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Mosh’s Midseason Report Cards

 By Greg Moshopoulos (@GreekGoalie35)

The Predators are finally returning to the ice tonight after what seems like an eternity. With the club at the virtual halfway point in the season, it’s a perfect time to reveal midterm grades for the team.

Right off the bat, we got no epic pictures of Viktor Arvidsson with pigs on a beach and an Arvy injury on the first practice back, so the bye gets a failing grade. But let’s get serious…

FORWARDS

Pontus Aberg- 27 games, 2 goals, 3 assists. If you’ve listened to the show, you know exactly how I feel about him. He’s on a one-way contract and can’t be sent down to Milwaukee without clearing waivers. Poile obviously still sees potential in the 24-year old or he wouldn’t be here. He’s been given every opportunity to succeed, but outside of a 4-game stretch in December which saw him register 3 points, he’s done nothing with his opportunity. Grade: D-

Viktor Arvidsson- 42 games, 13 goals, 14 assists. After a bit of a slow start (5 points in the first 12 games) Arvidsson was pacing closer to his breakout 61-point season of a year ago. With 22 points in his last 30 games, he has made his presence felt on the ice every shift regardless of which center he flanks. But with his lower-body injury during practice raising questions, we can only hope he doesn’t miss extended time. His consistent effort every game makes him invaluable and the long-term contract he signed in the offseason looks like a bargain. Grade: A-

Nick Bonino- 31 games, 6 goals, 2 assists. Speaking of long-term deals completed in the summer, Bonino was brought in to replace retired captain Mike Fisher in a 2nd line role. That’s not exactly what the Preds have gotten through the first half of the season. After spending the last 2 years behind Crosby and Malkin at center in Pittsburgh, the hope was that he needed the chance to play bigger minutes to improve his offensive numbers. He’s finally finding his role with the team after an awful start and missing a month of action with a lower-body injury. The line juggling continues, but based on his contract, he has not lived up to expectations. Grade: C

Kevin Fiala- 41 games, 10 goals, 16 assists. Before the season, I said Fiala was ready to make the same jump that Arvidsson made the year prior. The question over his gruesome leg injury in the playoffs vs. the Blues and how he would come back has been answered with authority. Although he’s gone cold tallying no points in his last 8, he scored 8 goals in 9 games prior to that so it balances out. He has found such great chemistry with Turris and Smith that regardless of injuries, Laviolette has refused to break up that line. Grade: A-

Filip Forsberg- 37 games, 15 goals, 19 assists. It’s a shame that a wrist injury has sidelined Forsberg with the year he has had. The last couple seasons has seen him get out of the blocks incredibly slow, only to go ape (particularly in February) and manage a 30-goal campaign. Consistency is what has been the biggest difference this year as he’s gone no more than 2 consecutive games without a point. He’ll be out of action for at least another couple weeks and hopefully back to being the force we’ve seen thus far. Grade: A+

Scott Hartnell- 28 games, 6 goals, 4 assists. The Poile special. A one-year, $1M contract for the 35-year old has paid dividends at times. Ever since the trade of Patric Hornqvist, the Preds have lacked that nasty, gritty presence in front of opposing goaltenders. Hartnell was playing that role, but then missed a whole month while the team was thriving. Upon coming back, he saw his ice time decline significantly from 14-17 minutes a night to about 9-12 minutes. Make no mistake about it, his size, physicality and experience will come into play this spring. Grade: C+

Calle Jarnkrok- 42 games, 10 goals, 11 assists. I’m going to get this out of the way… Since November 7th, James Neal has 10 goals. Jarnkrok…. 9. Negligible difference, agreed? Yes? Good. Moving on. There’s not a player on this roster who plays as many different roles as the Swedish army knife. He has been everywhere from top-line winger to defense, and I’m convinced if the situation called for it, he’d become this generation’s Jamie Allison and be the emergency goalie. His hockey IQ ranks right up there with anybody amongst the Preds forwards and is on pace to have career highs in both goals and assists. Did I mention he has the most goals by a center on the team? Grade: A

Ryan Johansen- 39 games, 5 goals, 21 assists. I liked him so much more when he played with a chip on his shoulder. Johansen has largely disappointed on the offensive side of things. I know he doesn’t shoot that much and he favors being a pivot for guys like Forsberg and Arvidsson, but he has to be selfish sometimes. It’s not really all that surprising considering he models his game after Joe Thornton, one of the all-time greatest passers in history. Regardless of that, he needs to produce more than what he has to this point if the Preds are to be a contender. Grade: C

Cody McLeod- 23 games, 1 goal, 1 assist. There’s not much to say about him. He’s played 23 more games than I would prefer, but the good news is he should play no role when it comes to the playoffs. Grade: F

Miikka Salomaki- 27 games, 2 goals, 4 assists. Salomaki has been rotated in and out of the lineup all year with limited success. Only recently has his play been consistent enough to be dressed for the last 4 games. He’s finally settled into his role as a physical presence and agitator. So long as he plays within himself, he should still see ice time. Grade: D+

