The Nashville Predators were exposed at center during the Stanley Cup Finals. So they went out and acquired Nick Bonino, but is it enough?
The Nashville Predators’ center corp is Ryan Johansen, Nick Bonino, Calle Jarnkrok, and Frederick Gaudreau. An above average corp on paper for sure. But is that good enough to take the Predators back to the mountaintop? A great group of centers can cover a lot of holes, as evidenced by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
So did the addition of Nick Bonino cover the holes? Let’s remember that the addition of Bonino is to also manage losing Mike Fisher. How does this group of centers stack up against the rest of the league?
Johansen is a bonafide elite center in the NHL. The 25-year-old is getting better and better and last season is a good example of what he can do. I think 70 points is not out of the question if he’s healthy all year. Johansen has all the advanced stats in his corner. His last season’s Fenwick score was a 55.9, which is elite. Even though Johansen doesn’t score goals at a first line level. He assists, generates shots, and suppresses shots at above a first line level.
Johansen is an all situations center, he thrives when you need him. Is it the final minute of the game and you need a goal? Put Johansen on the ice. Is it the final minute of the game and you’re up by one in your own zone? Put Johansen on the ice. Johansen is an elite center who can produce in either zone. He stacks up well against any other teams first line center.
The newly acquired free agent looks to step right into the Nashville Predators second line center role, but is he qualified? Bonino mostly spent his time on the third line with the Pittsburgh Penguins, although he did have a tremendous linemate. American Hero Phil Kessel and Bonino played together for the majority of the last two seasons. Bonino, Kessel, and Hagelin even formed the infamous HBK line in the playoffs two seasons ago. Nevertheless, Bonino posted 37 points last year, five fewer than Mike Fisher. Obviously, this might be an issue going forward but more playing time might bump up those numbers.
Unlike Johansen, Bonino definitely doesn’t have the advanced stats on his side. Bonino posted a 47.9 Fenwick score, pretty bad considering he played against third line competition. It’s even more suspect considering that Fisher put up a decent 50.8 Fenwick score in a tougher role. While Bonino does score and assists at a between third and second line rate, I still think that’s because of his linemates. I have previously said that even though Bonino will start on the second line. I don’t think that’s where he’ll be at the end of the season. If there’s a weak link on this team, I think Bonino is it.
Imagine Nick Bonino but with fewer points, more versatility, and better possession scores. Jarnkrok plays five on five minutes, penalty kill, and power play time. He’s the human equivalent of a swiss army knife. Jarnkrok put up 31 points in 81 games last season while being in a defensively minded role. He didn’t have consistent linemates with skill and I think a full season with better players might skyrocket his point totals.
Unlike Bonino, Jarnkrok is an advanced stats darling. He’s never posted a negative Fenwick score in his entire career and looks poised to get better. He also has had tough zone starts as he starts in the defensive zone 54.7% of the time. Jarnkrok scores goals at a third line rate but oddly enough has pretty bad assists totals. I think that’s mostly because of his underqualified linemates. Jarnkrok isn’t an offensive dynamo but he’s a rock in his own zone. He suppresses shots at an above first line level and I think it will translate. Jarnkrok is my pick to end up on the second line near the end of the year. Especially when Kevin Fiala needs a defensively minded center to make up for what he lacks.
The newcomer. There’s not much of a case to be made with Gaudreau since no one really knows how he’ll do. Gaudreau has played 9 games in the NHL so far and only has one assist to show for it. Although, he only averaged 8 minutes per game, but he had great possession stats. Gaudreau posted a completely average score of 50.3. That’s actually a decent score when you consider that Gaudreau started in his own zone 60.7% of the time. This will be Gaudreau’s first real season in the NHL and I think he can be a fine bottom six center who could contribute on the penalty kill. We’ll just have to wait and see how he develops.
Are the Nashville Predators fine at center?
I personally don’t think so. The Nashville Predators have an elite first line center, two third line centers, and a fourth line center. I think that if they were to acquire anyone, it wouldn’t be goaltending or defense, it should be a center. But who’s open on the market? Enter Matt Duchene and Joe Thornton. Duchene has too high of an asking price and so it wouldn’t make sense for the Nashville Predators, unless the price falls. Thorton makes more sense seeing as the Sharks won’t ask for too much, although Thornton brings an 8 million dollar cap hit. Salary would need to be retained and a prospect would be lost. But it would fix the Nashville Predators biggest need.