Thursday, May 9, 2013

Grading the Predators: The Forwards

Any discussion of the Predators lack of success this past season has to focus on the drop in production from the forwards. And it was not just a small decline, but one that saw the team plummet from the 8th most productive team in terms of goal scoring the previous season to one that was tied with the Florida panthers for dead last in the NHL.


Looking at the performance of the Predator forwards this past season is a lot like looking at a horrific accident- gruesome yet one cannot avert their eyes. So let's take a look at the carnage...

David Legwand  48 GP  12G 13A  25 points  -6

To tell you how bad the forwards were as a group, Legwand was the leading scorer with 12 goals and 25 points. And this comes with a number of games that Legwand played without taking a single shot on net. I know that Legwand often (always) draws the opponent's top forwards and plays in a defensive capacity first. And let's give him his props- he does a fairly good job of that. However, Legwand fails to consistently generate offensive production or sometimes even the threat of offensive production. his creativity with the puck is lacking, and consequently his line mates suffer because of that.

Legwand's production in the abbreviated season would have translated to 20 goals and 22 assists over a full 82 game schedule. He has achieved the 20 goal plateau only twice in his career, but notably, his assists dropped to the lower end of his historic production. On a team that desperately needed scoring, Legwand had to do more with the puck and set up his wingers. That did not get done effectively.

The reality is that Legwand is a solid third or fourth line center that can play solid defense and chip in a some production. Relying on him as a first or second line center almost ensured that offensive production would suffer.

Final grade: C-

Mike Fisher  38 GP  10G 11A  21 points +6

Like most of the forwards, Fisher had stretches where he struggled to even get shots on net, much less score. while the team needed more out of him offensively, he was a leader with his hustle and physical play. Fisher doesn't shy away from contact and he battles in front of the net and in the hard areas. The team needed his leadership by example, and he did not disappoint in that regard. 

Injuries caused him to miss 10 games. Upon his return, he started to score some goals with regularity. Fisher has shown the tendency to be a streaky scorer, and the Predators needed him to start a goal scoring streak much earlier in the season.

Fisher gets high marks for his steadiness and leadership on and off the ice. It is hoped that the drop in production is an aberration and not a trend.

Final Grade: C

Colin Wilson  25 GP  7G 12A  19 points  +1

Wilson was well on his way to what could have been a breakout season before a shoulder injury ended his year. Wilson has good size, above average speed, and exceptional puck handling skills and was utilizing all those tools to become a forward that opponents had to respect and match up with their top defensemen.  More importantly, Wilson was showing more maturity than at any time since he was drafted. This was reflected in his off season training and his play on the ice.

The test for Wilson will be to bring that same effort and results to the ice next season. Having seen a glimpse of what he can do, this coming year becomes pivotal in his maturity and development. Play and produce like he did in his shortened season and he will become a valuable forward in the Predators lineup.

Final Grade: B

Sergei Kostitsyn  46 GP  3G 12A  15 points  -5

To say that Sergei's season was disappointing is both a blinding flash of the obvious and a gross understatement. It was a brutal season for a forward counted on to provide offensive production. Although the team needed him to deliver in the offensive zone, Kostitsyn inexplicably refused to shoot the puck and was an more often than not a no-show. How bad was it? For the first time since his rookie campaign with Montreal, his shots per game total dipped below 1. For a player that was counted on to bring consistent offensive production, this was unacceptable.

Not that his game was totally awful. When he was on the ice, he hustled and was a valuable member of the PK unit. He also had PP time. In fact, the coaches used him in just about every situation to attempt to get his game going. The fact is, no player can get their offensive game going if they attempt a shot. Too many times this season, that was the story for Sergei.

Final Grade: F

Patric Hornqvist  24 GP 4G 10A  14 points  -1

Hornqvist has his season cut short by injuries, and this injury may have affected the team more than most realize. Not only is his presence in the hard areas in front of the net needed by the team, but they also draw from his energy, enthusiasm, and attitude. With Hornqvist out the line up, it seemed that no one stepped up to provide that spark.

Hornqvist recently signed a 5 year contract extension, stating that he loved Nashville and wanted to be a part of this organization. That is positive for him, of course, but it is positive for the team. They need his leadership and his fire both in the locker room and on the ice. Provided that he can stay healthy, his presence will bolster the performance of the team next season.

Final Grade: B

Gabriel Bourque  34 GP  11G 5A  16 points  +6

Bourque quickly emerged as a force for the Predators, showing that he did not shy away from contact and playing hard minutes against the opponents top line. At the time of his injury, he was the leading scorer on the team, and many of his goals were from tough areas in front of and around the net.

Watching Bourque, he rarely took a shift off, and showed a willingness to initiate contact and drive the net. His hustle and speed forced defenses to account for him, which helped to open up ice for his line mates. As he matures both physically and in his game, I look for him to provide even more offense and be used on special teams.

Final Grade: B

Nick Spaling  47GP  9G 4A  13 points  -10

I like Spals, but he falls into a category of which the Predators have too many: average to below average sized forwards that hustle but cannot consistently score. Spaling is versatile, can play in all situations. However, he is never going to be the type of forward that can control the puck and present a serious offensive threat.

