The Nashville Predators are days away from their first game back. For Colin Blackwell, it could be an opportunity to get a permanent roster spot.
When the Nashville Predators’ playoff roster was announced, there were few surprises. All of the players that were picked have NHL experience, even if it’s just a few games for some.
Colin Blackwell, on the other hand, received some valuable playing time with the Predators this season and was on the roster before the season pause. He was a valuable part of the bottom-six and provided stability to a roster that was in disarray.
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Blackwell participated in 27 NHL games this year, scoring three goals, including his first, against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Another memorable first goal was scored in that game as well. Blackwell found the back of the net for the first time on the same night that goaltender Pekka Rinne scored his memorable goaltender goal.
In true Blackwell fashion, he netted his second goal on the same night that Filip Forsberg scored his famous lacrosse-style goal.
Good things happen when Blackwell is in the lineup.
Where He Fits
Blackwell joined the Predators lineup back in December, a time when the team was teetering on the edge of implosion. When Head Coach John Hynes was hired, lot’s of line experimentation took place in an attempt to find some consistency.
Blackwell spent time in several different line combinations, including the first line on a few different occasions. In an inexplicable move by Hynes, Blackwell was healthy scratched for some games before the pause, and he seemed to be trending down.
When training camp finally rolled around, we started to get a picture of line combinations that Hynes would implement for the playoffs. The lines he was using in training camp were a significant departure from the line experiments during the season.
In a move to bolster chemistry, the top three lines were tried and true combinations that have worked well together in the past. This left a question about the fourth line.
Final Training Camp lines:
Rotating: Blackwell, Trenin
Rinne / Saros
— Thomas Willis (@TomAWillis) July 25, 2020
That third spot with Jarnkrok and Sissons should belong to Blackwell instead of Austin Watson.
Watson has had a subpar year, especially the second half of the season. His average time on ice in 53 games is 11:37. In those 53 games, he managed to score six goals and eight assists, the majority of which happened before December. From January through March, Watson was non-existent.
Blackwell spent less time on ice, 10:57, and played in fewer games but managed to be more productive than Watson during the time when he was called up through the end of the season.
Furthermore, Blackwell impact the game much more than Watson. He throws his body around more, forces pressure on the opposing team to get out of the zone and looks to be only getting better with each game he plays.
So Why Not Blackwell?
We can’t be 100 percent sure about the lines until we see what happens in the exhibition game. Hynes may surprise us and start Blackwell. Starting him in the exhibition would be an excellent gauge to see how well the Jarnkrok, Sissons, and Blackwell line could do.
Speculating on why Hynes would go with Watson over Blackwell is difficult without inside knowledge from the coaching staff. One factor could be performances in training camp; another more likely reason is purely because of playoff experience.
Watson had his best year in 2017 when the Predators made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. During that playoff run, Watson had five goals in the postseason. He scored four playoff goals the previous year.
But that is all in the past. Is Hynes trying to instill confidence in Watson by giving him the starting nod? We will have to wait and see how it plays out in the exhibition game and the first qualifying round game.
Blackwell is the faster skater who is scrappy and not afraid to play a physical game. Watson’s saving grace is his experience and physicality, definitely not his offense.
The Predators will need all of the speed and offense that they can muster if they are to make it past the defensive-minded Coyotes. Blackwell brings those traits more so than Watson. He makes the Predators a more dynamic team.
Blackwell will be a free agent at the end of this season. If he can manage to make his way into some playoff games and produce quality minutes, I expect to see him on the Predators’ roster next season.
With the salary cap being flat and some of the other Predators showing their age, Blackwell will be a bargain player who can make an impact on the third or fourth line for years to come for the Predators.