The news today from the Nashville Predators camp was a sad one. Both Anthony Bitetto and Miikka Salomäki are expected to miss extended time with upper-body injuries. The time tables at this point have Bitetto out for four to six weeks and Salomaki out for six to eight weeks. Bitetto was injured in a fight on opening night against Jordin Tootoo while Salomäki injured his hand blocking a shot the following night.
It would seem possible then to expect reinforcements to get brought up from the Milwaukee Admirals now that the depth topside is already being tested. While the short term fix of playing Cody Bass and Yannick Weber work fine enough the potential need for optional fits are likely. The question now, so early into a season for both the NHL and AHL outfits, who are those options?
The first thing you look to is the defensive depth option with Bitetto down. Weber, the other Weber, fills in for now but a more natural lefty for lefty plug in would work. It’s only been two games for the Admirals this season but already Matt Irwin has shown exactly why he was brought in as a veteran defensive option. He played incredibly well for the Admirals and was utilized in all situations and was basically the first choice d-man for those situations. He played on a defensive pairing with another possible recall option in Petter Granberg and both were great together in the Admirals weekend sweep of the San Antonio Rampage.
Of the two, while Granberg just cleared waivers and could easily be brought back into the mix, Irwin would be the guy you’d rather have playing in Bitetto’s role. At 28-years old he still moves around really well. He is polished and has 155 games of NHL experience. And, much to the way the Predators enjoy having active offensive defensemen, is more than capable of joining the rush if required to chip in on the offensive opportunity at hand.
The defensive area then is easy. There are really two top candidates with one very well suited to the role vacated for the here and now. As for the hole left when a Salomäki-type of player leaves your lineup? That creates a few different choices.
I feel Bass for the present time can fill the role alright. He’s more than just an enforcing presence on the ice. He is a terrific penalty killer and is so due to his abilities in the face-off circle. Yet, if you are looking for some added skill to the role you look no further than Frédérick Gaudreau.
You can find many items around this website about the terrific story of Gaudreau’s rise but the simplest summary of it is that he’s an undrafted talent that is getting to this near NHL opportunity because of a relentless work ethic paired with great all-around ability on the ice. He certainly won’t thump the opposition with hits like Salomäki would but don’t mistake his lack of hitting for a lack of defensive ability. His speed and pressure of the puck carrier is a joy to watch – especially when he’s out penalty killing with Félix Girard. Gaudreau’s offensive abilities started to really shine last season and did so right around the time when the Admirals decided to slot him in Colton Sissons‘ top line center spot after the then Admirals recall to the Predators. He did as good, possibly even better, than the now Predators fourth line center.
Other options in the mix stay out on the wing with candidates such as Pontus Åberg or Austin Watson. Åberg made his NHL debut with the Predators in the playoffs last season and is right on the edge of being an NHL talent. When comparing Åberg with Gaudreau you’re looking at a lack of defense for Åberg versus Gaudreau, sure, but Åberg has a much better knack for the net than Gaudreau. And then there is the Watson option. He just cleared waivers to reach the AHL but could easily be turned back around in favor of rotating alongside Bass. Yet, versatility of skill set of the four names mentioned favors Gaudreau and Åberg that little bit more.
Who should the Nashville Predators call up to fill the current Bitetto and Salomäki void? If the Admirals lose a defensemen while Bitetto is injured are you comfortable or concerned with Jonathan Diaby plugging into the third defensive pairing?
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