It’s (a little over) midway through the 2018-2019 campaign. How do the Nashville Predators stack up?
He’s #35 on the ice but #1 in our hearts. Rinne has been lights-out for Nashville this season. After signing a contract extension on his birthday, he proceeded to shut out Boston. With the multitude of injuries plaguing the team, Rinne has been a solid backbone for the Predators this season. He would never boast about his .921 Sv% over 31 games or his All-Star Game selection. As the season goes on, however, I’d like to see young Saros get a few more starts. Rinne is best when he’s rested and the team will benefit from a rested Rinne come playoff time. There is no other grade for Rinne other than A+.
Forsberg was activated off IR for last night’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs and didn’t miss a beat. Even after being out over 15 games with a finger injury, Forsberg is 6th on the team in points with 22 (14 goals, 8 assists). Keeping him healthy as the team rounds the corner into the playoffs will be key. We’d all like buckets of Forsberg goals. Don’t forget...it’s almost Fil-bruary.
Nashville’s 1C has been playing like a 1C this season. He leads the team in points with 36 (8 goals, 28 assists). Without Arvidsson and Forsberg, Johansen has continued to produce with various wingers like Ryan Hartman and Kevin Fiala. He’s a trusted faceoff expert and adds some crisp passing to the struggling powerplay. Aside from Pekka Rinne, Johansen has been the MVP over the first half of the season...there’s very little argument there. Bonus points to Joey for having adorable dogs with their own Instagram account.
There’s no one else on this team like Viktor Arvidsson. He’s the offensive spark that the Predators need as winter turns to spring. Arvidsson has 18 points (12 goals, 6 assists) in an injury-plagued season. We’ve finally gotten the long-awaited reunion of the “JoFA” line as Forsberg returns to the lineup. Arvidsson is incredibly fun to watch. Sometimes it looks like Arvidsson is angry when he’s not potting goals...it’s probably true. The Predators are a better team with Arvidsson in the lineup.
Ekholm is this year’s Roman Josi. He remains underrated yet is right in the middle of one of his best seasons of hockey, on pace for his best offensive season yet without sacrificing defensively. The blond-bearded Swedish defender is an alternate captain and has skated in all but one game this season. He is tied for second on the team in points with 30 (5 goals, 25 assists) and is on a multiple-game point streak. Ekholm is also in the “should shoot more category” because his wrist shot is pretty wicked. Bonus points for having the second-cutest baby of 2018.
The captain leads all Nashville defenders in goals with 7 and his 23 assists tie him with Ekholm for second in team production overall. He continues to bring that “wow” factor to his game every night and drives scoring with his mobility and smooth puck-handling. Josi eats big minutes each game and is a trusted special-teams guy. He got the All-Star Game nod for the second time in his career earlier this week and will certainly demand some attention in his next contract negotiation.
As noted in The Athletic’s Preds Report Card, Craig “Craignog” Smith can snipe. He’s going to have another 20-goal season, but he tends to score in streaks. He shoots nearly as much as Viktor Arvidsson but sometimes hits the netting/Batman Building/moon instead of the net. We absolutely need guys like Smith to be scoring in the playoffs and Kyle Turris provides consistency for Smith and Fiala alike.
Subban is finally back in the lineup after missing some games due to an undisclosed injury. There’s no one on the team I love watching more than Subban. He’s a proficient skater but can take some serious criticism for his play, plenty of it undeserved. He’s on a multiple-game point streak with goals against Toronto and Montreal. If I need a guy to start a rush, I’m picking Pernell Karl Subban.
Nick Bonino has had a surprisingly solid first half of the season. He has 18 points (8 goals, 10 assists) over 43 games. Bonino was a solid contributor in the absence of Forsberg and Arvidsson. He’s on track to surpass last season’s point totals with the Preds. Bonino has found some nice chemistry with Austin Watson and Colton Sissons on the Nashville third line.
As Adam Vingan noted in his midseason report card ( ), Sissons is an incredibly reliable forward capable of playing up and down the lineup. He’s absolutely fearless on the penalty kill and can take some shifts against top lines. It’ll be good to have him back in the lineup.
In his first full season with Nashville, Hartman has 14 points (9 goals, 5 assists). He can play up and down the lineup, but we have yet to see where Hartman is best utilized. Hartman has been playing on the first line with Johansen and Arvidsson in the absence of Filip Forsberg, but he’s yet to carve out a defined role. Where does he best fit?
A lot of this grade for Grimaldi is recency bias. He scored two big goals in the Washington and Philadelphia games in front of his mom. He’s looking a lot more comfortable in the lineup and does have speed and playmaking abilities. Grimaldi is my candidate for “deserves a regular lineup spot” over guys like Rinaldo or Salomäki. Bonus points to Grimaldi for having a great wife and adorable mom.
