Nashville Predators: Who’s the Best Option to Solidify the Top Line?

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 19: Calle Jarnkrok #19 of the Nashville Predators is congratulated by teammates Craig Smith #15 and Ryan Johansen #92 after scoring a goal against the Winnipeg Jets during the first period at Bridgestone Arena on December 19, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 19: Calle Jarnkrok #19 of the Nashville Predators is congratulated by teammates Craig Smith #15 and Ryan Johansen #92 after scoring a goal against the Winnipeg Jets during the first period at Bridgestone Arena on December 19, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images) /
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We’re five games into the season, and there’s still no clear answer on what the best combination is for the Nashville Predators’ top line.

It’s going to take time for the Nashville Predators to figure out how to perfectly construct their deep roster. With Matt Duchene joining the mix, the Predators have been trying to figure out who should replace Filip Forsberg on the top line. They’ve tinkered with different combinations, with the exception of the Duchene line.

This isn’t something that necessarily has to be figured out right away. The fact is the Predators have looked excellent offensively for the most part. However, as the season rolls along it’s going to grow in importance to build chemistry on the top line. With still a small sample size to go off of, the next few games are going to be interesting to see how the lineups get constructed by Peter Laviolette.

Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen are off to solid starts so far, with 12 points between the two of them. Who should be the regular third player to line up alongside them is something still being tested out.

What about Craig Smith?

Early on it looked like Craig Smith would have an opportunity to be the opposite winger to Arvidsson on the top line. Smith has always been a grinder who works hard on the boards and strings together productive shifts on the ice. He’s never really had the regular opportunity to get top line minutes.

Nashville Predators
Nashville Predators /

Nashville Predators

Smith has yet to record a goal yet this season, and has just one assist. He’s been moved down the lineup to the fourth line with Kyle Turris and Daniel Carr in the most recent game, a loss to the Kings. He’s kind of gotten buried in the lineup recently, and it’s having a negative impact on his production.

Along with his offensive numbers, Smith’s time on ice is considerably lower than his career average over the first five games. A players of his raw energy, physicality and ability to score big-time goals doesn’t belong on the fourth line. Laviolette may be getting too cute with all of his roster moves. At the very least, Smith should be on the third line with Colton Sissons and Nick Bonino.

Calle Jarnkrok on the top line

Jarnkrok is the most recent beneficiary of seeing time on the top line. He’s looked pretty good with three assists over those two games. But is he really capable of sustaining that, while also managing to get shots on goal and creating goal chances?

If you’re going to put Jarnkrok on the top line long-term, he has to start showing that his offensive game has gotten much better than what his career has shown. He’s never scored more than 16 goals in a season, and scored just ten last season despite playing in 79 games.

Jarnkrok is the perfect fourth line winger. He’s capable of putting up valuable minutes against another team’s fourth line players, but I don’t like him going against some of these other potent top lines that are loaded with elite scorers. It just doesn’t make sense to me. At least we know Smith will play well defensively and is capable of an offensive outburst as he’s been a virtual lock to score 20-plus goals over his Predators career.

Any other possibilities?

It appears it comes down to Jarnkrok or Smith at this point. Turris is fitting in nicely in his role on the fourth line, which I believed in the offseason was his best place to be. He’s found his spot on the roster where he can make other players around him better, and he’s also seeing time on the second power play unit.

You’re obviously not going to touch the Duchene line. Him and Forsberg are unstoppable offensively, and Mikael Granlund is also playing well with them. That trio is perfectly set up for the long term. In terms of breaking up the JoFA line, that move looks like a brilliant one by Laviolette.

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It’s possible that Laviolette wants to experiment with this for a few more games. There’s still time for him to find the right combination, but in the end I believe Smith is the best option on the top line. Move Jarnkrok back to the fourth line with Austin Watson and the revolving door of the other winger. There’s also a high probability that we see a call up or two from the Milwaukee Admirals in the coming weeks if Laviolette isn’t pleased with what he’s seeing.