Nashville’s Fourth Line Playing Like Top Dogs

One of the big concerns the Nashville Predators had was the lack of scoring punch in their in bottom six. GM David Poile brought in many a few different players to try and take some of the burden off of the top two lines. Cody Hodgson and Steve Moses were signed to try and spark them, but Hdogson has struggled out of the gate and Moses was demoted to the American Hockey League’s Milwaukee Admirals.

However, the troubles of the third line have been overshadowed by the flying start of the fourth-line of Eric Nystrom, Paul Gaustad and Austin Watson. This group has been really strong on defense and has pitched in a couple of goals here and there.

The fourth forward line has allowed the top two groups to get a little more recovery time before going out for another shift. The fourth group gives the Predators another weapon that will be needed if they want to keep up in the loaded Central Division.

Off to a Nys Start

The end of the 2014-15 season was a rough one for veteran forward Eric Nystrom, as he missed the postseason with an upper-body injury. The son of former NHLer Bob Nystrom has gotten off to a quick start with three goals in nine games. He got off to a good start at the beginning of last season before a long goalless-drought.

However, Nystrom isn’t expected to pump in a lot of goals. He’s supposed to be a hustle player that is a solid checking forward that’s physical. The goals are an added bonus and have come against projected preseason Western Conference favorites, the Anaheim Ducks and the San Jose Sharks. (Nystrom potted his other goal this season against the New Jersey Devils, which is close to his hometown of Syosset, New York.)

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He also provides ton of experience with his nine-plus seasons in the league. He may not equal the career-high 16 goals in 2011-12 or the 15 goals in the first season with the Predators in 2013-14, but he’s still an important cog in the team’s plans. He’s been through the rigors of many seasons, and will be counted on when needed most.

Gaustad on the Dot

Nashville has struggled mightily in the faceoff department, as it’s last in the league in winning percentage with a 44.4-percent success rate as of Oct. 30. Gaustad has been a saving grace at the dot as he owns a 56.3-percent win ratio, which is the highest on the team.

Gaustad was brought in from the Buffalo Sabres to win draws, and that’s what he does. He doesn’t put up a lot of goals, but he is also very important because he wins faceoffs. His role is even more significant due to the woes on Mike Ribeiro from the faceoff spot, as this tweet from fellow THW Predators writer Colin Fitts after the 2-1 win over San Jose.

He’s also a guy that can drop the gloves when he needs to, as Gaustad is one of the main fighters on the club. He’s only fought once this season. (Against Mark Borowiecki of the Senators), but he comes to the aide of his teammates when needed. That’s a role that can’t be forgotten.

Watson Making Statement

The one piece on the fourth line that was in doubt was the winger opposite of Nystrom. There was speculation on who would fill that place, but it seems that Austin Watson has carved out his place in the lineup on that bottom line with his great two-way play.

It’s taken Watson a few seasons to crack the lineup with the parent club, as he starred the last couple of seasons with the Admirals in the AHL. However, he seems to be at home with Nystrom and Gaustad.

Watson was a 20-plus goal scorer and a featured on the first two lines for Milwaukee, but is relishing his first sustained time in the NHL on that fourth line. The left winger has a goal and an assist in six games, but he’s made a physical impact on the fourth line.

RELATED: Austin Watson Finding His Role in Nashville

We all saw what he did to Ryan Getzlaf in the rout of the Ducks, and he’s winning over fans with his hustle. Watson’s solid play is also allowing Kevin Fiala and Viktor Arvidsson more time to develop in Milwaukee. Watson has been a refreshing surprise so far.

The Verdict

The great start of the fourth line is somewhat unexpected, but it’s good to see. It allows the Predators to roll more lineups out and save the top two lines for later in the game when they need their scoring touch. Depth was an issue for the team going into the season, but Nystrom, Gaustad and Waston are making life easier for coach Peter Laviolette.

Dan Mount is a Nashville Predators staff writer for The Hockey Writers. You can follow him on Twitter, @DanMountSports. You can email him at