Well that title sure sounds familiar.
During my senior year in high school, at a time when the Predators were considered a competitive Cup team, I wrote a brief opinion piece on Nashville forward Colton Sissons and why he should be promoted to the second line. Kevin Fiala was underperforming, the lineup was missing three top six contributors, and I believed Sissons could offer more to the team than his tremendous penalty-killing.
In this article, I believed Ryan Hartman should have been boosted to the top line (still believe that now). I believed Austin Watson was a key contributor to the third and fourth line (definitely not for the Predators, but for the Ottawa Senators, sure). And lastly, I believed Colton Sissons was capable of scoring 60 points during the regular season were he to indefinitely occupy a top six role (it was a stretch back then, it seems insurmountable now). Sissons, along with the rest of Nashville’s forward group, regressed quite significantly since that article was published, due to coaching changes, trades, and in general, a severe lack of urgency to win.
So here I am, two years later, ready to admit I made a mistake in assessing Colton Sissons’ offensive capabilities. However, with Kyle Turris in Edmonton, Nick Bonino in Minnesota, and Craig Smith in Boston, this would be the year in which Sissons has a legitimate chance to crack the top six.
Who stands in Sissons’ way?
As Chase McCabe colloquially stated after the Predators’ qualifying round exit, “It’s shit or get off the pot time for Eeli Tolvanen.”
Tolvanen, a player regarded by many as the future of Nashville’s forward group, will be competing for a full time spot on the NHL roster this year. In 121 AHL games, he potted 36 goals and tallied 35 assists; while these numbers aren’t promising for a prospect like him, Tolvanen’s focus this year was directed towards areas of his game that didn’t involve scoring, such as defensive positioning and puck movement. Predator fans should be optimistic about Tolvanen, but only to an extent– he is arguably in the most important stage in his career, and to expect an error-less campaign will only bring you misery. As a 22 year old, he needs time to develop in the NHL, and with his development come growing pains.
What’s most impressed me about Tolvanen’s interminable tenure in Milwaukee is where he’s shooting the puck now. In addition to creating space in the offensive zone on the power play, he’s varied his shot looks, which have only improved his game. Tolvanen would be best suited with a player who can create space for him because he cannot anchor a line yet, and that’s not a bad thing. If he wants to heighten his level of play, he needs to move the puck smoother. Offensive production will be closely monitored his first year, and I anticipate only one issue. Typically, Tolvanen likes to shoot far side; what could take his offensive game to the next level would be shooting for the rebound. If David Poile truly wants to reimplement the “Predator Way,” gritty goals and rebounds will be Tolvanen’s friend. We’ve seen, through the eyes of many talented forwards, that going against the system in place doesn’t work, and it is evident that the system will not change for anyone. Tolvanen can be immediately successful should he lay some shots on the opposing goaltender’s pads.
Tolvanen was a top six forward in Milwaukee, meaning he’s used to playing at least 15 minutes a night. I would genuinely resent the Predators’ management if they stuck Tolvanen in a bottom six role, primarily because players like Daniel Carr and Austin Watson were successes in the AHL, but couldn’t play sustainably well at the next level. Putting Tolvanen with Duchene would certainly increase the odds of Tolvanen playing well, as a crafty veteran presence more often helps than hurts. I would imagine Tolvanen starts on the second line with Duchene, but he isn’t a lock for the position. I do believe Tolvanen will earn his way onto the second line and remain there, but in the unfortunate case that he doesn’t, who can the Predators turn to?
While Tolvanen’s presence doesn’t hinder Sissons’ chance to crack the top six, Sissons’ options are limited with Tolvanen in the room. Given Matt Duchene will captain the second line, Sissons would be bumped to the wing regardless. I personally wouldn’t mind swapping Duchene and Sissons were Sissons to earn a promotion, but Tolvanen’s presence may be enough to place Sissons in the bottom six anyways.
Acquired from Minnesota for Nick Bonino, Luke Kunin provides a theoretical fix for the Predators’ lack of grit. Kunin is comparable to Ryan Hartman– Hartman may be more effective with the puck, but both play a physical, net-front presence and Kunin seems to score more on min-transitions.
