Nashville Predators coach Peter Laviolette tends to keep the same line combinations unless there is an injury or if things aren’t going well he will make a tweak or two. Most of last season saw that same lines with just minor changes. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what he may be looking at for the start of the season.
This line should be pretty well set as it was the number one line most of last season. According to DobberHockey, Forsberg was on this exact line nearly 40% of the time he was on the ice at even strength last year. With injuries and a little shuffling of Craig Smith to the top line, that was the vast majority of his time on ice. James Neal told Tom Willis at Predators.com this week that he feels much more comfortable with the team and with Nashville in general and is expecting big things this year. Forsberg looked great in the preseason and this line should be even better than last season.
This is the line that looks like it may start with a bit of a surprise. Last year, Fisher was teamed with Wilson and Craig Smith but in the Columbus preseason game this week, Laviolette moved Jarnkrok to this line and Smith down to the third line. According to Adam Vingan of the Tennessean, Lavy wants to see what that combination looks like. He said of Jarnkrok:
"“We’re looking at it in training camp,” Laviolette said. “Ultimately, there’s got to be a production from the line and contributions from each member of the line. He’s had some good games. He’s had some games where he’s been, I think, our best forward.”"
The Preds were disappointed in Jarnkrok’s production last season with 7 goals and 18 points as he centered the third line. Moving him to the wing on the second line improves the defensive posture of the line while hopefully increasing his scoring and spreading more scoring to the third line.
Wilson and Fisher have a nice chemistry and Jarnkrok has been pointed out as one of the most intelligent players on the team and adapts well to changes. This could be a really interesting line if it can score near last year’s number two of Wilson, Fisher and Smith.
This line could actually be the key to the Predators season. Cody Hodgson was brought in on a Free Agent contract to add scoring to the third line. The addition of Smith could really spread the Predators scoring out and if the Preds can trot out three scoring lines it will open up opportunities for the top two lines too. Viktor Arvidsson may have seemed like a longshot for this line entering training camp with Kevin Fiala and Steve Moses penciled in for this slot but he really outplayed them both and was a true bright spot throughout Prospect, Rookie, and Training camps.
If this line can click it shows a tremendous amount of potential. Hodgson is only one year removed from a 20 goal season, Smith has 24 and 23 goals his past two and Arvidsson not only had 22 goals and 55 points last season in Milwaukee but led the entire AHL in shots on goal with 272, nearly four shots a game. He never met a shot he didn’t like. It is very hard to defend against three scoring lines and could negate the Predators weakness at center on it’s first two lines.
We are looking forward to seeing what happens to Austin Watson on this line. He has the prototypical size at six foot and nearly 200 pounds and led the Admirals in goals last year with 26 in 76 games. He can play either wing or even center and could add some scoring potential to this line.
That is something that was lacking last season as Gabby Bourque scored a disappointing 3 goals, Gaustad had 4 and Nystrom chipped in 7. This is not a scoring line, used mostly to shut down the opposing top line but some additional scoring would be welcomed. Watson’s energy and scoring potential could help and it remains to be seen if Lavy will move him around on this line to see if that can happen.
Gaustad is set at center with his amazing faceoff ability and good defense. The other three may be interchangeable to see what chemistry develops.
The best thing is that there are some choices for Coach Laviolette. If things aren’t going well, he can move Colin Wilson, Craig Smith or Jarnkrok to a center position. Watson could find a place filling in on any line and don’t forget that Kevin Fiala and Steve Moses are in Milwaukee doing everything they can to get back to the big club. These are options that the Predators haven’t had much in the past and should help the team reach their goals this season.
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