Nashville Predators Need A Net-Front Presence

It is no secret the Nashville Predators were mediocre on the man-advantage last season. Despite having the firepower of Shea Weber, Roman Josi, James Neal, Filip Forsberg, Mike Fisher, Colin Wilson and Craig Smith to score goals, Nashville’s power play ranked 25th in the NHL at 16.2%.

The lack of power play goals was mind-numbing because scoring was never an issue for the Predators last season as it had been in previous years. They had the sixth-best five-on-five goals-for at 168.

(Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports)
Shea Weber (Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports)

Nashville’s power play the year before ranked 12th in the league at 19.2%. The reason for its success was having Weber’s hard slap-shot score 12 of 46 power play goals. In 2014-15, Weber had just 5 of 42. Weber still received the puck to shoot from the point as usual, but one thing was different between the two seasons.

The Predators lacked a net-front presence.

From 2008-14, there was not a more willing Predator to stand in front of the net and screen the opposing goaltender despite the constant hacking and face-washes than Patric Hornqvist. Nashville lost that net-front presence when they traded Hornqvist with Nick Spaling to the Pittsburgh Penguins for James Neal at last year’s draft.

At the time of the deal, the Predators were excited to finally add a true scorer to the roster. Losing Hornqvist did not sink in until months later when the power play suffered greatly.

Nashville tried using Neal to fill that role, but he is not as gritty as Hornqvist. With Neal’s incredible shot, placing him in front of the net is not playing to his strengths.

Wilson is another player the Preds tried out, and it worked well since Wilson had a career year in points at 42 (20 goals, 22 assists). With his large 6-foot-1, 216-pound frame, Wilson thrives on scoring dirty goals. However, Wilson’s production is not going to be enough to return Nashville’s power play to form.

On July 1, general manager David Poile may look to the free agent market for someone who has made a living at that role. Two names that come to mind are Chris Stewart and ex-Pred Joel Ward.

Stewart, 27, was a trade deadline acquisition by the Minnesota Wild from the Buffalo Sabres last season. In 81 games total, Stewart had 36 points (14 g, 22 a). At 6-foot-2, 231-pounds, he plays a hard-nosed, physical style with his big body. Acquiring Stewart would help in many areas the Predators are lacking in, including size and physicality.

(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
Joel Ward (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Ward, 34, played three seasons in Nashville between 2008-11 before signing with the Washington Capitals in the 2011 offseason. Last season, Ward scored 34 points (19 g, 15 a) in 82 games. Besides Hornqvist, Ward is arguably the best player at having a net-front presence. If Washington happens to not re-sign Ward, the Predators should immediately be interested in signing him to one or two-year contract.

Whether the Predators look internally or in free agency to fill the net-front presence role, it needs to be addressed by the time the 2015-16 season begins for the power play to once again be a strength of the team.

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Colin Fitts is a Nashville Predators staff writer for The Hockey Writers. You can follow him on Twitter, @FittsTHW.