Nick Spaling has Coach Barry Trotz on his side. (PHOTO: Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports)

Post Season Review: Bottom Six Forwards

The bottom six forwards are normally the ones that set the tone for the team. They’re the scrappy guys who are just trying to earn a job, made up mostly of grinders and PK (Penalty Kill) forwards they do the dirty work and get paid very little doing it. This year in Smashville, our bottom six forwards might have been the weakest link of the team. Maybe even more so than the top six forwards. We didn’t have a very good PK unit with Gaustad missing a lot of time, and even then it was very rare our bottom six was on the PK. Most of the time it was Mike Fisher, Martin Erat, or Sergei Kostitsyn. Don’t expect a lot of high grades this go round folks. Let’s get into it shall we?

Sergei Kostitsyn, 46 games played, 3 goals, 12 assists, minus 5, 27 hits, 23 blocked shots, Overall grade: D.
Some of you may be wondering why someone with 12 assists on the 3rd/4th line is getting a D. For me, it’s quite simple to give SK74 this grade because he managed to go from First Line Left Winger to playing on the bottom two lines. To make things worse, he had one of the biggest boneheaded plays of the year when he tried to do a shift change instead of backchecking, in turn the Predators gave up a goal in what turned out to be a HUGE mistake. It was one of the few hockey plays shown on SportsCenter, and to make it even worse people began to wonder why we were paying this guy 3 million a year. Truth be told, he’s not worth that at all and he really needs to get back to his game. He’s suppose to snipe, yet only has three goals. Not a good look for Sergei.

Personally I think his brother and Radulov leaving had a bigger impact on him than people like to admit. I know he inked his new contract, but since that time he’s not been the same player. I’m of the mindset that Sergei needs a change of scenery, and I think the Predators management is in the same boat. It makes me sad, because I use to really like Sergei but he just isn’t cutting it anymore.

Paul Gaustad, 23 games played, 2 goals, 3 assists, minus 1, 40 hits, 19 blocked shots, Overall grade: C-

First let me say this, Gaustad is way overpaid for what he does. He did have nearly a 60% faceoff percentage, which helps his cause. He also had 40 hits in only 23 games, but the problem was he just wasn’t on the ice enough. I hope he gets his injuries worked out because I really like Gaustad, and I feel like having him anchor our fourth line is the best for everyone involved. He brings a physical presence this team needs, because we really lacked physicality that we’re used to having. Offensively Gaustad is who we thought he was, he will never have big offensive numbers. But next year he needs to ramp up the hits, keep winning faceoffs, and find a way to block shots while staying healthy. That’s all I got on him.

Matt Halischuk, 36 games played, 5 goals, 6 assists, plus 1, 33 hits, 21 blocked shots, Overall grade: F

Poor Halischuk, he’s stuck in a loop right now. He’s not really physical enough to be in the bottom six, and he’s not exactly skilled enough to be in the top six. He can’t play the penalty kill, and his hit numbers leave a lot to be desired. Some might think I’m being too hard on him, but to be perfectly honest I’ve felt this way for a while. I think Halischuk is a hard-working forward, but he’s just got the misfortune of not being skilled enough to fit in the top six. If he could play the PK like his counterpart than I might change my tune, but as of right now I feel Halischuk will be traded or not resigned. It also didn’t help he had to go on a conditioning assignment in Milwaukee, before being recalled after several injuries.

Nick Spaling, 47 games played, 9 goals, 4 assists, minus 10, 38 hits, 21 blocked shots, Overall grade: D+

I told you if a player like Halischuk could play the penalty kill he would get a higher grade. Nick Spaling showed great progression in his offensive game this season, that was the good news. Now for the bad news, Nick Spaling defensive awareness regressed. Playing on the PK helps Spaling in this situation, but he’s in the same boat as Halischuk. He’s not offensively gifted enough to be more than a third line forward, and his defensive skills need to get way better if he wants to progress as a bottom six forward. He’s got to be better on special teams, and he’s got to regain composure if he wants to successfully be a part of this team. I think the Predators should retain Spaling, but if he doesn’t get his act together don’t be surprised if he goes on a conditioning assignment followed by being waiveNashville Predators forward Rich Cluned.

Richard Clune, 47 games played, 4 goals, 5 assists, plus 3, 159 hits, 6 blocked shots, Overall grade: A

You want to talk about a surprise? How about Richard Clune. The kid spent a lot of time in the minor leagues for the Kings, and while he isn’t exactly the enforcer Brian McGrattan was, he’s scores a good amount of points for a 4th line forward. He also lays the boom, getting 159 hits on a team with Shea Weber? That’s insanity…and that is EXACTLY what the Nashville Predators need. Our fourth line needs to be composed of more guys like Clune who will knock the snot out of you. And I think that will be something addressed in the offseason, because if we get another guy who can bring the physicality like Clune, nobody is going to want to be in Smashville. Clune puts the SMASH in Smashville, and I love it. The only downside to his game is he doesn’t win a lot of fights, but he’s proven he’s willing to drop the gloves with just about anybody. I admire that, and I want to see more of the same.

