Last season Jerred Smithson became an every-night regular at the NHL level, playing 81 games for Nashville after 64 and 66 in the previous two campaigns. His even-strength work on a line with Radek Bonk and Jed Ortmeyer was pretty awful; I’ve said before that this may have been the worst line in the NHL last year.
One of the questions that Nashville Predators fans worried over earlier this summer was whether the team would be able to retain both Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, the two high-profile restricted free agents due for major pay increases. Now that he’s locked up for four more seasons at $3.5 million per, the focus shifts to how much of a step forward Suter will take as he shakes off the young rookie label and fills a key role on the Predators blue line.
One of the interesting storylines to follow during training camp later this month will be the progress of Antti Pihlstrom, the Finnish agitator who has an outside shot at landing a roster spot with the Predators. After leading the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals in goal scoring (with 27 in 78 games), is Pihlstrom ready for the big stage in Music City?
Today’s projection should be an easy one. Coming into training camp Pekka Rinne has 3 career games of NHL service, so normally one might wonder if there’s much history to leverage in terms of predicting future performance. But with the Predators, we have a very clear guideline to follow. Each of the last two seasons have seen Nashville’s backup goaltender steal the spotlight with a performance among the very best in the NHL. After all, Chris Mason’s 2006-7 season was, by some measures, tops in the league that year, and Dan Ellis led all goaltenders in both regular season and playoff save percentage in 2007-8.
Happy 30th Birthday wishes go out to Jed Ortmeyer, and in his honor, today’s Forechecker’s Forecast is devoted to the one-time University of Michigan Wolverine.
Jed signed a two-year deal with Nashville last summer, and the expectation has been that he’d provide basic checking and penalty killing work. He began the 2007-8 season playing the left wing alongside Radek Bonk in the middle and Jerred Smithson on the right side, on what was supposed to be a shutdown line. As it worked out, however, the only thing that got shut down was the Predators offense when those three hit the ice.
Amidst the Radulov drama and the
Marek Zidlicky trade, one roster move that’s been somewhat overlooked involves the enforcer role, fulfilled the last three seasons in Nashville by fan favorite Darcy Hordichuk. The heir apparent to that job is Josh Gratton, a dedicated knuckle-duster who played all of 1 NHL game last year, and 52 the year before for Phoenix. I’m guessing that this is a fan-created site and nothing that Gratton himself has created (although “Chin of Steel” is certainly a moniker worth promoting).
This series of Forechecker’s Forecasts heads into truly uncharted waters today as we consider the prospects for Patric Hornqvist, the Swedish winger who appears to be the organization’s next-best option for goal-scoring depth after the departure of Alexander Radulov. Since he’s labored over in the Swedish Elite League for the last few years, North American fans have precious little evidence to evaluate; the single most-noteworthy fact known about him is that he tied Peter Forsberg’s record for goal-scoring by a junior player (with 23) for Djurgarden in 2006-7. He has also represented Sweden well during the World Championships both in 2007 and 2008, and his 6 goals this year led the team.
When the Buffalo Sabres walked away from an arbitration award in the summer of 2006, making J.P. Dumont an unrestricted free agent, many approved of David Poile’s subsequent signing of him as a savvy addition that would bring secondary scoring behind the likes of Paul Kariya and Steve Sullivan, who then led a deep Nashville attack. Two years on, Dumont is now wearing the “A”, leading the charge up front along with Jason Arnott, and entering the first year of a new four-season contract paying him $4 million annually. Each of his two seasons with the Predators have seen progress in offensive production, so the main question with #71 is, has he reached his peak?
Have we ever seen a more fortuitously named athlete for his adopted city than Vern Fiddler of the Nashville Predators? Perhaps Terry Crisp when he coached in Calgary (Flames, Crispy, you get it), but not too many others come to mind.
After previewing some grizzled
veterans in the first two installments of these Forechecker’s Forecasts, it’s time to take a look at a hockey player with only a handful of NHL games on his resume, Kevin Klein. After years of preparation as a hot defensive prospect, Klein is set to join the Nashville lineup full-time this fall, based on his new two-year contract that will pay him an average of $650,000 per season.