The Nashville Predators lineup may find new potential with positional changes.
The Nashville Predators have a serious issue looming in the near future. The core of the team, the center position, is aging- and like most things, a hockey team with an overly aged core is likely soon to fall apart.
Mike Fisher, apart from being recently nominated team Captain, is a 36-year-old two-way center who saw his production dip to 23 points through 70 games last year. Mike Ribeiro, also at 36-years-old, had a far more successful outing, notching 50 points- though the wear-and-tear of the campaign stuck question marks to Ribeiro’s name as he was sat as a healthy scratch for a pair of playoff games.
The importance of the center position was clearly demonstrated last season. The team’s offensive performances were nothing short of anemic before top-line centerman Ryan Johansen was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets, moving Ribeiro and Fisher down from first and second-line roster slots to the second and third lines.
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But one has to wonder- with the decrease in production and season fatigue wearing on the veterans who hold such critical positions to the team’s performance, what’s the backup plan?
The Nashville Predators may look in-house to address any issues, with Swedish Army Knife Calle Jarnkrok listed as a natural central. The 24-year-old is entering the upswing of his play, coming off a career-high 30-point effort with a solid defensive presence and a +1 rating.
A great thing about Jarnkrok can be found in his six-year, $12 million contract, which shakes out as a brilliant deal for the Preds. The under side of this, however, reveals itself as a fantastic bait that the Las Vegas expansion team may want to bite if Jarny has a breakout year.
If Calle becomes Vegas bound, the Nashville Predators will lose a versatile and valuable forward, and both Fisher and Ribeiro will be another year older- and all out of contract.
A less obvious option would be sniper and rising star Filip Forsberg. Following Johansen on the depth chart would not only provide a stunning one-two combination of talent at the center position, but would allow a vacancy at the wing for one of the Nashville Predators young skill players (looking at you, Kevin Fiala, Pontus Aberg).
Though the left wing position (where Forsberg currently resides) is relatively thin, the AHL pipeline offers more ability to patch the wings than the center. The 20-year-old Vladislav Kamenev has been deemed a future top-nine center, but still appears to be a few years off from behind NHL prepared.
Hopefully for the Nashville Predators, Captain Fisher is reinvigorated and blazes the 2016-17 season like he did last year’s postseason and Mike Ribeiro calms all the concern about his play. But time catches all of us, so it comes down to two questions: when does it catch the center core? And are the Nashville Predators prepared to address the situation when it does?