If Filip Forsberg is injured, Preds could turn to Kyle Turris

Forsberg did not finish playing in Tuesday’s game against the Golden Knights and is a game-time decision for tonight.

Filip Forsberg left Tuesday’s game against the Vegas Golden Knights partway through the third period and did not participate in the team’s optional practice on Wednesday in Glendale.

The Predators are notoriously close-mouthed about injury details even among NHL teams, so we’re unlikely to learn anything more about Forsberg’s injury until after the season, or until someone makes a revealing Instagram post from his apartment.

There was initially a lot of speculation that Forsberg was suffering some aftereffects from this hit by Mark Stone (who has not heard, and will not hear, from Player Safety for it):

But, by and large, the head is located in the general upper-body region—though it does look like Forsberg landed awkwardly after the hit.

Our former co-manager Alex Daugherty did some detective work and spotted this hit by Ryan Reaves, which could also be a cause of a lower-body injury:

Ultimately, though, the question of how Forsberg got injured by whom is between him, the team’s training staff, and whatever useless goon gets stuck on the roster before the next Preds-Knights game (I don’t want the Preds to go that route, and I don’t think it will help in any way if they do, but they haven’t been immune to the temptation in the past).

The question facing us today is: if Forsberg isn’t able to play, as we all hope he will be, who can the Nashville Predators plug in in the top six?

The very obvious suggestion would be Craig Smith, who likes to shoot the puck a lot and who could benefit from the excellent passes that Matt Duchene (and Mattias Ekholm) have been sending Forsberg, but Smith’s shooting is down this season. I believe it was @statsrespecter who first pointed out that Smith has been shooting the puck much less often than last year.

And, indeed, this year in 5v5 play Smith is only putting six shots on goal per hour of icetime—5.99 if you want to split hairs—and taking 11.1 shots at goal per hour, good for tenth and eleventh on the team respectively.

Last year his 10.6 shots on goal per hour were second on the team, behind only Viktor Arvidsson, and his 17 shots at goal per hour trailed only Forsberg and Arvidsson. The year before that, only Arvidsson had his 11 shots on goal and 17.9 shots at goal per hour beat. The year before that was the year Smith didn’t want to get picked in the expansion draft, but even though he missed a lot, and got his shots blocked a lot—sometimes by himself—he was once again still taking those shots more often (17.5 times per hour) than anyone except Arvidsson.

It’s only been six games, and I’m definitely not suggesting it’s time to panic about Craig Smith, but so far this year he hasn’t done much to suggest that he’s the best person for the Predators to try to plug in for Filip Forsberg on the Duchene line if they do need to plug someone in. He had an assist in the season opener, and he’s gotten a couple of chances off the rush, but he hasn’t particularly stood out in any game, and the underlying numbers suggest we’re not missing anything with the eye test.

Kyle Turris, however, is having a great year so far. He badly needed to bounce back after last season, either to improve his standing in Nashville or so that David Poile could recoup some value in a trade, and in the first few games he has done that.

Unlike Smith, Turris has been shooting the puck—the season is young and the sample sizes are wild, but Turris has gotten 10.5 shots on goal per hour of 5v5 play (behind Forsberg and Rocco Grimaldi) and taken 19.2 shots at goal per hour (behind only Roman Josi, who’s out there shooting the puck every three minutes/twenty times an hour, and a bit ahead of Forsberg and Arvidsson). He’s gotten rewarded for it, too, with a pair of goals and an assist at even strength, and another assist on the power play to cap off Tuesday’s win.

Sure, the shooting percentage is a little high, but he’s doing things well and producing—and he’s doing that with a motley assortment of linemates who have varied from game to game and sometimes shift to shift, none of whom, with the brief exception of Smith himself, are particularly noted for their offensive prowess.

Memory is short, and “what have you done for me lately” is big, in the NHL. It shouldn’t hurt Turris’s chances to slide up to the top line that his most recent game played was a two-point game for Turris that saw his power play unit threatening with some great chances before they finally converted, as well as some surprisingly good offensive play from his line at 5v5.

I had hesitations about moving Turris to the wing, but asking him to regularly center Grimaldi and Austin Watson while getting fourth-line minutes is just awful mismanagement. Turris has a much higher ceiling than the fourth line and he’s not being given the linemates most likely to help him succeed at the style of hockey the Predators brought him here to play.

Giving people fewer minutes and less-skilled linemates to try to shame or anger them into scoring more almost never works—you need both luck and skill to be able to produce more in worse circumstances than you were in better ones. Impressively, Turris is in good position fairly early on in the season to do just that. If he’s able to jump back into a “scoring” role in the coaching staff’s eyes now, that can only benefit both him and the team.

(But we still really hope Filip Forsberg is okay.)

Statistics from naturalstattrick.com and hockey-reference.com.