With just a single pre-season game remaining before the real show starts on Friday, October 14, the Nashville Predators have a roster of 26 players. That number has to be down to 23 by opening night. So who makes the team and what might the lines look like?
The majority of the depth chart is set, naturally. But the fourth line, the third defense pair and one of the top nine are still in question. With that in mind — and assuming everyone is healthy — here’s what the Preds opening night lineup could look like.
Neal – Johansen – Fiala
Forsberg – Ribeiro – Smith
Wilson – Fisher – Arvidsson
Watson – Sissons – Salomaki
scratched: Jarnkrok, Bass
Josi – Ellis
Subban – Ekholm
Bitetto – Carle
scratch: Y. Weber
If the above roster is accurate (even if the lines and pairings are wrong), that would mean 2014 second round pick Vladislav Kamenev, 2015 waiver wire pick up Petter Granberg and undrafted prospect Frederick Gaudreau would all be assigned to the Milwaukee Admirals, Nashville’s AHL affiliate. That doesn’t mean you won’t see them in Music City this season, however. Gaudreau has impressed during training camp and was even Nashville’s best player through the first two periods of Tuesday night’s contest against Columbus.
“I’m just trying to get the most out of everything,” Gaudreau said. “These guys are professional. They’re in the NHL but they still work hard every day. That’s why they’re here and that’s why they stay here.”
And the Preds are pretty high on Kamenev.
“Fiala and Kamenev, they jump out at me as two guys we want to have a good look at,” General Manager David Poile said back in June. “When they’re ready, they’re ready. We think Kamenev should probably get some games [this] year.”
Granberg, who was solid in the rare instances he got into the lineup last season seems to be the victim of a numbers game. Nashville signed veteran blueliners Matt Carle and Yannick Weber to low-risk, one-year contracts during free agency, almost as insurance policies. Both have shown enough in camp to earn a roster spot and, therefore, Granberg gets pushed out.
The real question is where Fiala fits. To say he deserves an NHL spot is all well and good but there still has to be a spot for him to fit into. On paper, you’d scratch Austin Watson or Cody Bass in favor of Fiala all day long and twice on Sundays. Problem is, Fiala is not a fourth liner. He needs to be around offensively-gifted players so he can maximize his skill set and opportunity.
As a result, someone in the top nine has to sit. Does Calle Jarnkrok get scratched? A guy who had a career year last year, blended with the top line of Ryan Johansen and James Neal well and signed a new six-year deal this past summer? What about Colin Wilson? He had a regular season he’d rather forget last year but emerged to the lead the team in scoring during the playoffs at nearly a point-per-game pace. Or possibly Viktor Arvidsson? He had just 16 points in 56 games in 2015-16 but provides the blazing speed down the wing the team is looking for every night.
In other words, unless somebody in the top nine gets traded, Head Coach Peter Laviolette has a tough decision. Not necessarily in adding Fiala to the lineup but more so who gets taken out.
As fun as projecting the 2016-17 lineup is, Laviolette and Poile’s job is not one to be envied.
UPDATE (10/7/16 @ 12:35pm): Per Chris Johnston of Sportsnet, the Predators have put Austin Watson on waivers.
SPECIAL THANKS to Justin B. Bradford of Penalty Box Radio for contribution