The news front hasn’t exactly been as booming as it had been when David Poile made four-signings in one-day last Tuesday. That doesn’t mean we can’t keep chatting up what those moves mean for Nashville and Milwaukee, though.
The Predators have added James Neal (trade), Olli Jokinen (free agent), Mike Ribeiro (free agent), Derek Roy (free agent) during this off-season. The moves have not only made a solid impact on the team’s top two forward lines but also the trickle down effect that has on the entire system. According to Thomas Willis of Predlines, this is what a potential 2014-15 Nashville Predators forward line combination could look like:
James Neal-Mike Ribeiro-Craig Smith
Colin Wilson-Derek Roy-Olli Jokinen
Viktor Stalberg-Calle Jarnkrok-Matt Cullen
Eric Nystrom-Paul Gaustad-Gabriel Borque
I feel like that is a pretty safe bet. The talking point I heard a fair bit of when it came to the Ribeiro and Roy signings was the immediate impact it has on the likes of Calle Jarnkrok, Colton Sissons, Miikka Salomaki, Filip Forsberg, and Austin Watson. In my book, Calle makes the NHL roster over Colton to start the season. And the latter should all probably find themselves in Milwaukee barring outrageously good pre-season showings. Also, this shouldn’t be viewed as a set back for the young guns in any way shape or form.
Sissons made a great first impression with the Admirals as a 20-year old first-year pro: 62 games, 44 points (25 goals, 19 assists), 8 penalty minutes, and a plus/minus rating of -3. He also played a grand total of 17 games in the NHL while producing 4 goal (1 goal, 3 assists). If he has lost out on an NHL role for the Preds to start the season he instantly becomes the Admirals top-line center and will be tasked with playing a multitude of roles and different game situations. He will turn 21-years old in November. Sissons could still benefit from another year of AHL duty. In doing so, the Admirals will also benefit from his all-around services from the center position.
Salomaki and Forsberg are two of the young wingers that can make a push for NHL spots right now. If I had to pick which one is the more NHL ready prospect – I would side with Salomaki over Forsberg. Salomaki didn’t just lead the Admirals in scoring last season with 50 points (20 goals, 30 assists). He also displayed a tremendous ability to make quick plays and play physically along the boards. Those are the types of abilities that would make him useful right now in Nashville on the lower-tier forward lines. Forsberg’s defensive abilities can still use some honing in upon and, as skilled as he is, he probably could use a full-season to display consistency on the offensive side of the puck. Filip, who will turn 20-years old in August, can show his brilliance in spurts. To see him lay it down game after game, think Jarnkrok last season after his acquisition from Detroit, is just what it takes to get to the NHL.
Another name that kicked up during discussions I’ve had or read with the Predators off-season is what it means for Mr. Watson. My answer? It is very important to remember where he finished last season. He was on a scoring binge and really found another gear in the latter stages of the regular season. Why? Because he was no longer playing center – he was playing on the wing. I project Watson, at best, to be a useful third or forth line winger that has that scoring touch you want from a lower-line forward but best of all a good defensive mind on his shoulders. He was too slow on the ice to maintain centering a line combination of himself with Salomaki and fellow Finn Joonas Rask last season. I think him moving on the wing allows him to better focus on the ice and move around a lot more freely. Watson’s focus this season should be to pick up where he left off and on being a solid winger in Milwaukee with a chance to get an NHL call up – something he never earned last season.
Lastly, I can’t help but applaud the Predators on signing guys such as Jokinen, Ribeiro, and Roy on one-year deals. They are all low-risk players with affordable contracts that can be dealt at the trade deadline should the Preds be sellers by then. They managed to cash in on Martin Erat and David Legwand for young prospects the previous two-seasons. Literally the worst case scenario from the free agent signings made by Poile is a venture back to the trade market that has produced for him Forsberg and Jarnkrok. It either works for this season with the veteran forwards or it works down the road with youth under head coach Peter Laviolette – something he tends to handle rather well.
Thoughts on the battle for NHL positions in Nashville? Is Calle Jarnkrok a lock or could we see him back in Milwaukee? Are there any other deserving players that should be under consideration by the Predators for NHL spots?