Now that Matt Duchene is officially joining the Nashville Predators, now we can start speculating how the line combinations will look on opening night.
It’s pretty crystal clear that Duchene is going to make the Nashville Predators a much deeper roster that doesn’t have to rely on its top line to carry them to victory every night. That’s so critical when building a Stanley Cup contender, and Nashville has to feel confident with the depth of the roster now that Duchene is finally here.
Depth was a problem for the Predators last season, especially the ever-changing second line. Head coach Peter Laviolette had to come up with so many different line combinations, partially due to key injuries, to keep this team afloat. Somehow the Predators managed to get hot late and snag a Central Division title. However, it caught up to them in the first round of the playoffs and led to their demise. Lack of chemistry and overall drive is something that really stood out in their series loss to Dallas.
It’s safe to say the Predators are going to look much different on the ice next season, and who will be playing alongside Duchene on that second line will be intriguing to see when the puck drops on the regular season. How Laviolette chooses to initially sort the lines behind Duchene will also be interesting to see.
Who should be alongside Duchene?
You can go a lot of different directions here and make several arguments for who fits in best with Duchene. I’m going to start with saying that we have to figure out where Kyle Turris fits in now. His time as the second line center for the Predators has been rocky to say the least. However, he’s had a solid offseason playing in the IIHF World Championships for Canada and he can hopefully translate that success over to the regular season.
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I’m seeing a lot of people float around the idea of Turris moving to a winger position and playing with Duchene on the second line. That’s certainly not a bad route to explore, but I’m more interested in seeing him stay at center and make an impact on the third or fourth line. He won’t be under nearly as much pressure and could end up making younger players better. Duchene certainly alleviates some pressure off of Turris now that he can be relegated to a smaller role. I’m not a big fan of leaving Turris in the spotlight out of the gate on the second line, while also having him switch positions.
Mikael Granlund could start the season on Duchene’s line based on what we heard from GM David Poile, per Brooks Bratten and 102.5 The Game:
I can definitely see Duchene making a young player like Granlund much more productive. The jury is still out on Granlund and if that was a good acquisition via trade late last season. If Granlund does indeed fit in with Duchene, I’d like Craig Smith on the other wing. That gives you two wingers that should easily produce 20-plus goals playing with a player like Duchene. Suddenly the second line becomes nearly as lethal as the top line anchored by Ryan Johansen. An excellent one-two punch for the Predators with their top two lines.
Sorting out the third and fourth line
This is obviously going to be a fluid situation to start off. Laviolette will have to earn his money sorting out these lines early on. There will most likely be some trial and error involved. That being said, I’m loving the idea of Nick Bonino being the center on the third line. He had a nice bounce-back season last year putting up 18 assists and having his second-highest faceoff percentage of his career at just under 52 percent. He also played well defensively and had his highest plus/minus rating of his career at plus-27.
That leaves Turris as the fourth line center out of the gate. This can all change if and when he elevates his level of play, showing last season was a fluke. To start off, he fits perfectly on the fourth line with Austin Watson and a revolving door of other wingers. You can factor in Calle Jarnkrok here, meaning that the third line would feature Rocco Grimaldi and Colton Sissons. This is some seriously solid center depth factoring in Turris on the fourth line.
We have prospects to keep an eye on as well to break into the lineup. I think it’s a matter of time when Eeli Tolvanen will crack this roster again and actually stick around for a while. He looks like a more confident and complete player after having time to develop in Milwaukee. You also have Rem Pitlick in the mix to possibly get an opportunity in the foreseeable future. These two are good candidates to play with a veteran like Turris on the fourth line, with not a lot of pressure to go along with it. Perfect situation for everyone involved.
You can’t help but be excited about the endless possibilities with this lineup now that Duchene is here. He fills a major void on the team that should make everyone around him better. He’s that type of player. Training camp in September will be fun to see the initial lines and how they all gel together. To round it out, here’s my way-too-soon forward lineup projection for the opening night of the regular season against Minnesota. Feel free to tear it down and come up with your own.