Colton Sissons- 41 games, 3 goals, 9 assists. With the acquisitions of Nick Bonino and Kyle Turris, Sissons has had to fight for playing time. Although his offensive numbers aren’t anything to write home about, he takes almost every crucial face-off late in games and rarely finds himself in the wrong place on the ice. He’s a solid depth player that continues to improve. Grade: B-

Craig Smith- 41 games, 15 goals, 10 assists. After a much-maligned 2016-17 season, Smith has recovered to possibly have the best season of his career. His overall stats have steadily declined the last 3 years, but with Kyle Turris centering his line, Smith has firmly cemented himself as a consistent offensive threat. With injuries to Forsberg and Arvidsson, Smith and his linemates will be heavily relied upon to put up points. Grade: A-

Kyle Turris- (with Nashville) 27 games, 5 goals, 14 assists. I said back when the trade went down that this was a huge win for the Preds. Bonino had largely failed to provide enough offense expected of a 2nd line center, but Turris was a proven commodity who consistently put up 55-65 points. After an incredible first five weeks with the team, things have cooled off, tallying just 2 points in his last 10 games. Despite the recent struggle, his play remains strong and points are sure to follow. Grade: A

Austin Watson- 40 games, 5 goals, 2 assists. Watson emerged during the playoff run as a key cog up front that provided physicality, tenacity and shot-blocking that quickly made him a fan favorite. That’s quite striking considering earlier last season he was placed on waivers and no team claimed him. Like much of the roster, he had a bit of a Stanley Cup hangover early on, but he is back to wreaking havoc against any player in an opposing uniform. Grade: B

DEFENSE

Anthony Bitetto/Yannick Weber/Matt Irwin- These 3 are mired in a battle for playing time with the return of Ryan Ellis, and every opportunity to dress is a chance to prove they are worthy to be in the lineup full time. The biggest problem for each has been consistently putting together a string of games that keeps them from becoming a healthy scratch. As of right now, nobody seems to have the inside track on the 6th D position. The second half of the season will be an audition for the job for each one. Overall Grade: D+

Mattias Ekholm- 42 games, 6 goals, 15 assists. Ekholm is the most improved blueliner on the team over the past several years. He was once labeled a shutdown or stay-at-home dman, but his skating and offensive prowess has come through in ways you can’t ignore. Although he hasn’t scored a point in 11 games, he’s still on pace to put up 40-45 points. In fact, upon Ryan Ellis’ return, Ekholm was temporarily placed on the 3rd pairing to stabilize the defense. He has spent most of the year on his off-wing, skating on the right side, which makes his success that much more impressive. Things are back to normal with he and Subban skating together again as the shutdown pair. Grade: A

Ryan Ellis- 4 games, 1 goal, 1 assist. After a couple games, Ellis looks to be getting his skating legs back under him. The team played very well even without him in the lineup, but as part of the leadership group, expect him to make a big impact the rest of the way. Grade: Incomplete

Alexei Emelin- 41 games, 1 goal, 7 assists. Emelin needed a little time adjusting to his new surroundings, but he has come along in a big way. I was one of the loudest voices in showing my displeasure in his first couple weeks, but his physicality on the back end has been a welcome addition. For much of the season, he was alongside PK Subban and for the most part, held his own. As the clear-cut 5th d-man, he will now be asked to keep the 3rd pairing from digging holes for the team. Grade: B-

Roman Josi- 39 games, 8 goals, 17 assists. Nashville’s newest captain has shown stretches of play where he can dominate. He has largely been quiet, or as quiet as a dman who will score between 45-55 points can be. From a points perspective, it’s a ho-hum season, but he has been caught giving too much room to opposing forwards on the rush. Grade: B-

PK Subban- 42 games, 9 goals, 23 assists. Outside of some careless turnovers, Subban has been remarkable this year. The Central Division All-Star captain is only 8 points shy of his total from his first season in Nashville and on pace to have a career-high in goals. He will be in discussion to win his 2nd Norris Trophy with his play. Grade: A

GOALIES

Pekka Rinne- 32 games, 21-8-3, 2.43 GAA, .925 SV%. The plucky 35-year old has been simply fantastic. From October 10th through November 29th, he lost a total of 2 games in regulation…..TWO! Age and fatigue were two question marks that we had entering the season, but he has proven to all the naysayers (especially the sieves in Anaheim) wrong. If he keeps up this play, he will be a 3-time finalist for the Vezina. Grade: A+

Juuse Saros- 11 games, 4-3-3, 2.43 GAA, .922 SV%. Saros struggled in his first three starts, surrendering 13 goals in 3 losses. He’s 4-0-3 in his last 8 games while giving up just 14 goals during that stretch. The 22-year old Finn is well on his way to getting more playing time, and possibly earning a starting gig by next season. Grade: A

Overall, the Predators have built off their momentum from the spring and sit just 3 points from the top spot in the Central, with 4 games in hand after the bye. As we have come to expect, the division is the toughest in the NHL, with last place Chicago sitting just 9 points from the top spot. Although the injuries to Forsberg and Arvidsson sting, you’d rather have those now and have them come back for the stretch run well-rested for another Stanley Cup push.

 

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