For the Nashville Predators to avoid fading even further back in the Western Conference, it’s going to take a monumental season from the top line.
If you think last season saw enormous pressure on the top players of the Nashville Predators, just wait for next season. And the glaring problem was that those top players didn’t consistently perform at a high level.
Another inconsistent showing from top players like Filip Forsberg, Matt Duchene, Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen could take us back the early days of the franchise when the playoffs were a stretch to even think about.
A busy and condensed offseason from the front office has filled some needs for the Predators, but it hasn’t changed the overall outlook when it comes to next season. They haven’t gone out and made the big splash that makes you think the top of the lineup has that additional game-changer.
This means the core group of top players will have an enormous amount of pressure on them to lead the way as younger players and newcomers work their way onto the roster. There’s going to be unavoidable growing pains.
Enormous pressure on top line to produce at high level
Over the past several years this franchise enjoyed the league-wide expectations of being a top contender for the Stanley Cup. That was due to the team being so stacked on paper, but for many reasons it frustratingly didn’t translate to results in the playoffs.
Now the team has been overhauled to an extent, and it’s not nearly as deep in terms of offensive weapons. Until other players emerge as consistent offensive threats, the pressure grows for the perceived star players.
The pressure starts with the JoFA line, and that’s if they decide to keep that line together. I can’t see a scenario that would make sense to break Forsberg, Avridsson and Johansen up. The chemistry between these three are undeniable, so don’t mess with it.
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However, these three will have to carry the scoring load more so than you would like for a top line. Every free agency addition the Predators have made so far bring very little offensive punch to the lineup. They bring other important qualities, but not instant scoring capabilities.
You never want all of the scoring load centered on your top line, but the Predators might find themselves in that predicament. It’s going to take massive offensive years from Forsberg and others.
In particular, Johansen could be facing the most pressure out of all of them to step up in a big way as a leader. He didn’t have a season that was up to par to his standards in 2019-20, but he has the mental fortitude and skill level to change that and make a huge impact in 2021.
As for Arvidsson, he’s been derailed by injuries and needs a full season of avoiding any serious interruptions. I’m expecting a bounce-back year from him that will keep the Predators in some high-scoring games.
What Forsberg brings to the table with his elite scoring ability is no secret, and there’s no reason to think he’s going to take any dramatic declines. He had a solid year in my opinion last season considering all of the lineup shuffling and the coaching change.
You need 30-plus goals from Arvidsson and Forsberg, at minimum, if this team is going to hang around on the scoreboard. Johansen has to get back to being a 50 to 60-point producer as a top-line center.
The Duchene Line
Then it comes down to that second line and the uncertainty revolving around it. There’s no clear answer on how this line will end up looking, but Matt Duchene certainly figures to be the centerpiece.
Duchene can’t have disappearing acts for stints of the season. Everyone has off games, but when those off games extend into several games in a row, then you have problems. That’s even more so when there’s going to be so much inexperience in the bottom part of the lineup.
There are newcomers to the lineup that have upside and can hopefully show they’re ready to produce at a high level. Luke Kunin, who was acquired as part of the draft day trade involving Nick Bonino, has a decent chance at being on the second line.
Kunin looks to have a bright future and can hopefully chip in around 20 goals next season to relieve pressure from the top line.
Rocco Grimaldi is bringing back a lot of experience on this team and will be leaned on heavily to support the top line. The question remains to if he’s already hit his production ceiling as a 30-point scorer at most.
Forsberg, Arvidsson, Johansen and Duchene all have the abilities to have breakout years offensively and change the direction of this team to one that has hope. But people rightfully have their doubts that it will happen for all four.
The free agency moves have somewhat made sense for the long-term, but it’s going to be challenging to replace the production and leadership of Craig Smith, Kyle Turris and Bonino. The roster has been flipped over, and the core of this team that’s been together for several years has to take charge early in the season.
If the top forwards that were just mentioned have bounce-back years and get back closer to the production of a few years ago, then the Predators can definitely contend for another playoff berth and give themselves a chance like they did in the 2017 postseason.