The Nashville Predators are approaching a crossroads when it comes to their forwards. They are stocked with solid, NHL-caliber players. Meanwhile, there is a wealth of young talent waiting for their shot in the NHL, whether coming from the AHL or Europe. The problem is that the only real open spot in the Predators forward unit for the start of the season is the third-line slot vacated by Matt Cullen, who just signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
So, who should get a shot in the NHL when the puck drops in October? It will really come down to what happens in training camp next month. But for now, let’s take a look at some of the players that will be contending for that final roster spot, and why they should and should not get it:
Why he should: Fiala showed his potential in his one regular season game, and one playoff game, with the Predators last season. He was able to display some of his speed and soft hands that will make him a fantastic NHL forward. However, he also showed that he is not 100% ready for the NHL. He still looked undersized and outmatched standing below 6′ tall, especially facing the big, bad Blackhawks in the playoffs.
For this season, Fiala is hungry for that opening-night roster spot. He told Robby Stanley of NHL.com back in July that he wants to “…do whatever Nashville says to make the team next year.” If he can show that he can skate with the “big boys” in camp, he could definitely take that spot.
Why he shouldn’t: The 2014 first-round pick is a future top-six forward. The only roster spot available is on the third line. While third-line minutes might fit his transition to the NHL, he might be hampered by the reduced speed of the third line. He would also be on a line with newly-acquired Cody Hodgson, who will be trying to transition himself to Nashville. It would be better to have him on a line of Nashville veterans that could help him out on the ice.
Why he should: Technically, he’s not a “prospect,” considering he is already 26 years old, but Moses is perhaps the other top candidate, along with Fiala, for landing that opening-night roster spot. He was brought over in the Spring from Jokerit of the Kontinental Hockey League, the top hockey league in Europe. Moses excelled last season with Jokerit, putting up 57 points in 60 games. If he can do that in perhaps the second-best league in the world, he could do some great things in the NHL. Plus, starting out on the third line would benefit him as he transitions to the North American pro hockey style.
Why he shouldn’t: Moses is an unproven commodity. He hasn’t played a single professional hockey game in North America. He might need some time to adjust. The AHL and Milwaukee Admirals could provide a better atmosphere for his transition, but he would need to clear waivers to get there due to his one-way contract. With his skill set, he wouldn’t likely clear. So, maybe it would be better for him to start as an “extra” forward to slide onto a line for a game or two at a time to aid in his transition to the NHL.
Why he should: Arvidsson is the other 2014 draft pick to get playing time at the NHL level this past season. He played six games with Nashville, amassing no points. While in Milwaukee, he excelled in an Admirals uniform, putting up 55 points in 70 games. He also looked pretty solid for his young age at the NHL level, but he also showed that he needs a little more development.
Why he shouldn’t: He is only 5’9”, which is relatively small for today’s NHL. Arvidsson needs to get a bit bulkier if he wants to survive in the NHL. He has the skill, but now he needs a little refinement in order to build an NHL-ready forward. Arvidsson is another future top-six forward, so throwing him on a third line might not benefit him too much.
Why he should: Salomaki played one NHL game this past season, and showed his playmaking ability, scoring a nice breakaway goal. He, and the next person on the list, are the only players listed here that have actually scored an NHL goal. Salomaki is listed below 6′ tall, but he is nearly 200 pounds, so he can be a big body on the ice. He has a size advantage over guys like Fiala and Arvidsson. Salomaki’s style of play fits the role he would take on as a third-liner. His 2014-15 campaign was cut short by injury, so he’ll have a chip on his shoulder when he comes to camp, and could fill the third-line role perfectly.
Why he shouldn’t: He’s only played one NHL game, and this will only be his third season in North America, so he probably still needs another season of development in the AHL. However, Salomaki will likely be the first name brought up should there be an injury in the Predators lineup. He probably would have spent more time at the NHL level last season if it weren’t for his injury.
Why he should: Watson has been around the Predators organization longer than anyone else on this list. This will be his fourth season with the organization. His last game in the NHL came in the 2012-13 season. In six games, he scored one goal for the Predators. Watson is a big body, listed at 6’3” and 187 pounds. He could complement Calle Jarnkrok and Hodgson nicely with this large frame.
Why he shouldn’t: The Nashville Predators under Peter Laviolette are all about speed and quick play in the offensive zone. Watson doesn’t have the speed and agility of some of the other youngsters like Fiala and Salomaki. He might not survive in this Predators system. He does have a place, but he might not get his shot with all the top-end talent in front of him.
It will be a tough task for Laviolette and Poile to decide on that final roster spot after training camp. It could come down to the final days of camp, and maybe even the first few regular season games.
Stay tuned for part two, in which we will examine what defensemen could crack the Predators roster next season.
Photo credit: Kristen Jerkins