One of John Hynes’ biggest weaknesses since taking over as head coach of the Nashville Predators has been finding stable lines. Due to a combination of his lack of experience with the team and his own baffling decision-making, there was a time in which the Predators were changing their groups every two or so games, and the team could never get into a rhythm.
Toward the end of the year, the fortunes changed, as Hynes found lines that were effective and he kept them together as the season progressed. The problem now is that with faces such as Viktor Arvidsson, Calle Jarnkrok, and Ryan Ellis departing, Hynes has to go back to the drawing board.
Not that he should have as much trouble as he did last year, but with the injection of youth into this Predators lineup, it could take some time for Hynes to figure out what he likes and what he does not. Let’s just hope he does not make this harder than it has to be.
Let’s start building this lineup from the bottom up, and in the Predators’ case, it makes the most sense. The “herd line” was the identity line for the Predators in the second half of the 2020-2021 season, and they are almost certain to reappear together.
Some would argue that it might be worth it to put Mathieu Olivier in Jeannot’s spot and move him up to the third line, but when you look at the Predators from top to bottom and what they are trying to accomplish, Olivier really should not be in a full-strength lineup. The only place he should have a chance to be is the herd line, and even then, Jeannot just makes them that much better.
While this trio is there primarily to be grinders and bruisers, Jeannot was scoring in one out of every three games and gave them that offensive element that most fourth lines do not have. Between that and Sissons’ defensive abilities, they are more well-rounded than people give them credit for and should continue to get under their opponents’ skin.
For all the puzzling moves Hynes has made, assembling this trio has been one of his best decisions, and he better stick with it.
Many people are going to look at this and think that there is no way the Predators can roll a line with no veterans to start the season. Well, they absolutely can, and there are several reasons why.
First and foremost, all three of these players’ styles complement each other perfectly. Tomasino is the puck-dominant distributor, Glass does best in front of the net, and Pitlick’s specialty is shooting the puck.
We will not know what they can be unless they play together, so why not give them a chance when they have as much potential as they do? It is not as if the Predators are intending to be a serious playoff contender this year, so it would make sense to take this small risk when there is so little to lose.
And even then, who is saying that they have to play third-line minutes? The herd line could effectively be the third line if Hynes wants to be careful about not rushing this young trio into too large of a role too early.
Tomasino is the most anticipated Predators’ prospect at this time, Glass is highly touted and has yet to get a real opportunity at the NHL level, and Pitlick showed promise in the few games he played last year. Give them the shot they deserve.
Much of the construction of these lines was centered around making sure that Kunin and Granlund could be on one line together. Late in the year, the chemistry between those two was yet another bright spot for a team that forged a new identity.
Throughout Granlund’s time in Nashville, he has been quite a disappointment, and like most players in his status, he was moved from line to line by Hynes. Once Granlund, who is known as a grinding distributor, was put with a grinding net-front presence in Kunin, the two absolutely thrived together.
It is absolutely crucial for the Predators’ future that these two maintain their strong performance from last season, and they would work well with Tolvanen, whose world-class shot would provide some versatility to this line. People may worry about his invisibility down the stretch of last year including the playoffs, but guess what, he is 22 years old and just played his first real season in the NHL.
He will continue to go through his highs and lows as he continues to adapt to the league, and it is on the coaching staff to make sure he is given the opportunity to improve. Putting him with Kunin and Granlund would take some pressure off of him and give him a chance to thrive as he gains more experience.
When in doubt, put your most expensive forwards on a line together, right? Whether or not that was Hynes’ thought process when he put these three together in the playoffs, they actually looked pretty good.
All three of them scored even-strength goals in their first game as an established line and generated prime chances during the contest. Even though Johansen is best known as a distributor, using his big body as a net-front presence was smart, and it allowed Duchene to showcase his own passing abilities moving forward.
Like the second and third lines, this one would feature players whose abilities complement one another perfectly. And they are the most skilled forwards on the Predators, so it would only make sense to continue to roll with them on one line.
A common theme throughout this lineup, as should be in all lineups, is players who complement one another. This pairing is no different.
Myers, who is one of the newcomers this year, plays a physical and defensive game and would work well with Farrance, whose two-way style of play is exactly what the new-age defenseman should be. He looked lethal in the Predators’ future stars game this past August and should be given an opportunity to start the season in Nashville. Again, for a team with low expectations and a guy with as much confidence as he has, what do they have to lose by playing someone who is raw but so promising?
For as defense-heavy as the Predators are, they have had trouble finding an adequate third pairing, and knowing what this one could be is a major reason to be optimistic. At the very least, they are already better, or at least more exciting than whatever else has been on display recently.
Despite all the confusion about his benching in the playoffs, Fabbro still remains a key part of the Predators’ future. Although they have not played together in a while, Fabbro was progressing well while playing alongside Ekholm and has a good chance to keep doing so if they are reunited.
As has been covered many times, progression of the youth is going to be the biggest point of emphasis this season, and I cannot point to a single area where I have not seen improvement from Fabbro, who has been on this pairing for most of the time. Ekholm himself is coming off of a great season and is very consistent defensively and as an overall player. Expect Fabbro to keep improving both offensively and defensively, in which case these two have a chance to be a force.
Although this was the top pairing in the playoffs, the departure of Ryan Ellis means a new partner to play alongside Josi for good. So why not continue to roll with what they most recently had?
Josi is already recognized as an elite defenseman in the NHL and needs no further explanation, but Carrier has a chance to take a huge leap forward this year. He came into Nashville midseason last year and showed that he is strong enough to hold a spot in the lineup.
Playing with one of the better defensemen in the game should only improve his game.
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