shooting prowess, they are both very reliable defensive players. Calle Jarnkrok and Colin Wilson provide great passing and both had great chemistry with their line-mates late last year. Craig Smith provides 20 goal scoring ability to go with top level NHL speed.

Position Weaknesses

Overall speed. Smith provides the quickest skates, but the rest of the crew is merely above average. As we saw with Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup Final, speed can kill. This group has some speed, but not a ton of it. In addition, some of these guys are too prone to turnovers (Wilson), particularly in the dangerous areas of the ice (Forsberg).

Catalyst of the Group

James Neal is the one player that scares other teams consistently, for a variety of reasons. He has the most dangerous shot on the team, he has a penchant for getting under his opponents’ skin, and he is a quality defensive player who can play both left and right wing. When he is on, the whole team, not just the wingers, plays very well.

Breakout Player

COLIN. WILSON. This is the year folks. It’s going to happen. For the, what, 5th? 6th year in a row we’ve been saying this? Well, this is the year.

Yes. It will happen. It has to happen. It...

Probably won’t happen.

Filip Forsberg

Nashville Predators v San Jose Sharks - Game One Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

What he adds to the mix:

A potential top 10 goal scorer with incredible hands and vision, Forsberg adds the most dynamic level of talent from the winger position. Just an all-around fantastic player. He added a level of physicality to his game last year and still managed to tie the franchise record for goals scored in a season.

Expectations for this season:

The 40 goal plateau seems reachable, but it may be more in the 35-38 range, especially if he plays on the top line with Joey and Neal, where he will probably do more play-making than goal-scoring. If he doesn’t reach 40 goals, he will still probably reach 75-80 points and be voted an All-Star.

What does the future hold?

Forsberg signed a 6X6 contract in late June, so he is here to stay.

Craig Smith

Carolina Hurricanes v Nashville Predators Photo by Sanford Myers/Getty Images

What he adds to the mix:

While he does provide speed and forechecking ability in the offensive zone, the most consistent thing about Smith's game is his scoring. He isn't the sharpshooter that James Neal is, nor does he have the all-around talent of Forsberg or Johansen, but Smith finds his home near the front of the net, capitalizing on rebounds and fielding nifty passes from Ribeiro or Wilson. Here is Smith's shot-attempt rink view over the past two seasons:

Courtesy of

He can also pull up from 15 feet and shoot over the shoulder if he needs to. Overall, Smith is an important piece for the Preds as a 2nd-3rd line scoring winger.

Expectations for this season:

His usual 20-25 goals to go with about the same amount of assists. At a $4 million cap hit, you'll take 45-50 points from Craig Smith every year and be perfectly content.

What does the future hold?

He's signed through 2020 and at a good price, so it's not likely he will be going anywhere anytime soon. It's really impossible to forecast the team's progress that far ahead, so I'd say just get used to Smith being around.

James Neal

2016 Honda NHL All-Star Skill Competition - Gatorade NHL Skills Challenge Relay Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

What he adds to the mix:

The Preds' best sniper. Anytime he has the puck in the offensive zone, the chance of a goal going on the board increases significantly. He finished last year with 31 goals, the 2nd most in a season for him, even with a slight dip in his shooting percentage. But don't forget that he's a career 53.9% Corsi-For forward and one of the better defensive forwards on the team. He plays the exact kind of style that Coach Laviolette's style caters to and we should see even more production from #18 this year.

Expectations for this season:

Like Forsberg, 40 goals is a realistic expectation, but it might be more like 36-38 goals in the end. If your top line is Forsberg-Johansen-Neal, the goals will be fairly evenly distributed among those three, as they can all pot between 30-40 goals. I'd prefer they keep Forsberg on the Ribeiro line and allow Neal to wreak havoc on the top line. If that's the case, and if he plays close to 80 games with Johansen at center, you can almost guarantee Neal will reach the 40 goal mark.

What does the future hold?

The Preds have Neal under contract for two more full seasons. When he reaches UFA status in 2019, it will likely depend on where the Predators are as a team if they consider keeping him on board. So much of that depends on the progress of players like Forsberg, Johansen, Fiala, Kamenev, and any other scoring forwards they might acquire between now and then. In 2019, James Neal will be 31 and probably have his best days behind him, but it's not ridiculous to think the Preds will resign him if the money is right.

Colin Wilson

Nashville Predators v Anaheim Ducks - Game One Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

What he adds to the mix:

Sigh. Honestly, he could add so much if we only saw it more consistently. However, as usual, there are definitely signs that he's turned a corner. In the playoff series against the Sharks, Wilson had eight points, including three goals, in the seven game series. His chemistry with James Neal was incredible. Some are wondering if he deserves the open wing spot on the top line with Neal and Joey, including myself. But we just have to see more first. He brings excellent hands, creative passing, above average shooting ability, and a whole lot of frustration to the mix.

Expectations for this season:

It has to be a 20 goal, 50 point season for Willy. It's time to put away this 20-30 points in a season nonsense. He's better than that. 50 points or bust.

What does the future hold?

Wilson was nearly traded last season, some say for Scott Hartnell, others say he was involved originally in the Joey deal, but of course it didn't happen. Like Neal, Wilson is a free agent in 2019. It is really tough to see the Preds extending Wilson prior to him becoming a UFA. Right now, Wilson looks like the most likely candidate to be unprotected in the expansion draft next year. Or maybe he will be traded before that happens. Either way, Wilson is not likely in the long, long term plans for this team, though he will of course be a major contributor this year and next.

Calle Jarnkrok

Vancouver Canucks v Nashville Predators Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

What he adds to the mix:

Jarnkrok is a bit of an oddity. While he brings a solid defensive-first mentality to any line he is on, he is usually able to fit into whatever "empty space" a particular line may have. Do Joey and Neal need a scoring threat from the middle of the ice? Jarny fits. Does the Sissons line need a speedy forechecker? Jarny fits. Trying to make a hybrid checking-with-offense line with Wilson and Smith? Jarny fits. He doesn't bring any particular strength to a line, he just fits whatever that line needs. Hockey's version of baseball's utility player.

Expectations for this season:

They aren't terribly high, but you'd like to see 18-20 goals, a consistent defensive approach, and lots of hair.

What does the future hold?

The biggest surprise of this summer's sign-a-thon for David Poile was the term length of Jarny's contract. I don't know that most of us saw anything longer than three years. But six years is fine too, since the AAV is only $2 million. A trade-friendly, expansion draft friendly contract for the Preds. Don't get me wrong, I love Jarny... but I'm not sure that six year deal was intended to keep Iron Hook in Nashville til 2022.