Spaling has proven to be an opportunistic scorer, but those opportunities become limited when the defensive pressure steps up in a close game. His plus/minus was the second worst among the forwards

Final Grade: D

Craig Smith  44 GP  4G 8A  12 points  -11

Oh, Honey Badger... you have perhaps the best skill set of all the forwards on the team, yet you had a miserable year. Your sophomore slump was more like a dive off the edge of a cliff.  As the season wore on, it became apparent that not amount of coaching or a trip to Milwaukee was going to revive his game, which was awful.

To his credit, Smith owned his horrible season and said he had to improve. It did not appear that his effort stopped or fell off because he was still flying on the ice and going hard every shift. If there is anything positive that can come out of this it will be learning from this dismal season and adjusting his work habits and his game to improve his performance. The team desperately needs him to do that and become more productive.

Final Grade: F

Matt Halischuk  36 GP  5G 6A  11 points  +1

Halischuk is another of those players on the Predators roster that has more heart than talent. he is going to give you maximum effort. Unfortunately, his skill set does not translate into goals. He is a good role player that can play in most situations, is usually dependable, and rarely makes a glaring mistake.

There were some stretches, especially late in the season, where Hustlechuk was the best player on the ice. That speaks to the effort and hustle that he demonstrated. it also spoke to the dearth of talent that the Predators were fielding.

Final Grade: C

Rich Clune  47 GP  4G 5A  9 points  +3

Truthfully... early in the season, I wondered what on earth Clune was doing on the roster. he seemed to add nothing to the team. As the season wore on, however, my opinion changed. Clune is all heart and his motor never stops running. He was willing to drop the gloves even in situations where he was overmatched to defend his teammates or to try to spark the squad. Besides just being a fighter, Clune exhibited good speed, handled the puck well, and did a good job creating some offensive opportunities when his line was on the ice.

Final Grade: B

Bobby Butler  20 GP  3G 6A  9 points  -2

Butler got more ice time as injuries took their toll on the Predators, and he used that opportunity to make the case to be on the roster next season. Butler has very good speed, good hands, and good hockey sense. Those attributes need to translate into more scoring, and late in the season, he showed a glimpse of his abilities. I believe he will challenge for a roster spot next season.

Final Grade: C+

Brandon Yip  34 GP  3G 5A  8 points  -3

The Yipper is a big body that is...a big body. An average skater that is at best suited for 4th line minutes. Doesn't handle the puck well, doesn't fight well- although he is willing to give it a go. Stick tap for that. I am frankly unsure of why he has a roster spot, and if some of the young guys that saw action this year continue their development, he very well might not next season.

Final Grade: D-

Paul Gaustad  23 GP 2 G 3A  5 points  -4

Goose got a big contract and extension from the team. I like him and think his veteran presence is good for this young team. I don't like him at the salary we are paying him. Superb as a face off man, the remainder of his skill set is average at best. Injuries shortened his season, so it will be interesting to see how he comes back and what he can contribute over a full slate of games. One would hope that he could anchor a third line and chip in with some solid production. The jury is still out on that.

Final Grade: D

Chris Mueller  18 GP  2G 3A  5 points  -4

Mueller was competitive, hustled, and battled when he was on the ice. Occasionally he showed a pretty good shot. The audition did little to convince me that he is ready for prime time and will need to continue to develop his game in Milwaukee.

Final Grade: C-

Taylor Beck  16 GP  3G 4A  7 points  0 +/-

Beck impressed before an injury cut short his stay with the Predators. He used his big frame to retrieve the puck in the corners and mix it up in front of the net. He has a good shot and was not afraid to put the puck on net. Not the fastest skater, but his speed is adequate and generally he made good decisions with the puck.

Beck has the physical size and the mentality to go to the hard areas and be successful. I look for Beck to be on the roster in Nashville next season.

Final Grade: B

The Kids

Taking a look at the youngsters that made a brief appearance late in the season for the Predators:

Kevin Henderson

Not afraid to mix it up physically and go to the hard areas. Will never be a big time scorer, but a gritty, glue type player. Will probably start the season in Milwaukee.

Final Grade: C

Filip Forsberg

Handled himself very well for an 18 year old thrust into regular ice time. Great hockey sense and can really handle the puck. He has the potential to be an elite player in the NHL, and it will be interesting to see how the Predators handle his development. A smooth skater that gets himself into the scoring areas.

Final Grade: B

Austin Watson

A big body that needs to battle harder for position and the puck. You could see flashes of his potential but you could also see him struggle at times with the speed of the game. he could possibly stick on the roster, but I would not be surprised to see him back in Milwaukee to start the season.

Final Grade: C-

Daniel Bang

Another big bodied forward that showed some good compete level during his time in Nashville. Not afraid to get physical and use his size to retrieve the puck. He is a good skater with good speed for his size. he probably needs some more time in Milwaukee to develop his game.

Final Grade: C

One final, special grade...

for Marty Erat. To say he had a disappointing season is an understatement. To say he was a disappointment not only in his play but as a veteran leader is stating the obvious. Marty has tremendous talent but this season that talent was squandered. Marty said that he didn't like the direction of the team, going with younger players, and decided to bail. That certainly colors my perception of Marty, but the fact is that his production went into the toilet. One can only speculate as to the reasons why, but it was apparent that he had lost his desire to compete for the team and do what it took to win games. As a result, he was invisible when the team needed him. Certainly not what a veteran leader does.

Final Grade: F

There you have it, my view of the forwards.

Up next, I will grade the coaching staff and the GM, and discuss the intangibles of the season.

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