It’s been an offseason for the Nashville Predators of them undoubtedly upgrading their roster and becoming a more viable postseason team, but perhaps their biggest question on their depth chart is at the fourth line.
Make no mistake about it; the fourth line can make or break you down the stretch of a daunting 82-game season, and also in the playoffs if you make it that far. You have to be able to rely on these role players to avoid critical mistakes and provide scoring depth to the top of the roster.
For the Predators, they have to figure out who is going to be on this line. Although the top-six looks pretty set, it gets much more up for debate in the bottom six. Training camp will provide Head Coach John Hynes and his staff the opportunity to decide who is ready.
Plenty of competition for Nashville Predators 4th Line roles
The departure of Nick Cousins has really opened up this chance for someone new to move in. Possibly a young prospect, or possibly a player that is moving down the depth chart and needing to prove themselves in a smaller role.
The player that has something to prove is Eeli Tolvanen. It will be difficult for him with decreased ice time to pull that off, but if he finds his role and thrives in it, it could provide a valuable scoring threat that many teams don’t have in this spot in the lineup.
Tolvanen’s 2021-22 season was hampered by a landing in the Covid-19 protocol list in late January, followed by being a healthy scratch and being demoted to the bottom six.
For all of Tolvanen’s lack of offense, to his credit he has shown he can bring value elsewhere. Most notably in terms of playing a more physical role. He racked up a formidable 176 hits, good for sixth on the team and a far cry from being a finesse power play specialist.
Now obviously we want to see Tolvanen thrive on the power play like his skill set suggests, but at least he’s not a complete ghost out there. That’s why sticking him in the fourth line role, athough not ideal, might be the best option for Hynes.
Another idea for the fourth line to open up the season is moving in Zach Sanford, a 27-year-old winger who will fit into that fourth line role perfectly as another hard hitting option for the Predators.
This addition of Sanford is actually low key a solid pickup by the Predators this offseason. He’s not razzle dazzle, but he has been on winning teams in the past and knows his role. He can provide stability to this unit.
John Glennon, NHL.com contributors covering the Nashville Predators, describes the Sanford addition as “adding some bite” to the fourth line.
Sanford might even provide penalty killing help. The Predators led the league in all major categories involving penalties last season, and although I have hope that they tone it back a bit, I still think they’ll be among the league leaders again. So being a top notch penalty killing team will be paramount.
Finally, we have one player that is fully expected to open up as the fourth line center, and that’s the rising Cody Glass. A player that has had a rocky road early in his NHL career, but appears to be ready to become a full-time NHL player this season.
Glass rose to the occassion under challenging circumstances last season by being sent down to the AHL with the Milwaukee Admirals. He didn’t let that hold him back. Instead, he got better and now can be a true x-factor for this Predators team in 2022-23.
Finally as far as fourth line candidates who are at the top for getting consideration first, we have Tommy Novak. He looked very good when he first cracked into the Predators lineup, and he should quickly get another shot this season.
Novak is normally a center, but he can shift to wing along with Glass and either Sanford or Tolvanen.
As you can see, there’s going to be plenty of healthy competition in training camp for the fourth line. The other three forward lines look much more set in stone.
Other options for the Nashville Predators 4th Line
Rotational players who might get some looks on the fourth line as well is Michael McCarron, who is that large bodied bruiser that the Predators love to have. He’s not tops on my list to open the season, but he’ll definitely be one of the first to be moved in when players need a break or suffer an injury.
Cole Smith appeared in eight games last season for the Predators, logging just 8:50 of average ice time and no points. He’s way down on the depth chart, but he’s another option if needed.
Finally, you have some young prospects who might make their NHL debuts if things go terribly early on and forces Hynes to reshuffle the deck. Egor Afanasyev probably needs another full season of development in the AHL, but he’s a call-up option if things get desperate.
Juuso Pärssinen is another prospect that has a high ceiling, but need to pump the brakes on him being ready for the NHL. He’ll make his AHL debut with the Admirals this upcoming season, and if he’s blossoming then maybe Hynes makes a bold decision to call him up.
It’s a good problem to have so many options, but Hynes and his staff have a lot to figure out in the preseason to decide who gets the nod first on opening night overseas from Prague, Czech Republic against the San Jose Sharks.