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Nashville Predators 2016-17 Season Preview: The Centers

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The OTF season previews continue. Today we get you up to speed on the center position.

NHL: Boston Bruins at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

With the NHL season only weeks away, we are rolling out some positional/role previews for the Nashville Predators upcoming season. Here is a quick breakdown of how we are splitting the duties:

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

Today we talk about the center position. Age range: 22-36.

Position Strengths

A good mix of youth and veterans

Both Mike Fisher and Mike Ribeiro have played over 1,000 games in the NHL. In fact, Fisher and Ribeiro are two of only four Predators projected starters who are older than 30. On the other side, the Predators’ three other centers are all under 30; including Ryan Johansen (24), Colton Sissons (22), and Cody Bass (29). Despite being only 24, Johansen is entering his sixth season so he is right in the middle of youth and veteran.

Position Weakness

Lack of scoring

Other than Johansen, the Predators do not have a center that is much of a scoring threat. Johansen is the only center on the Predators roster to score at least 30 goals in a season. Ribeiro’s career high is 27 and Fisher’s is 25. Colton Sissons and Cody Bass have combined for seven goals in 100 games in the NHL and neither is looked at as a threat with the puck.

Catalyst of the Group

Mike Fisher

Fisher was named the seventh captain in team history on September 8th, after serving as an alternate captain for four seasons. Fisher plays a strong two-way game, and is known as one of the better defensive forwards in the league. Already looked upon as a leader of the team, Fisher will be leaned on even more this season in the post-Shea Weber era.

Breakout Player

Ryan Johansen

It is no secret Ryan Johansen can score. The Predators thought so highly of him they traded away coveted defenseman Seth Jones, a known favorite of General Manager David Poile, to land him.

Johansen topped the 60-point mark for the third straight season last year after splitting time with both the Blue Jackets and Predators. He should see an increase in points playing a full season with James Neal. Johansen and Neal started to gel quite nicely toward the end of last season and into the playoffs, with Johansen assisting on three of Neal’s four playoff goals. Only 24 years old, Johansen could crack the 30-goal plateau again and could even break his career-high of 71 points set in 2014.

Mike Fisher

What he adds to the mix

Fisher is known for his well-rounded game and contributions on the penalty kill. In the first year of his captaincy, he should be a locker-room leader on a Predators team looking to win its first Stanley Cup.

Expectations for this season

After scoring the game winner in the triple overtime thriller against San Jose, the biggest goal in franchise history, it’s all down hill from here right?

Fisher should produce 35-40 points, which is what he has been averaging the last five seasons. This will be the first season that Fisher is not be recovering from surgery or rehabbing an injury. With a healthy Fisher to start the season, this could be a big year for the new Predators captain.

What does the future hold?

Being 36 years old, one has to wonder how much longer Fisher will keep playing. He said at the press conference where he was introduced as captain, that he did not see this as a one-year captaincy. Whether its one or two years or possibly more, there is no doubt Mike Fisher has earned the right to play how ever long he wants.

Ryan Johansen

What he adds to the mix

Johansen gives the Predators the threat of a true goal-scorer. He is the only center on the Predators roster to score 30 or more goals in a season. The best part about Johansen’s game is that not only can he score himself, but his excellent puck handling skills give him the ability to set up his wingers to score as well.

Expectations for this season

Johansen scored 34 points for the Predators last season while playing in only 42 games. He really turned it on toward the end of the season, scoring 12 points in his final 10 games (2 goals, 10 assists) and eight points in 14 postseason games (4 goals, 4 assists).

A 30-goal, 75-point season for Johansen is not out of the question here. James Neal is by far the best winger Johansen has played with (no offense, Nick Foligno), and he and Johansen should be one of the deadliest scoring duos in the NHL.

What does the future hold?

There is no doubt David Poile traded for Johansen because he saw him as a building block for this team. Johansen paired with Filip Forsberg, James Neal, Craig Smith, and Colin Wilson give the Predators five 20-goal scorers under the age of 30. Look for Poile to try and lock Johansen up long-term sometime this season.

Mike Ribeiro

What he adds to the mix

In his first two seasons with the Predators, Ribeiro has scored over 50 points both times. He is averaging 45 assists per season, and seemed to be a nice fit centering the second line with Filip Forsberg and Craig Smith. Ribeiro has shown a hesitancy to shoot the puck, hence his low goal-scoring numbers. Ribeiro does have good hockey sense and has shown he can still find his wingers for goal scoring opportunities.

Expectations for this season

Ribeiro did not have the best postseason and was even a healthy scratch in the series against San Jose in favor of Pontus Aberg. However, David Poile expressed Ribeiro was a big reason for the Predators making the playoffs in his two seasons with the team. Look for him to either center the second line with Forsberg and Smith again, or slide down to third line duty.

What does the future hold?

After General Manager David Poile said Riberio needed to have the summer of his life to stay on the top two lines, one has to wonder about his future with the team. Ribeiro could bounce back and have a decent season or he could go the Cody Hodgson route and find himself on a different roster next season.

Colton Sissons

What he adds to the mix

Colton Sissons marks the beginning of the youth movement in Nashville. He only played in 34 games last year for the Predators, but he made the most of his opportunity. Sissons does have back-to-back 25-goal, 40-point seasons down in Milwaukee in 2013-14 and 2014-15 so he should provide slightly more offensive pop than the recently retired Paul Gaustad.

Expectations for this season

Now in year two, with playoff experience under his belt, Sissons has the versatility to play both center and wing. He was used at both positions last year. No matter his position, look for Sissons to score in the 10-15 goal range and finish with around 30 points.

What does the future hold?

Depending on how long Mike Fisher plays, and the play of Mike Ribeiro this season, Sissons could find himself centering either the Predators’ second or third line in the future. Being 22 years old, Sissons has plenty of time to grow in Peter Laviolette’s up-tempo system.