Brandon Yip, 34 games played, 3 goals, 5 assists, minus 3, 46 hits, 7 blocked shots, Overall grade: C-
I hate to be hard on Brandon Yip, because he does work really hard. But in this scenario, this is exactly what he needs. He had nearly similar numbers last year in far fewer games. He also lost his ability to be that “energy” guy that Clune is now. Yip only dropped the gloves a couple of times, but his hits numbers aren’t that impressive for a guy who is supposed to be in the same mold as Clune. Similar numbers offensively, and a more physical presence from Clune means to me Brandon Yip will be gone before next season. I hope he lands somewhere he can be successful, because he does work hard…he just doesn’t work hard enough.

Craig Smith, 44 games played, 4 goals, 8 assists, minus 11, 39 hits, 13 blocked shots, Overall grade: D+

Craig Smith is electric, and this training camp he was supposed to be bigger, faster, and stronger. Except one problem, he forgot how to score. Regressing from 36 points to just 12 is pretty bad, he had over half the season to play and he still didn’t get close to his halfway point. He also had to be sent to Milwaukee on a conditioning assignment, which tanked his grade. Personally, he should still be in Milwaukee, as Colin Wilson had to do. The biggest knock on NCAA players is they don’t play enough games like Canadian Junior and the AHL, and now Craig Smith starts his one way contract which means we can’t stick him in Milwaukee without passing him through the waiver wire. I hope he learns soon, because you can see the offensive potential, but he just has to become a consistent 40-50 point guy if he wants to be more than a Bottom 6 forward. I would start him on a conditioning assignment in Milwaukee next year, give him a full two weeks to gain confidence and then bring him on in slowly.

I’m not ruling out Craig Smith as potential trade bait either, do I want it to happen? No, absolutely not. But if we get the right deal (like what we got for Lindback last year) then I think we have to at least consider it, especially with these next two guys coming up soon.

Austin Watson, 6 games played, 1 goal, 0 assists, minus 2, 2 hits, 2 blocked shots, Overall grade: N/A

I don’t think we got a big enough sample size out of Austin Watson, his first two games played he looked really lost on the ice, but I still believe he’s got big play potential as a two-way forward, he has offensive skill but is also defensively sound. I do think he will be in Nashville next season, but I don’t think he’ll be above the third line. His AHL numbers were fairly impressive, so here’s hoping it works out for the Predators.

Taylor Beck, 16 games played, 3 goals, 4 assists, even, 13 hits, 11 blocked shots, Overall grade: C+

Let me say this, I feel if we dNHL: Preseason-Nashville Predators at Carolina Hurricaneson’t sign someone major in the offseason, Taylor Beck WILL be a top 6 forward. Now let me also say this, he has to get better on his forechecking skills and his body checking. As a power forward, I expect more hitting to come out of his game. Now offensively? Offensively he looked good, and I think he’ll get better. He’ll come back bigger and stronger next year, and hopefully be able to contribute. I’d prefer him being a 3rd line winger with Austin Watson and MAYBE Craig Smith, but if the Preds don’t man up I see Beck being right up top with some of the other offensive players we have.

I didn’t mention other guys like Henderson and Bang because I don’t feel like they’ll be coming up full-time next year. I think they’ll stay in Milwaukee unless we have injuries, and help the Ads go far in the playoffs hopefully. I also didn’t mention Bobby Butler, because for me he’s on the verge of being a Top 6 forward. He spent most of his time on the bottom lines but when people go hurt Butler stepped up and sniped pretty good, so he’ll likely be in that edition.

Final Thoughts

The Predators have to address this area just as much as they address the Top 6 in the offseason. We need someone to come down with Clune and be a physical player for us. I’m looking at guys like a Raffi Torres if he’s available. I want a guy who is going to set the tone night in and night out with Gaustad and Clune, if we can get a fourth line like that it will allow us to be more flexible with our third line and POSSIBLY include some scorers like a Taylor Beck, Austin Watson, and either Nick Spaling and/or Craig Smith. We will see some tough decisions made this offseason, but with Forsberg coming in full-time, and our lottery pick (who I’m assuming will be a forward) coming in as well some of these guys won’t be able to stay. I think Halischuk, Yip, and Butler might be gone next season despite the fact they played hard. In their place we could see a new grinder to pair with Clune and Gaustad, possibly someone who can work the PK as well. I don’t know of many outside of Raffi Torres who are available as most of the better ones have been locked up recently. I’d go bananas if we has Torres, Goose, and Clune on the same line…but let me make something perfectly clear, the Predators have to get more physical if they want to compete in this new “Central” division.

That’s all for now

-Seth

Tags: Clune Halischuk Spaling

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