It’s been one of the most exciting offseasons in Nashville Predators history, and Matt Duchene is the main reason why. This will be a new-look team.
A player on the level of Matt Duchene can change an entire team’s makeup. He was the focal point of the offseason as the Predators look to reverse the negative trend they’ve been showing over the past two seasons. We are going to see a “new look” Predators team on Thursday to open the 2019-20 regular season.
Sometimes change can scare people. Duchene’s presence isn’t as simple as just sticking him on the second line and throwing a couple wingers next to him. It’s all about constructing two top lines that will make opposing teams have a tough time matching.
GM David Poile is a mastermind at what he does. His track record speaks for itself as the general manager of the Nashville Predators for the past two decades. He recently did an interview with the Predators Official Podcast from NashvillePredators.com and brought up several interesting points as the regular season is about 48 hours away. Here is a link to the full episode of the Predators Official Podcast as it’s a great listen.
Who should play alongside Duchene?
The talk has always been that Duchene is going to be on the second line, and the top line of Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson are going to stay together. However, that doesn’t seem crystal clear at this point. During the preseason I was intrigued to see Duchene play alongside Forsberg. Two dynamic offensive threats feeding off each other. They played well together, helping the Predators go 5-1 in the preseason.
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Again, people usually hate the idea of change. But the Predators need some changes right now, even if it’s changes to a unit that has been successful in the past. How dangerous are the Predators going to be if you split the JoFA line up? Last season we saw the top line broken up thanks to lengthy injuries to Forsberg and Arvidsson. It forced Peter Laviolette to be very creative with his line combinations, and the end result wasn’t always pretty.
The preseason was the time to throw together different line combinations to see what you have. Poile elaborated on this proposition of reconstructing the top two lines in his interview with the Preds Official Podcast:
"The hope was that we could bring basically two No. 1 lines to our arsenal… If we can come up with a second line that produces more offense than we have in the last couple of years, we’re going to be a tough team to beat."
I personally love this experiment. It keeps the opposition guessing, especially the early-season opponents. It’s also not like these decisions are set in stone. However, the possibility of finding something special is worth a try. Experimenting with different line combinations is better early in the regular season than it is late in the season when your team’s chemistry should already be at its maximum.
The Predators have gone backwards the last two seasons. A second-round exit to follow up their Stanley Cup run, and then a shocking first-round exit at the hands of the Dallas Stars. Something is clearly broken, and Duchene is hopefully the tool to fix it. Now the team has to figure out how to exactly use that tool. It might take some experimenting early on.
How the lines could be constructed
So now the question becomes who takes Forsberg’s place on the top line if you move him off and stick him with Duchene? If Kyle Turris keeps showing promise in his new role on the wing, he may be a good option to try. Turris looked sharp in the preseason after a lackluster 2018-19 season. However, that’s a big leap to put him on the top line and give him that kind of ice time.
Mikael Granlund seems like a lock for the second line with Duchene. With the exception of Duchene and Turris, Granlund is a player I’m really focused on to see how he performs this season. His early time with Nashville didn’t go smoothly as he struggled to produce after coming via trade from the Minnesota Wild. A trade that dealt Kevin Fiala.
Then you have the possibility of the Swiss Army Knife of Craig Smith. He’s been practicing on the top line as recent as today, per Adam Vingan:
If anyone has earned an opportunity to log ice time on the top line, it’s Smith. He’s a virtual lock to score at least 20 goals and has been with the Predators for all eight of his NHL seasons. Who knows how much he could produce if he was playing alongside Johansen and Arvidsson on a regular basis.
There aren’t a whole lot of options if you move Forsberg off the top line. I love the idea of it, but I’m not so sure it’s going to be that simple. Turris and Smith are the only possibilities I see, and that’s a long shot. If it works out in the first couple of games, then Poile will once again illustrate his wizardry.
In the end, I think it will come down to Duchene playing with Turris and Granlund on the second line. As for the power play units, Duchene should see a lot more ice time with Forsberg. That’s when it’s going to be so entertaining to watch these two play together and create beautiful scoring chances. I believe Forsberg is in store for 40-plus goals, assuming he stays healthy.
Duchene is already making such a positive impact on the Nashville Predators without playing a regular season game yet. It’s important to not overthink this too much. I love the creativity, but I believe the top line should stay intact and let Duchene transform the second line into one of the best in the NHL.