Nashville Predators: Third line needs to be addressed during offseason

(Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images) /

With free agency right around the corner, the Nashville Predators have one position on the roster open? Could they look to fill a void on the third line?

NHL Awards, check. 2018 NHL draft, check.  Qualifying offers, check.  The big offseason events are starting to unfold as we inch closer to another season of hockey.  The Nashville Predators don’t have reason to be very active this offseason.  For the most part, the pieces are in place, and not many tough contract decisions are pending.

We learned that offers were extended to Ryan Hartman, Miikka Salomaki, and Juuse Saros.  We also knew that Mike Fisher retired (again), and Alexei Emelin and Scott Hartnell were not being brought back.

From there, you can fill in the gaps.  Without Emelin, the Predators still have their defensive lines penciled in.   Assuming the three players who received qualifying offers accept their deals, the Nashville Predators really have one opening to consider: a third-line winger.  (Note: this is not taking into account how the Austin Watson situation plays out.)  Here are some names the Predators front office might consider rounding out the third line with Calle Jarnkrok and Nick Bonino.

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Ideally, you’d want a player with a scoring touch and maybe a bit of toughness to balance out Jarnkrok and Bonino.  Perhaps the best fit is already on the team.  Two options that come to mind are Ryan Hartman and Eeli Tolvanen.

Last year, Hartman shared the ice with Jarnkrok and Bonino for about 13 minutes.  A small sample size nonetheless, but together they had a 66.7 SCF%, generating 8 scoring chances and giving up 4.  This could be worth exploring as it might be a sign of chemistry.  With Jarnkrok’s injury, there wasn’t much time last year to see how this line could play out. Alternatively, Ryan Hartman and Nick Bonino had more time to get a feel for each other.  In 130 minutes of shared ice time, the pair accounted for 18 high danger chances which led to a 56.25 HDCF%.

In 2016-17, Hartman lit the lamp 19 times with Chicago.  He had a total of 11 last year.  He’s shown he has the finesse to score some goals, although maybe he’s still a little unproven.  But he also has a bit of an edge to his game.  The past two seasons he’s logged 100+ hits each.  And he’s had his share of fights.  This would benefit the third line as it would keep the opposition in check.

Another player that could potentially fill the opening is the young Eeli Tolvanen.  The steal of last year’s NHL draft, Tolvanen should be poised for this opportunity.  Nobody doubts his talent, but Predators fans want to see him in action.  He got a chance to play in 3 games at the end of the season, managing 3 shots on goal and zero points.

He would absolutely score some points if he started the season on the third line.  It’s fairly easy to daydream and see Jarnkrok and Bonino battling for pucks in the corner and passing them back to Tolvanen to snap them home.  In reality, the rookie lacks NHL experience, and he’s not much of a gritty player.  Is he ready for the third line?

Take a Risk in Free Agency

David Poile is no stranger to free agency.  It’s hard for him not to make moves.  This year’s free agency has a lot of talent up top, but that coincides with higher price tags.  If Poile were to bring in somebody new, it would possibly be of the 1 year, $1 million variety–the prove yourself contract.

One of the notable players that did not get a qualifying offer was Anthony Duclair.  A third-round draft pick in 2013, Duclair has really only had one full season of play under his belt.  He had 20 goals and 44 points during the 2015-16 season with Arizona.  However, Duclair hasn’t come close to those numbers though since.  He does sport above-average percentages in CF , SCF, and HDCF.  So it may be worth the risk in signing Duclair.

Another former Coyote that might be worth investing in is Tobias Rieder.  He’s a player that tends to stay out of the box.  He’s good for roughly 30 points a year–an under the radar type scorer that’s good for a third-line role.  He’ll block some shots and throw some hits here and there.  Definitely worth taking a long look at.

No surprise here, but the Avalanche did not extend an offer to Nail Yakupov.  The former #1 overall pick continues to fall from grace.  Maybe giving Yakupov a chance on the third line can relieve some of the pressure to produce like a #1 pick. The Nashville Predators could get him for cheap, then just hope for the best.

Bring Home the Real Deal

Nashville Predators fans were sad to see James Neal get picked in the expansion draft.  It’s like supplying ammunition to the enemy.  Neal is a pure goal scorer, and he is back on the market. A transition back to the Predators would theoretically be seamless.  He knows the system, and he’s logged plenty of minutes with Jarnkrok.

Neal is a valuable player to any team so the odds of him signing with the Predators are slim.  He’s probably gone for good, but it’s okay to dream.

Next: No cannonball this offseason

The options to replace Scott Hartnell on the third line are plenty.  Some are very real, some far-fetched.  Who knows what David Poile is thinking?  The free agency period begins this Sunday, July 1st.  Stay tuned, and let the fun begin!