30 IN 30 - NASHVILLE PREDATORS (16th place regular season)
Fun fact: the Nashville Predators were the lowest ranked team to make the playoffs this spring. Makes this ride to the Stanley Cup Final's that much more impressive. From a roster perspective, David Poile is nominated for the league's GM of the year for good reason - hence our spotlight article on him. His "bold moves" (shout out to Craig MacTavish) have allowed him to acquire a good blend of offensive and defensive punch. Equipped with strong scouts clearly watching the Swedish league every year, the Preds have managed to stockpile a group of young European's to replenish the forward ranks and provide Poile the ammunition he needs to improve the team. The hard-line objective approach to roster management has worked thus far for the Predators, will they be able to continue this trend into expansion?
PROTECTION LIST STRUCTURE
Nashville appears destined to pick the 8-1 model. Any argument against keeping the top-four of Josi, Subban, Ekholm, and Ellis intact is straight up illogical for a team riding their puck moving abilities into the Stanley Cup Finals. Leaving any of these names off the protection list would guarantee their departure from Nashville on June 20th. David Poile isn't stupid, 8-1 is happening.
This structure will require us to analyze the forward group. Top-line contributors in Forsberg, Johansen, and Neal will likely be protected as the Predators have worked tirelessly to bring offence to Nashville in recent years. Add in the breakout season by Victor Arvidsson, and the four selections up front, appear as locked in as those on back. The downside for Nashville is that their forward group runs much deeper. Two way contributors such as Craig Smith and Colin Wilson would be left unprotected, alongside the ultra-cheap ($2.000M for the next 5 years) Calle Jarnkrok. Throw in up-and-down youngsters like Austin Watson, Colton Sissons, and Pontus Aberg, and the Golden Knights will have quite the crop to pick from.
IS 27 TOO OLD?
The veterans of this group, Craig Smith and Colin Wilson at just 27 years of age have logged a ton of miles in their short careers. Point production for both has averaged out around 35-40 a season; a number that won't blow the Vegas management brass away. But it's the underlying elements and style of play that make them important to the Predators, and potentially very important to the new the expansion team in Vegas. Possession based stats and goal differentials sit well above league average, and WOWY (with or without you) numbers speak to a pair of players capable of boosting their line-mates overall play. Individually Smith stacks up as more of a scoring threat, holding multiple 20 goal seasons to his name and a higher career on-ice GF60 (goals for per 60 minutes). But this past season we saw his offensive output dip in concert with his drop in the lineup. Wilson, on the other hand was placed in a more advantageous scoring line role and saw a nice boost in his overall game because of it. His big body allows him to create space for smaller players like Calle Jarnkrok and sneak onto the powerplay as the forward providing a screen in front. This isn't to say Smith doesn't use his frame to his advantage but at 6'1'' 221 pounds Wilson is load that opposition struggles to move. Overall, on offensive skill alone we have to tip our hat to Smith, but if you need a big body player with a workman mentality to plug in beside a smaller skilled guy, Wilson could become more valuable.
Speaking of a small skilled player, Calle Jarnkrok has quickly made a name for himself in Nashville. His quick strike ability has made him a noticeable threat if he's given the space. That remains the obvious issue, finding space. Jarnkrok isn't the biggest player out there, weighing in at 186 pounds (probably with his equipment on). He's been lucky up until this point to play with big wingers willing to take a hit to make a play. You can't say that Calle shy's away from the physical play, it just that a player of his size has to use his speed as an element of pressure more often than physicality. Despite the positives we seen in his game and the added responsibility Peter Laviolette has given in him, his offensive totals remained level with that of 2015-16. His contract may be cheap and provide appeal, but for the purposes of expansion Calle will be passed over by a Vegas team likely flush with skilled small forwards to chose from.
No offence to the likes of Austin Watson or Colton Sissons, but Pontus Aberg is the superior forward prospect. Don't know who he is? Well...Pontus was a second round pick of the Predators back in 2012 out of the Swedish league. He's spent the last three years in Milwaukee (AHL) lighting it up for the Preds farm team, posting a near point per game average for the Admirals in 2016-17 before being called up for the end of season playoff push and Stanley Cup run. Although he's made little impact in this short period of time, he's gained much needed experience for a player that must adjust to NHL-calibre play. A selection by George McPhee wouldn't be out of the question, as he projects to be a scoring line contributor 2-3 years down the track. If patience is taken, Pontus could become the more valuable player from this group. But projecting any players transition to the pro-level is far from a guarantee.
VEGAS WILL SELECT
In order to be competitive day one, the Golden Knights will have to do more than just stock their prospect pipeline. Picking a more established, possession driven player from Nashville is the way to go. Craig Smith's production rate may have taken a hit playing with Mike Ribeiro this season, but his overall contribution to the team, ability to generate Corsi events, and strong WOWY numbers after moving up and down the lineup make him our selection for the Vegas Golden Knights over the likes of Wilson and Aberg.
However, don't be surprised if David Poile tries to negotiate a deal with the expansion club in order to keep his veterans in the fold and his Stanley Cup window open. Either Pontus Aberg or Vladislev Kamenev could be used as trade bait in a packaged deal.
If you are a hockey fan who is:
- Not related to or close friends with someone in the Penguins organization;
- Was not born-in / living-in / or spent a great deal of time in Pennsylvania; or
- Not betting actual money on the Penguins
and are currently cheering against the Predators in the Cup Final, something is inherently wrong with you. Who doesn't like an underdog?! Anyway, win or lose the season has been a raging success for the Predators. The addition of youngsters Dante Fabbro, Samuel Girard, and Frederic Allard in last year's draft provides Nashville a deep pool of the leagues most sought after asset - defence. Must be a nice spot for a General Manager to be in. Think Poile's looking for a new intern?
Next up: Calgary Flames