Having quality depth is a must for any successful team to make it through an 82-game grind of a regular season, and the Nashville Predators are getting that through the first 25 games.
After a 4-3 shootout win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday, the Predators are back above .500 despite significant injuries to their core with players such as Tommy Novak, Cody Glass and Alexandre Carrier.
Sure, Filip Forsberg and Ryan O'Reilly are tearing it up to lead the top of the lineup, but nearly every NHL team has a deadly duo at the top that produces a lot of offense. You need high quality depth to sustain success through 82 games.
Preds Depth Showing Up Through 25 Games
Mark Jankowski this Latest to be "Next Man Up"
The latest player to relish in the "next man up" mentality is Mark Jankowski, who scored his 50th career NHL goal in the win over the Blackhawks. He was also third on the team in Expected Goals For and has generated five shots on goal in his two games since being called up.
Jankowski is one of those rugged veterans that has a lot of AHL experience, but one you can trust when his number is called to play hard minutes in the bottom six.
The depth hasn't just been tested in the forward core. The defense has really been jumbled up with Carrier being out, Luke Schenn missing a lot of time at the beginning of the season, and Ryan McDonagh missing extended time as well.
Then you have Tyson Barrie as the subject of trade rumblings, meaning his days are probably numbered in a Predators sweater.
All to say that Head Coach Andrew Brunette has had to lean on many different line combinations, and rely on a lineup that contributes from top to bottom. Those types of teams that aren't top heavy can navigate through significant injuries to their core and still manage to win games.
"“I just want to help the team whatever way I can, I’m trying to prove that I belong here and stick around and [produce] offensively when I can as well.”- Mark Jankowski on Helping the Team"- Zach Gilchrist, NashvillePredators.com
We Still Don't Know the Full Potential of Preds Lineup at 100%
The truth is we really don't know the top potential of this Nashville Predators lineup right now until Novak and Glass get back into the mix fulltime. They are vital to the long-term future of the Predators in trying to get back to postseason relevancy.
However, until that time comes, the Predators are relying on role players like Kiefer Sherwood, Colton Sissons, Michael McCarron and Spencer Stastney to fill the voids. And they are doing that, and the struggling teams don't have that luxury of turning to reliable depth when injuries happen.
The Predators are no strangers to digging deep into their roster pool from the AHL. An astounding 33 skaters recorded at least one point last season. In just 25 games, the Predators have 24 players who have notched at least one point, and that number will easily rise as the season progresses.
In comparison, the last season the Predators made the playoffs in 2021-22, they didn't have to stretch the lineup so thin. Only 27 players recorded at least one point. In their Presidents Trophy season of 2017-18, 26 players recorded a point.
If the Predators are once again active at the 2024 trade deadline, then more newcomers could get their chance in the starting lineup whether that by call-ups from Milwaukee or new additions via a trade.
Prospects Who Could Be Next for a Call-Up
Prospects who I could see getting the call-up at some point in the remainder of 2023-24 include Egor Afanasyev, Denis Gurianov, Jake Livingstone and even Joakim Kemell if the Predators fade out of the playoff race early.
Lately the Predators have been running with the unconventional 11 forwards and seven defensemen starting lineup, which really isn't sustainable. It tells me we're not done seeing new call-ups, and Afanasyev or Gurianov are probably next in line to get an opportunity. Neither have made their 2023-24 debut, yet.
It's a good problem to have if you're Brunette. You have so many options and a lot of deserving talent to get NHL starts. Sorting all of that out and building effective line combinations is a tricky undertaking for the bench boss.
Through all of this fluidity in the Nashville Predators lineup, this team is one point out of a wildcard spot and four points behind third-place Winnipeg in the Central Division.