The teams that roll two capable lines and just six other random guys tend to fail.
For the Nashville Predators, their depth has been crucial in their success so far in the playoffs. The goal scorers no longer just wear #38, #9, #18 or #92. Every single player who steps on the ice has been able to put the puck in the back of the net and/or shut down any line that comes out against them.
One of those unsung players that has proven himself to be an extremely valuable playoff hockey player is Colton Sissons. At 23 years of age and playing in his first full NHL season, he has taken his game to a new level during the playoffs, and contributed on the offensive end. In the Predators’ first round series sweep against the Chicago Blackhawks, Sissons grabbed his first two playoff goals and playoff assist.
Including this year, Sissons has played a total of 14 Stanley Cup Playoff games. This season, however, the playoff jitters are gone and he is feeling loose and comfortable out on the ice.
“I think I’m probably just playing with a little bit more confidence as opposed to last year,” he said. “Obviously, it’s nice to have a goal or two go in for you, that helps with that. Just feeling a little bit more comfortable I guess in this environment.”
Sissons played in 58 regular season games in 2016-17, scoring eight goals and adding two assists. He was one of many Predators forwards that shuffled to and from the lineup throughout the season. Going into the playoffs, Nashville had its pick of forwards to fill their lines. Veterans like P.A. Parenteau, Vernon Fiddler and Cody McLeod could have easily taken one of the slots.
The Predators’ coaching staff trusted Sissons to play instead of talented veterans that have played in big playoff moments, and the youngster did not let his team down. In Game Two of the Chicago series, Sissons cleaned up a rebound in front of goaltender Corey Crawford to pad the Predators’ lead. Then, in Game Four, one of his shot attempts rang off the post and back into the padding of Crawford, who then accidentally tossed the puck in the net, doubling Nashville’s lead.
Sissons’ success in the postseason has earned him plenty of trust from head coach Peter Laviolette, and he’s shown it in a number of different ways. First, compared to the 2016 playoffs, Sissons’ ice time is way up. Despite not playing on the top unit or normally on the power play, he still managed to get at least 12 minutes of ice time in each game during these playoffs, with his highest regulation TOI being 14:58 in Game Four.
On top of that, Sissons has been entrusted to play with any linemates Laviolette sends his way. According to Natural Stat Trick, he has spent the vast majority of his ice time with Pontus Aberg and/or Craig Smith, but also spent nearly 10 minutes of ice time with P.A. Parenteau, 4:57 with Austin Watson and 4:33 with captain Mike Fisher. Sissons has spent at least some smidgen of time on the ice with every single Predators player.
That flexibility shows how useful Sissons is, and how good he helps make the Predators despite some injuries.
“We’ve had some different looks, especially a couple of fresh lines that haven’t played together at all going into the playoffs and they’ve worked out pretty well,” Sissons said. “We’ve had a little bit of shuffling with guys being banged up and what not, but everybody is comfortable with each other and knows each other’s game, so it’s been good.”
Other veteran players are also starting to take notice of how the young Sissons has performed in high-pressure scenarios.
“He’s been unbelievable,” said forward Harry Zolnierczyk. “You can just see he’s really stepping into his game and kind of finding his role and his confidence now with the puck and the plays he’s making. He’s starting to dominate while he’s out there with and without the puck. Even defensively, he’s become relied-upon more and more and he’s been doing a great job for this team.”
Diving into deeper analytics, Sissons has been a positive Corsi player on the ice with a 52% Corsi for rating (via Natural Stat Trick). That simply means that the majority of the shot attempts while he’s on the ice come from the Predators. That Corsi percentage is actually better than Filip Forsberg, James Neal and Roman Josi.
In addition, he makes some of the people he plays with better. For example, Watson’s Corsi for percentage with Sissons on the ice is exactly 50%, and without Sissons out there with him, that number drops to 32.5%. Aberg also saw a deep drop off. His Corsi for percentage with Sissons on the ice is 57.14%, but drops to 20% without Sissons.
Overall, Sissons has contributed to a large pool of depth players that are stepping up and making the Predators a force to be reckoned with. With another deep team like the St. Louis Blues coming up, Nashville will need to continue to use four lines deep of pure scoring talent.
“We’ve been rolling through four lines and six D all series against Chicago,” Filip Forsberg said. “Everyone has been playing well, everyone has been contributing to the way that we’ve been playing, and we want to see that continue.”