It starts at the top for the Nashville Predators next season, and Matt Duchene is the centerpiece of that massive question mark.
No one really knows what to expect from the Nashville Predators whenever next season starts. That will make for both exciting and heartbreaking hockey, but what’s new?
There’s really no certainty with this Predators lineup aside from the top lines of both the offense and defense. We know what we have with Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis.
After those great players, it gets dicey. Let’s be honest about that. And one player that has outstanding skills but is a question mark is Matt Duchene.
Constructing a line around Matt Duchene
Let me start by saying I fully respect the professional and class act that Duchene is. He got a raw deal last season being on a team that was dysfunctional and didn’t mesh well together.
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With that said, the Predators have to find the right matches for him. And that’s going to be a tall order. They have a lot of options and new faces via free agency and their prospect pool.
A big key to success next season is finding their right line combination to pair with Duchene. You saw for a majority of Duchene’s first season a blend of Mikael Granlund and Kyle Turris. Well, they’re both gone.
There was also the early goings of Forsberg being on a line with Duchene, with some positive results. In the end, Forsberg belongs on the top line with Johansen and Arvidsson. Don’t mess with it.
So this brings up the question of who do you pair with Duchene? Training camp, whenever that time comes, will alleviate some of this uncertainty.
The losses of Bonino and Smith are greater to me than the decent free agency additions of Nick Cousins, Luke Kunin and Brad Richardson. Those players don’t single-handedly replace what you’re losing with Bonino and Smith.
It has to come from the prospect ranks and what the Predators already had, and that’s Tolvanen and Grimaldi.
Tolvanen, who really hasn’t gotten an extended shot in the NHL, should get that opportunity. The Predators have protected him down in Milwaukee, and that’s understood. He did well for an outstanding Milwaukee team.
Next season is the time to bring Tolvanen up and see what happens. He’s getting more development in the KHL right now, and he was also on the training camp roster to prepare for the postseason bubble in Edmonton.
Duchene has to be with pure scorers. Players who crash the net, play with aggression and find open areas on the ice to get high-danger shots on net. Grimaldi and Tolvanen are my picks.
The youth movement is in effect for the Predators, but the top veterans hold the keys to keeping this ship afloat. If not, then we’re heading to a massive rebuild in Nashville that frankly we’ve never seen since the team was formed.