In a preseason filled with rampant roster spot speculation, a waiver wire snipe, and a “retooling”/“rebuilding” linguistic debate, one thing has stood out as a consistently positive development—the line combination of Filip Forsberg, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Johansen. Fans saw glimpses of this line combo’s potential at the end of last season, and Head Coach John Hynes has kept the three big name players together throughout camp and the preseason to see if the nebulous but necessary “chemistry” really exists among the three.
All indications are that it does. Proof of the magic a Forsberg-Duchene-Johansen line may possess was quickly evident in last night’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes. The trio worked their magic, and Ryan Johansen found the back of the net a mere 27 seconds into the contest.
Head Coach John Hynes clearly likes what he is seeing from the Fo-Du-Jo (?) line so far.
“I think they’ve had a really good camp so far,” Hynes said of the line. “The public sees the exhibition games, and I think both games that they’ve played, I really like the way that they’re working. They’re all playing with pace, extremely competitive on the puck, I think their decisions offensively have been strong and they’re creating offense in multiple ways… So, it’s good to see. They all look quick, and even the way they’re practicing, it’s been good, I think they’re really pushing themselves to get ready for the regular season.”
It isn’t just game-time mojo either. The trio have been together at training camp and individually each has elevated his game even when the cameras aren’t on. Duchene has been scrappy and physical along the boards in drills and practices, Johansen terrorizes the space (and defenders) in front of the net, and Forsberg handles the puck with that Forsberg flair and confidence.
The timing of this line’s success couldn’t be more imperative, especially for Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene. Both centers have been under extra scrutiny over the past two seasons for inconsistent—and at times nonexistent—offensive production. Duchene and Johansen and their hefty contracts were both left exposed for the Seattle expansion draft. Whether General Manager David Poile really believed the Kraken might bite on such high-end centers or if their exposure was meant as more of a warning from the front office, fans may never know for sure. What fans do know is that the Forsberg-Duchene-Johansen line is making magic together in this preseason.
The success of this line going forward won’t just alleviate the pressure on Duchene and Johansen. Filip Forsberg is in the last year of his contract with the Predators, and his stock could rise on an offensively hot line. When Filip Forsberg is good, he is very good, but he has also battled production inconsistency and injuries. If this top line can take their elite play into the regular season and maintain that level of play, Forsberg will make a strong case for a nice contract renegotiation.
Of course, continued magic of the Forsberg-Duchene-Johansen line could also causes a bit of mayhem for the Predators. Forsberg isn’t the only big name on the Predators roster who will be working on a new contract. Defensive giant Mattias Ekholm is also in his final year with the Predators, and he has been forthcoming about wanting to stay with the team. With the loss of Ryan Ellis in the offseason, it is unlikely the Predators are keen to part with another experienced defender like Ekholm without making him a solid offer. Is David Poile willing to spend the kind of money it could take to keep both Swedes in Nashville down the line?
Another interesting matter is the remaining roster. With two star centers on the top line, Mikael Granlund appears to be the best choice to center and guide less-experienced linemates. In last night’s contest against Carolina, Granlund skated with Eeli Tolvanen and the potential NKOTB Philip Tomasino. While Tolvanen played 40 games with the Predators last season, he is still considered a part of the youth “retooling”.
It seems unthinkable to split up the successful Herd line centered by Colton Sissons, so how does a third line shake out? Luke Kunin had a solid first season in Nashville last year and is a valuable netfront presence. Nick Cousins has been a training camp standout and is ready to hit the regular season ice. Then there’s Cody Glass, an intriguing center the Preds acquired via the three team Ryan Ellis trade. Glass is too tempting a player with solid NHL minutes under his belt to sit for long. A Kunin-Cousins-Glass line could be an interesting combo to throw on the ice and see what happens, but then what happens with Rocco Grimaldi? Or will the team stick to their apparent “size matters” philosophy and keep either Michael McCarron, who only played six games last season, or the more experienced but penalty-prone Matthieu Olivier? With two elite centers on the top line, third line decisions become a little more interesting.
The ultimate mayhem scenario occurs if for some reason the magic of Forsberg-Duchene-Johansen disappears in the early part of the regular season. The potential fallout could shift GMDP’s “retooling” into a full blown “rebuilding” and result in mid-season trades and call-ups that could make Smashville heads spin. As close as the team has appeared to be to the “blow it up” line, a regular season disaster from the top line might be the pin pulled from the grenade.
If the preseason is any indication though, Predators fans could have a top line to watch that makes the legend of JoFA fade in comparison, and this season’s team might actually slightly exceed the mediocre-at-best expectations. Much of that pressure sits squarely on the shoulders of Filip Forsberg, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Johansen. That’s right where it belongs.