What exactly is expected of a young undersized goaltender? Saros would definitely be the starter on any other team, but right now, he’s able to learn from his mentor Pekka Rinne. With Rinne out due to injury, Saros turned in several key starts. After Rinne returned, Saros hit a bit of a rough patch. His last few starts, however, have looked fairly awesome. “Little Bear” shut out Philadelphia on New Year’s Day and will see his number called more than once on this road trip. I’m an unapologetic Saros fan and I truly believe that his growth and success will be because of the incredible mentorship of Pekka Rinne.
Side note on Saros: He’s boasting a .949 Sv% in his last four starts.
C (Also known as the “Need More From These Guys” Category)
Fiala is a polarizing player for the Predators. Some nights, he’s absolutely on fire and can’t be stopped. Other nights, he looks like he belongs on the fourth line. It’s evident he plays better when he’s confident, and we’ve seen some of that solid play in the last few games. Fiala’s grade is mostly due to the fact that he was unable to find the back of the net with guys like Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson out of the lineup. We have seen his play away from the puck improve greatly this season. Fiala is playing a “whole” game and the scoring will come for the young Swiss winger. He probably deserves a C+.
Perhaps it’s a bit unfair to rate Turris in the “C” category because of his injuries. After returning from IR with a super-specific “upper body injury,” Turris was just placed back on IR with a “lower body injury”—likely something foot-related, per reports of him leaving the arena with a walking boot. Turris provides the center depth that Nashville needs, and it will be good to have him back in the lineup once he’s fully healthy. Turris has 18 points (6 goals, 12 assists) in 30 games.
Ryan Ellis has not had an awful first half of the season, but I’m sure Ellis and Nashville fans alike would prefer to see him blasting more pucks into the net. He has 20 points (4 goals, 16 assists) and remains a special-teams monster. The Nashville associate captain is certainly due some goals once the lineup gets closer to 100%. Bonus points to Ellis for having the mom with the calmest goal celebration OF ALL TIME.
Gaudreau’s start to the season was less than incredible. With the addition of Grimaldi, Gaudreau has been a solid presence on the fourth line. He’s got 3 goals on the season and should remain in the lineup once injured players return.
In a totally healthy lineup, Yannick Weber is the 6th defender paired with Hamhuis. He has performed as expected and has 7 points (2 goals, 5 assists). The injury bug also bit Weber and he’s been out for the last several contests. Bonus points to Weber for getting engaged over the holidays.
After missing an early portion of the season due to his suspension, Watson returned to the lineup ready to go. He posted a hat trick against Anaheim around Thanksgiving. Watson hasn’t scored since mid-December, but hopefully the crucial third line of Watson-Nick Bonino-Colton Sissons can be reunited on the current road trip.
I’m actually quite disappointed in Järnkrok this season. I’m a big fan of his hockey intelligence as he reads plays very well. The problem is his production—he was largely absent during the injury-heavy part of the season. Jarnkrok has 15 points (7 goals, 8 assists) but did not step up in the absence of high-profile scorers. He’s incredibly versatile and has played well on a line with Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson over the last two contests. He posted a hat trick against the Kings in November. Jarnkrok has three assists in his last three games, so perhaps he’s finding his flow.
Bonus points to Järnkrok for having the cutest Preds baby of 2018.
Hamhuis and Bitetto are the only two Preds without a goal this season. With Subban out of the lineup, Hamhuis was often paired with Mattias Ekholm. Honestly, Yannick Weber is a better second-pair guy than Hamhuis. He’s showing his age, but he’s still able to lay down some hits. Hamhuis plays a boring, predictable game and does just fine at 35 years old.
Aside from showing some chemistry with Rocco Grimaldi, Rinaldo has been a body on the ice. He has 3 points (1 goal, 2 assists) in 23 games. That being said, Rinaldo HAS managed to stay out of trouble.
Tony, Tony, Tony. He’s played three fewer games than Matt Irwin (18 games) and has only posted 3 assists. Tony offers us a great New York accent and little else. He thought he had a goal against Detroit, but a bogus interference call quickly wiped his goal off the scoreboard.
Another name in the “permanently rotating third-pairing d-man” category...Irwin has been underwhelming too. He also has five points this season, including one goal.
Salomaki has three goals on the season. One of those goals is NOT an empty-net goal. “Salty” was injured in the Detroit game Friday, but there’s not been much official information about his ailment. There’s no doubt he works hard, but his mental lapses sometimes scare us. If he recovers this season, will he be a healthy scratch until we need a big hitter?
The kid has two NHL points and scored a pretty neat goal against Chicago in early December. He’s still developing and we can afford to be patient with him. He’s a brand new gold medalist with Team Finland and his all-around game has been improving greatly.
Phillip Di Guiseppe
We know next to nothing about Di Guiseppe except that he had four points with Carolina this season. Look for a more thorough PDG grade at the season’s end.