Nashville Predators: Does Ryan Hartman Deserve More?

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 27: Ryan Hartman #38 of the Nashville Predators skates in warm-ups prior to the game against the Colorado Avalanche at Bridgestone Arena on November 27, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 27: Ryan Hartman #38 of the Nashville Predators skates in warm-ups prior to the game against the Colorado Avalanche at Bridgestone Arena on November 27, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The recent injury issues plaguing the Nashville Predators have given some lesser-known players a chance to step up. Has Ryan Hartman proved he deserves a better spot on the team?

It’s no secret that the Nashville Predators aren’t playing with a full deck. With Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson & P.K. Subban having been on injured reserve for multiple weeks, and Kyle Turris having just returned from a lengthy IR stint of his own, Nashville has looked a bit different on the ice lately. Most teams would fall like a house of cards without four of its top players, finding themselves looking up at the playoff picture. The Predators haven’t replicated their outstanding October, but their play has been good enough to keep their record around the top of the Central Division and Western Conference.

Ryan Johansen has been looking at a number of different people on his line since his JoFA buddies Arvidsson & Forsberg have gone off the ice. Recently, it’s been the combination of Kevin Fiala & Ryan Hartman. Fiala’s move up from the second line might not be as much of a surprise as Hartman, who has spent most of his time on the fourth line since being acquired in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks last season.

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Hartman was one of the additions the Nashville Predators made prior to the trade deadline. It looked like Hartman was going to provide a spark early on, as his first goal with Nashville was a game-winner against the Winnipeg Jets. Unfortunately, he only got points in two out of his last fifteen games of the regular season. His main contribution to the Predators’ playoff run was getting suspended a game for a dirty hit. Hartman signed a one-year deal with Nashville in the off-season, & we all knew heading into 2018-19 that he would need to step his game up to stay in Nashville longer.

How has he looked so far?

One thing Hartman took a big step backward in last season was goal-scoring. His eleven was quite the dropoff from the nineteen he got in 2016-17, his first full season in the NHL. The nine he’s collected in the Predators’ first thirty-two games suggest he’ll at least get back to the pace his rookie season set for his expectations. His 14.5 shot percentage probably isn’t sustainable, but he should get closer to the 11.5 he had in 2016-17 than the 8.5 he had for 2017-18.

Most of Hartman’s goals seem to come early. He got the scoring started against Winnipeg on October 11, the first two goals against Vegas on October 30, Nashville’s first goal against Dallas on November 10, their first goal against Colorado on November 27, & the Predators’ first goal in both recent meetings with Vancouver. He’s like the Nashville Predators’ starter. If he gets it going, things will usually be all right.

He hasn’t recorded an assist since November 1, which is a little disconcerting. What he has recorded a lot of is penalty minutes, as he leads the Predators with twenty-nine. You get annoyed by some of the dumb penalties he gets, but then you like it when he makes opponents get dumb penalties. It’s one of those “take the bad with the good” things.

His advanced statistics aren’t great, though it should be noted that he makes the majority of his starts in the defensive zone, which from what I can tell is a hindrance. His Corsi & Fenwick are up from last season, and currently around the middle of the team rankings. I’m not sure how much that uptick is due to being on Johansen’s line.

Does he deserve a better spot in the lineup?

Eventually, Forsberg & Arvidsson will return. I swear it’s true. JoFA will be a thing again, and Peter Laviolette will have to figure out what to do with the rest of his players based on what they’ve done in the interim. Is it as easy as going back to Smith-Turris-Fiala on the second line, sending Calle Jarnkrok & Colton Sissons back to Nick Bonino‘s line & putting Hartman back on that fourth line? Or does Laviolette switch things up?

We know the answer. Laviolette loves to switch things up. I do think he keeps JoFA together, but everything else is a bit of a crapshoot. Sissons has definitely proven he’s worthy of a second line spot, and Jarnkrok’s always been knocking on that door. I’d expect one of those guys to move up into the Turris line with Smith on the other side.

The third line could have Bonino with Sissons/Jarnkrok, and either Hartman, Fiala or Austin Watson. Out of those three, everybody tells me Fiala has the most upside, but I haven’t seen much of it lately. And the best game I’ve seen him play this season was on the fourth line with Frederick Gaudreau & Miikka Salomaki. I’d put Hartman on the third line & have a fourth line with Watson, Fiala & Gaudreau. Which would probably be one of the best fourth lines in hockey.

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Ryan Hartman’s been a very streaky player with the Nashville Predators. If he can keep things consistent, he could crack the top six for good.