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2019-2020 Position Previews: Wingers

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A few years ago, all the Predators’ best players were at wing. Now, they still have some very talented wingers, as well as enough centers that they can move some to the wing.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Nashville Predators at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Predators will look to improve their offense this season, and with pass-focused centers like Ryan Johansen and Kyle Turris on the roster, they’ll most likely be looking to the wingers to chip in some finishing.

Filip Forsberg

Keeping Filip Forsberg healthy is key to a big season. He’s consistently at the top of the Nashville scoresheet, posting 28 goals and 22 assists last season in just 64 games. He could easily be a 30+ goal-scorer if he finds a way to stay off injured reserve. Forsberg hasn’t played in 82 games since the 2016-2017 season.

Expect him to line up in the top six. Where exactly, however, is the question. He’s shown real chemistry with Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson over the last few years, but he might be moved to skate with Matt Duchene and Mikael Granlund.

It’s not just Forsberg’s goal-scoring that makes him a valuable asset to the Nashville Predators, though. He’s a fantastic driver of play at both ends of the ice and in all situations. He’s offensively gifted, defensively trustworthy, a competent penalty killer and a...well, nobody on the Preds’ power play was good last year but Forsberg was definitely less bad than average.

He’s maybe the most complete skater on the team, and given his on-ice performance and attitude it’s no surprise that he’s already a member of the leadership group.

Viktor Arvidsson

Fan-favorite Viktor Arvidsson became a 30-goal scorer once again last season. He only played in 58 games, so “Arvi” has a legitimate chance to score 40 (or more!) goals this coming season, if he can keep converting on his shots or find a way to take even more—on a line with Ryan Johansen and Kyle Turris, if that happens in the regular season as well, would be a good way to get started on that.

Arvidsson hustles, grinds, and sacrifices for every point. His chemistry with Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen is undeniable, but to split up the scoring and balance the offensive threat the team brings, Arvidsson might find himself with new linemates this season.

He plays an energetic, high-event style that livens up the ice whenever he takes a shift, but although he’s a near guarantee to make offense happen he’s not as reliable defensively. Still, his hard work and persistent effort make him easy to cheer for and make it easy for him to succeed—most of the time.

Like most of the Predators, Arvidsson found himself stonewalled by Ben Bishop and the Stars’ defense in the playoffs last April. The speedy winger couldn’t buy a goal. The top six’s impact will be visible in the regular season, but their effectiveness in the postseason is by far the only thing they ought to worry about.

If #33 is kept healthy, he could become the team’s first 40-goal scorer. Look for him to remain motivated throughout the season to positively impact the team.

Mikael Granlund

Acquired from the Minnesota Wild for former Milwaukee Admiral Kevin Fiala, Granlund was no Nino Niederreiter in Carolina. He had a hard time getting settled in on the Preds’ roster, managing only five points (a goal and four assists) in 16 games with the team.

When David Poile traded for him, Granlund had been trading the Wild’s lead in scoring back and forth with Zach Parise, contributing as a consistently key part of their offense while playing with recurring Selke snub Mikko Koivu on an elegant and effective second line. In Nashville? [fizzling noise]

Granlund wasn’t just snakebitten, either—he had an uncharacteristically bad few months in terms of gameflow, as well. Granlund, a skilled playmaker, has been quietly effective at helping create offense and carried his own weight just fine defensively (though Koivu deserves more of the credit there). In Nashville, he dragged his teammates’ shot rates down both offensively and defensively, and didn’t do well at helping prevent dangerous plays either.

Bobby’s report card, linked above, goes into a little more detail with some visuals about Granlund’s positioning and decision-making, but it seems to both him and us like the biggest issue Granlund faced last year was adapting to the new system and linemates.

With luck, the Predators will get a better, more effective Granlund this coming season. He definitely has the potential to be the player Poile traded to get.

Craig Smith

Craig Smith is a streaky, spirited scorer (or is he?). He’s 30 years old and has been a presence on the ice since the 2011-12 season. There are games where it feels like Smith could score several hat tricks. There are also games where it feels like Smith couldn’t hit the side of the moon. One of the Smithiest moments of seasons past was the game where he blocked his own shot (not for the first time) in overtime, then went on to score the shootout winner.

This coming season, Smith could slot in with Mikael Granlund, Kyle Turris, or Matt Duchene, though what we’ve seen in preseason suggests he might also be left out of the top six entirely. That feels like a mistake—Smith isn’t going to produce well in limited minutes, and putting him on a shutdown third line, as Peter Laviolette likes to use his third lines, seems like a bad use of Smith’s skills.

Whether or not the goals come, Smith has played well by consistently getting into the offensive zone and trying to score. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it has a simple charm. He’s fine defensively, as well, but not extraordinary. The Predators are best when Smith is getting the chance to score, not asked to shut down the opposition.

