Nashville Predators 2015-2016 Season Preview: The Forwards Part I

The bottom half of the forward roster still has plenty of mystery surrounding it.

Defense and goaltending have always been Nashville's saving grace, and the Predators' forward corps has never quite been up to par with the rest of the NHL. That may not quite be the case anymore.

The organization revamped the offense last year, both from outside and within. They signed a handful of low-risk/high-reward contracts last year, and one of them paid off. (They're hoping for something similar again this year.)

But nothing is set in stone, especially in the bottom-six, where we start out preview:

The Rookies

An in depth talking point all off season, there are more rookies vying for a couple of spots on the roster this year than in recent memory. Swiss sensation and 2014 first round draft pick Kevin Fiala is the first name that comes to mind of rookies that may crack the roster. However, there are still questions as to whether or not he is really ready to be in the NHL full time. There is still the entire training camp/preseason to answer those, but even if he misses out on the roster, he's still in a good position in Milwaukee.

Behind him, Austin Watson, Colton Sissons, Miikka Salomaki and Viktor Arvidsson are all prospects eagerly awaiting graduating from that title. Each has seen some time in the NHL, but no one has stuck around very long. Guys like Sissons and Watson are hoping they can beat out player that have been cemented on the fourth line for years.

Watson has another year after this one to make the big club, but Sissons is a pending RFA. He needs to at least show the organization he can make it there in time, or else risk continuing his career somewhere else.

On the wing, Salomaki and Arvidsson are hoping their previous NHL experience beat out Fiala. Any of the three seem like possible starters on opening night, or at the very least will be in line for the first call ups of the season.

Eric Nystrom

When Nystrom was lost to injury during much of the latter part of the season, did you notice? Nystrom will be making $2.5 million this year and next to skate on the fourth line or sit in the press box. He's the epitome of the tough-as-nails, locker room character guy that Barry Trotz love so much, but his deal will start getting in the way of bringing up prospects.

Each of the players listed above will be breathing down his neck to take his roster spot.

Gabriel Bourque

Gabby is in a similar situation to Nystrom. He'll need to continue to work his tail off to prove he has more to offer than any of the rookies. He's fresh off signing a one-year deal, so he still has plenty at stake regardless of whether his next contract is with Nashville or not.

Assuming he doesn't lose out on a spot, pencil him in for time on the fourth line this year, with the annual vault up to the top-six during a rough stretch. Let's just hope we don't see top line Gabby again.

Paul Gaustad

In the final year of a four-year deal, Gaustad will continue to do what he's been doing for years: win a tons of (important) face offs, eat up defensive zone minutes, and kill penalties.

Goose gets flak for the price tag he comes with (which is exorbitant), but he's great at what he's put on the ice to do. It would be nice to see him hit the 20-point mark once again, but don't expect that from him. He'll just go out and do the jobs no one else wants to do, because they need to get done and the team can't go on without them.

Gaustad is the garbage man of the Nashville Predators.

Steve Moses

The highest-scoring single-season goal scorer in the KHL has his sights on finally making his NHL debut. The 26-year-old rookie from Massachusetts has plenty of working against him, thought. Namely lack of experience in the league and a size disparity. But that hasn't stopped him from finding success in other leagues by using his quickness, smarts and goal scoring ability to make up for his disadvantages.

(Pretty sure the Commandments expressly forbid that.)

There is still a ways to go before the beginning of the season, and it remains to be seen whether Moses' game can translate at the NHL level. Even if it can, how effective can he be? Is he 20-goal material or more of a replacement level player? He's one of the most intriguing players this training camp, and if he can carve a niche for him on the team, Nashville will have spent a very smart $1 million.

Calle Jarnkrok

Ironhook will be looking to make up for a disappointing campaign in 2014-15. The Red Wings' draft pick was lauded as a talented piece in their organization before he was traded, and shot out to a 9 points in 12 games debut shortly after being acquired by Nashville. Yet last season didn't go according to plan, as he finished with just 11 points.

Part of that was due to line mates. Playing with Matt Cullen, Mike Santorelli, Derek Roy, Ollie Jokinen and Gabriel Bourque wasn't going to lead to very many stat-padding nights. But there still has to be some onus on the player.

Jarnkork potentially has some much more talented players that will be on his line this year. He'll also be free (for now) of major center responsibilities, and can focus on his game. Management gave him a one-year "prove it" deal, so like plenty of others on the roster, he should have more than enough motivation to put his best effort forward.

Cody Hodgson

Potentially another big steal for the Nashville front office. Hodgson is coming off a terrible, dreadful, no good, very bad year with the even worse Buffalo Sabres. It has to be a kick in the hockey pants when even the rebuilding losers of the McDavid Sweepstakes don't want you on the team.

But that just means that of all the "something to prove" guys on Nashville's roster this year, Hodgson will be the something-to-proviest. The former first-round draft pick has a year to turn his career around and show he's more than just a wasted talent. By starting him as a center, Peter Laviolette is giving him ample opportunity to make his mark.

There is a bit of a chicken/egg thing going on here, though. Hodgson will be anchoring lines potentially consisting of Jarnkrok, Moses, Fiala, Arvidsson and more. Each of these are unknown commodities that could affect each other's play. But Hodgson has been in the league for a while, and needs to set himself away from the rest of the pack.

Best case scenario? He supplants Mike Fisher as the 2nd line center, and spends his season getting oodles of points between Colin Wilson and Craig Smith. Worst case? A trade to Toronto just before an epic collapse by the team.

Check back later this week when we finish previewing the last names on the roster.