Nashville’s Best Case/Worst Case Scenarios: First-Line


We stated our predictions for the Predators second-line for the upcoming season here along with our take on each third-liner’s best case/worst case scenarios. Now we shift our focus to the first-line we could see next season in Nashville.

Here is the list we have come up with that shows our prediction of the Predators roster-sheet for this upcoming season. You will notice names such as Filip Forsberg and Calle Jarnkrok are on the roster-sheet.

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*Mike Fisher is expected to miss 4-6 months due to a ruptured Achillles.

The most consistent names we saw playing on the top-line for the Predators last season were Craig Smith, Patric Hornqvist, and Mike Fisher. There were also fairly consistent appearances of Colin Wilson and David Legwand on the first-line a year ago.

Two of the players listed above are no longer Predators (Hornqvist and Legwand) and Mike Fisher is expected to miss a substantial amount of time with his earliest return-time slated to be around Thanksgiving. With that being said, there are spots open and opportunities for a number of forwards to slide into a first-line role.

None of us of course know what new head coach Peter Laviolette may do with the line combinations with his new, fast and offensive-heavy approach making its way to Nashville.

Line combinations are being experimented with at training camp and with one preseason game played with five-games left we will begin seeing line-combinations take shape; but even then line-combinations could change throughout the beginning of the season and of course with how players are performing. James Neal, Mike Ribeiro, and Olli Jokinen are set to make their Predators debut tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Looking at the Predators’ roster on paper and basing things off of the past (which may not have an implication of course) here is my prediction of the players we will see to start the season and see a majority of playing time on the first-line.

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Healthy Scratches: Rich Clune and Paul Gaustad

Injured Reserve (IR): Mike Fisher

James Neal

James Neal is simply a goal scorer, and perhaps a playmaker the Predators have not had since the days of Paul Kariya. Neal has recorded 20 or more goals in each of his seven NHL seasons. He has been a 40 goal scorer once in his career when he was with Pittsburgh in the 2011-2012 season. James Neal is known for his one-timers and his extremely impressive wrist shot. Predators goalie Carter Hutton even has described the difficulty on reading Neal’s shots, “You can kind of read where pucks are going, with him, it’s hard to pick up his stick blade and where it goes from there.”

Finding “proper” line-mates for Neal may require some mix-and-match tactics from Coach Laviolette, but as long as the line-mates are found Neal could easily becomes the guy the Predators brought him in to be.

Last Season: 59 games; 27 goals, 34 assists, 61 points, +15 +/- rating

-Best Case Scenario

Neal simply does what he was brought in to do; score goals. Neal gets off to a hot-start and becomes a consistent goal scorer for the Predators. He gains confidence and chemistry with Mike Ribeiro, who he played with when they were both members of the Dallas Stars. Neal also resists the “dirty antics” he has been labeled with from his past. Neal could/should be seen on the Predators power-play as well.

Neal’s Best Case Stat-Line: 82 games; 34 goals, 38 assists, 72 points, +12 +/- rating

-Worst Case Scenario

Neal finds himself missing passes from two of the best in the NHL, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and doesn’t find the back of the net as much or as consistent as hoped. Neal can’t find the confidence he seemed to have in Pittsburgh, granted he did  play alongside Crosby and Malkin.

Neal’s Worst Case Stat-Line: 77 games; 19 goals, 29 assists, 48 points, +1 +/- rating

Mike Ribeiro

Mike Ribeiro is coming off of a tough year both on and off the ice. His contract was bought out by the Arizona Coyotes this off-season making him a free-agent and also has stated that he and his family had problems during last year’s season as well. The Predators as a whole are coming into a “new beginning” labeled season due to the coaching changes, but Ribeiro may easily be the player looking at this “new beginning” as a serious fresh-start both on and off the ice.

Last season: 80 games; 16 goals, 31 assists, 47 points, -13 +/- rating

-Best Case Scenario

Ribeiro returns to the 55 to 60 total point range and shows that he has plenty left in his tank. The 34-year-old center finds great chemistry with former teammate James Neal and the two feed off one another becoming a one-two punch for the Predators. Ribeiro has had five-seasons in the NHL with a total of 60 or more points; he could return to that form on the top-line for Nashville.

Ribeiro’s Best Case Stat-Line: 82 games; 20 goals, 39 assists, 59 points, +6 +/- rating

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-Worst Case Scenario

Ribeiro struggles out of the gate and doesn’t find chemistry on the top-line. He and James Neal both get off to a slow start and Ribeiro finds himself as the number-two center, maybe even the third. Ribeiro on the second-line may not be the worst thing in the world, but for his case, it’s safe to say he wants to be that number-one center just as anyone else would.

Ribeiro’s Worst Case Stat-Line: 78 games, 16 goals, 27 assists, 43 points, -3 +/- rating

Craig Smith

Craig Smith is coming off of his best season since being drafted by the Predators in 2009. Smith lead Nashville in the goals category last season with 24. He was number-three on the team in total points with 52. Craig Smith has stepped into the “top-line player” category after his breakout year, and that is where I see Smith fitting into this season.

Last season: 79 games; 24 goals, 28 assists, 52 points, +16 +/- rating

-Best Case Scenario

Smith improves his game and takes that next step to becoming as a solidified top-line forward. Smith has only played three season in the NHL, but if he can build off of his season a year ago and improve his numbers he could very well be a concrete first-liner. Smith thrives on a line with Neal and Ribeiro and all three become the extremely consistent first-line Nashville sees night in and night out.

Smith’s Best Case Stat-Line: 82 games; 26 goals, 32 assists, 58 points, +14 +/- rating

-Worst Case Scenario

Smith finds himself starting on the first-line, but players behind him such as Colin Wilson or Olli Jokinen become more consistent scorers and replace Smith on the top-line. Of the three players on our predicted top-line, I think Smith is the one player that could be replaced on the top-line the quickest and easiest with players chomping for first-line minutes.

Smith’s Worst Case Stat-Line: 80 games, 18 goals, 27 assist, 45 points, +5 +/- rating

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