He was relatively outspoken after last season’s first round playoff exit, expressing much frustration with how the Predators couldn’t seem to find a consistent identity. He’s also entering the last season of his current contract.

Rocco Grimaldi

Rocco Grimaldi, who is 5’6” tall, is a great plucky underdog story. He had struggled to stick in the NHL, not least because of his size, before landing in Nashville last season. He had 13 points in 53 games, and scored a team-leading three goals in the playoffs.

A lot of Preds fans probably see Viktor Arvidsson in Grimaldi, but apart from their size and their determination, there aren’t that many similarities in their play. Grimaldi lacks Arvidsson’s offensive impact, though he’s fine defensively. He doesn’t shoot as much, he doesn’t create as much when he’s not shooting, and he’s overall less impactful.

Still, he’s a perfectly good fourth-liner, and with his recent extension it seems likely he’ll get some more time in front of Predators fans. The Tiny Hockey Man Team dream isn’t dead quite yet.

Calle Järnkrok

Calle Järnkrok is an interesting player to watch. He’s 28 years old and has solidified a position in the middle of the Nashville forward lineup. Last season for Järnkrok was a bit rough. He was absent from the scoresheet for long stretches of games.

Järnkrok is somewhat multi-functional in that he can play center and also remain effective on the wing. He’s seen time in both positions, and it’ll be up to the coaching staff to determine where #19 best fits, though he’s spent more time on the wing since the acquisitions of Nick Bonino and Kyle Turris.

While he only scored ten goals last season, Järnkrok has put up a steady 15-16 goals per season for the last three seasons before that. He’s often the victim of lineup shuffles, an inevitability in the bottom two forward lines.

Defensively, he’s extremely good at even strength but a liability on the penalty kill, a weird contrast. However, the past few seasons, while playing on Bonino’s wing, he’s struggled to play as effectively as he did in 2016-17 and earlier. If Peter Laviolette wants to maximize Järnkrok’s impressive defensive abilities, he might want to consider that as well while shuffling lines.

If he finds solid chemistry with a line, look for Järnkrok to have a better season than last.

Daniel Carr

Daniel Carr was signed on July 1st, but his signing was quickly overshadowed by the signing of Matt Duchene. Carr, the AHL MVP for 2018-19, is on a one-way deal looking for a permanent spot in the Nashville lineup.

We’ve only seen Carr in the preseason, but one thing that became obvious to me (Rachel) as I watched him decimate the Admirals as a member of the Chicago Wolves was his speed and his net-front skill. Carr has pretty good hands in the small spaces closest to the opponent’s net. He also offers some speed to complement Rocco Grimaldi.

It seems like Nashville would be unwilling to lose Carr on waivers, so expect the 27-year old to find a mostly permanent home in the bottom six. His skill and speed might be a better option for the coaching staff when choosing Carr over Frédérick Gaudreau or Miikka Salomäki.

I’m predicting a big season for Carr. If the coaching staff can find a way to convert Carr’s AHL success, Carr could be a cost-effective surprise for a Predators lineup that often lacks significant talent or impact in the bottom six.

Austin Watson

Austin Watson managed a surprising number of points (16, including seven goals, in 37 games), but he struggled defensively—in the role he was being asked to play.

The Predators are not employing Watson to score goals, and there’s very little about his game that suggests that he can do so consistently. His strength has always been his defense, and last season that just wasn’t there.

If Watson doesn’t return to his earlier form, it seems likely that the Predators might look for another player to fill his role.

Miikka Salomäki

To be completely honest, Salomäki is an expendable forward. He spends a lot of time in the press box and has also had a difficult time staying healthy. He contributes a handful of goals and has the ability to throw his weight around if necessary.

It was only a few seasons ago that Salomäki looked like he would have a breakthrough. Instead, he missed nearly a full season to injury, and really hasn’t been the same since. Once upon a time he was very effective in transition, giving a fourth line the tools to get up the ice and out of trouble, then go make some trouble of their own.

Now, there are still flashes of something, but he hasn’t been able to put it together. If he could, he’d be a fantastic addition to a fourth line—physical enough to make the old-school fans happy, and skilled enough to make everyone happy with the results. Salomäki does still have the ability to make Chicago defender Duncan Keith completely lose his head and take 20+ minutes in penalties, at least.

Will Salomäki be in gold to start the season? His AHL success and the potential he’s shown have never translated to NHL ice.

Frédérick Gaudreau

Frédérick Gaudreau won our hearts in 2017 when he scored his first three NHL goals in the Stanley Cup Final, but since then things haven’t worked out as well as we hoped. Gaudreau was waived on Sunday, cleared waivers yesterday, and is not likely to see the NHL again unless there are a lot of injuries.

Sometimes things just don’t work out, in sports as in life.


Thanks to Micah Blake McCurdy of hockeyviz.com for work used in background reference.