What attracts my attention is how many shots he takes in front of the net. The Predators have lacked a forward who was willing to stay in front of the net for extended periods of time, so Kunin alleviates that problem; not to mention, no player has displayed any definitive physical prowess for the Predators in quite some time, including the recently traded Austin Watson. I would love to talk about Yakov Trenin’s killer right hook on Zdeno Chara, but Trenin wasn’t in the league but a mere 21 games. Kunin’s upside is relatively high, as his last season in Minnesota turned a few heads. However, the second line may prove too difficult of a challenge to Kunin. The Predators had a plethora of middle six forwards who could play on the second line last year, and now they have limited choices. Kunin doesn’t make this team dramatically better, whether he starts on the second line or not.
This can be labeled as a necessary acquisition, or it can be a reminder that old habits die hard. Why the Predators want to reinstate a system that’s never won them a Stanley Cup is beyond me, but I’m no 4D chess player like David Poile. My biggest concern with Luke Kunin is how quickly he can adjust to second line responsibilities and minutes– even with the expectation that Eeli Tolvanen will produce, the likelihood of having two holes in the second line is a very scary possibility. Kunin cannot be the player who doesn’t produce if he’s earned a second line position by opening night.
Before we begin, there is a significant difference between the OHL and the NHL. Tomasino is in a precarious situation, in that he’s too young to play in Milwaukee, but he’s way too advanced to play in the OHL. This situation renders the Predators an interesting choice: promote the kid to full-time NHL status, potentially hindering his development and costing Nashville in the long run, OR stick him back in the OHL until he’s old enough to sign a two way contract. I’d rather take the latter, considering the Predators aren’t in any position to compete for a Cup.
That being said, Tomasino has a legitimate chance to crack the opening lineup. Daunting number 26 this year, Tomasino has a lot to prove if he wants to join the team. He is an exceptionally talented hockey player, but the lack of experience and apparent youth may hold Tomasino back another year or more.
He played with Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen. He played with Filip Forsberg and Matt Duchene. He played with Kyle Turris and Rocco Grimaldi. And he still put the same points up– doesn’t matter how few or many minutes you give Calle Jarnkrok, he will produce no more than 40 points and score no more than 18 goals. With where his contract stands, the Predators couldn’t ask anything more from him. Jarnkrok has the sneaky ability to blend in on most lines. That being said, he had his chance under Peter Laviolette. He played on the power play, on the first line, penalty kill, just about every role he could have, and he still produced around the same points as he did in the bottom six. I don’t know what Hynes would need to see in order to give Jarnkrok the nod.
A few years ago, I would’ve said that Jarnkrok needs to break his glass ceiling. It’s clear to me now that Jarnkrok doesn’t have a glass ceiling, more of a concrete ceiling, solidified by six seasons of no more than 16 goals. We know what we’re getting with Calle Jarnkrok. He has value for this team, but his value is better used in the bottom six. Jarnkrok would be a fantastic mentor to players like Yakov Trenin and Rem Pitlick, two players who have been all but written in Nashville’s bottom six.
So does Sissons crack the top six?
Not initially. But I believe he will. My best attempt at a forward lineup:
Because Sissons has served in the bottom six for the majority of his NHL career, he will most likely play winger on the third line or center the fourth line. And that’s not a bad thing!
If Kunin struggles, Sissons could play in the top six. One aspect of Sissons’ game is his physicality; he can withstand punishment in front of the net, and he has no problem parking himself right before the goalie. I don’t anticipate Nick Cousins or Brad Richardson would supersede Sissons’ second line opportunity; David Poile views Sissons as a long time player, otherwise he wouldn’t have inked him for seven years.
Does Sissons DESERVE the chance more than Kunin? I would say so.
Since the Predators opted for “grit” over skill, they need players who don’t mind reeking havoc and causing defensive disruptions (and they wouldn’t mind having players who can actually win fights). Sissons fits that role perfectly, and the Predators didn’t need the Coyotes to kick them out of the playoffs for me to tell you that. Nashville had numerous options for the top six last year, and one of the more forgettable ones was throwing Sissons on the second line.
Considering the Predators have given some of their middle six talent to free agency, Sissons now has a legitimate chance to make an impact. If he shows scoring prowess in the presence of good offensive talent, I believe Sissons should permanently stay in the top six. If he doesn’t improve his scoring if/when given the promotion, perhaps Sissons should remain where he is.
What do you think? What’s your lineup look like? Comment below, on Facebook or tweet me @jack_woods15.