Continuing the overview of the Nashville Predators player report cards, it will be a bit more negative this time around. Unlike the last time, the grades for most of the players in this article will be on the low end of the spectrum. It’s not unexpected, though, as most self-respecting Predators fans know that the players listed aside from one have been underperforming. I’ll start with the positive and then work my way down the chain.
Mattias Ekholm was easily the bright spot of the Predators’ blueline throughout the season. His consistently steady two-way presence on the backend proved very valuable during the Predators turnaround. He and Alexandre Carrier were one of the best pairs that the Predators iced during the season. They posted a 55.39 expected goals for percentage (xGF%) per Evolving-Hockey, which is second only to Roman Josi and Matt Benning’s pair. It was easy to see Carrier’s development under Ekholm. He knew that his primarily offensive game could be played because Ekholm is so solid defensively. Ekholm is a leader both on and off the ice. This season, he tallied 23 points in 48 games, and after his short injury stint, played like a Norris caliber defenseman. It was extremely impressive, but it obviously wasn’t sustainable.
As for the playoffs, Ekholm was put with Ryan Ellis and played mediocre hockey. It was great at times, and during other times it wasn’t. Their pair was decent and certainly wasn’t the reason the Predators lost in six. However, it definitely could have been better between the two. Ekholm individually didn’t perform up to snuff. He wasn’t producing as much offense as most fans would’ve liked to see, but his defense was the problem. It’s a small sample size, so take what you will from it, but it’s no secret that he could have performed better.
Ekholm during the regular season was excellent. Without Dante Fabbro on his pair, he looked reinvigorated. It’s not a shot at Fabbro to say that either. He’s just a young gun with a lot of room to develop, whereas Carrier got a fair amount of time in the minors with the Milwaukee Admirals. While his playoffs were underwhelming for the most part, his regular season was fantastic.
Overall grade: A-
Well, it was another disappointing year for Ryan Johansen. The good thing? He looked reinvigorated with Filip Forsberg and Eeli Tolvanen as his linemates and took that electricity into the playoffs. The problem is he keeps underperforming, and it continues to make his contract look bad. His underlying metrics, while better than they have been due to a late-season surge, aren’t good enough to justify any true optimism about his play. He put up 22 points in 48 games and went through the first 14 games of the season without scoring a goal. Over his last 21, he only scored three. It’s become an annoyance for all Predators fans. Why can’t one of their two $8 million players put up more than 30 points in a 56 game season? With Johansen, it has been a bit of bad luck, but he also appeared to have a lack of motivation. Keeping him with Tolvanen and Forsberg helped spark that fire again.
His playoffs were downright excellent. His will to battle for pucks in the corner reappeared, and the physical toll he took game in and game out was evident. Being on a line with Forsberg and Matt Duchene, with who he played on a line in the last game of the regular season, helped keep his urgency up. He had four points in six playoff games, including three goals. His xGF% was the best on the team at 60.78%, which is ridiculous. He generated tons of high-danger chances while playing excellent defense.
It’s a shame that Johansen’s playoff mindset appears nonexistent in the regular season. Obviously, there are major differences between the two, but for a player being paid as much as he is, it is vital for him to do anything to produce. If that means walking into game 50 like it’s game 7 of the playoffs, so be it. Everyone would prefer to watch that Johansen rather than the one with zero urgency. His playoff numbers really help his case, but his underperformance again during the regular season can’t be overstated.
Overall grade: C
It’s the Predators player that everyone loves to hate. Duchene has had it rough since his time in Nashville began. Whether it’s being split up from Forsberg and Mikael Granlund after an insane stint of games during his first year or being thrown down to the third line with Brad Richardson and Erik Haula because he wasn’t producing enough. His linemates, for the most part, have not helped his production. Analytics suggest that his performance on the scoresheet is not indicative of his actual play, and by the eye test, that proves to be true. The problem is nobody cares about it because he’s being paid $8 million. If he’s not putting up points with that price tag, no one will be happy. He didn’t this year, with only 13 points in 34 games.
The playoffs did help enforce the notion that demoting Duchene in the lineup won’t do anything but not solve the problem. While playing with Forsberg and Johansen, Duchene put on a clinic. He scored the double-overtime winning goal in Game 3 and ended the playoffs with three points in six games and the third-best xGF% out of any Predators skater at 55.77%. He recovered pucks well, drove the net, and created quality chances for himself and his teammates through deceptive skating and great stickhandling. He was one of the Predators’ best players this postseason.
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Duchene’s tough regular season really weighs him down. Dealing with an injury and being put with far less skilled linemates does help his grade a little bit. The playoffs especially help. However, he and Johansen should probably be given the same grade. Both being paid the same and both underperforming outside of the playoffs.
Overall grade: C
Viktor Arvidsson had a super weird year in an overarching weird year. After his franchise record-breaking 34-goal season, fans were expecting more of the same in the coming seasons. (from ‘Viktor Arvidsson sets Predators single-season scoring record with his 34th goal this season,’ Tennessean, 04/06/2019) There was obviously going to be some regression, but no one thought it would be anything like this. He played well at times, of course, but the problem lies in what happens off the scoresheet. There was a stretch of games where he was outstanding and arguably the Predators’ best forward. However, the majority of the year it was a lot of making useless rushes and turning the puck over to the opposition. 25 points in 50 games certainly aren’t bad by 2020-21 Predators standards, but teams seemed to have figured the guy out.
Arvidsson missed the entirety of the playoffs due to an injury, so there won’t be anything to comment on in that realm. It’s hard to watch Arvidsson get constantly beat down by opposing defenders that know exactly what he’s going to do. Ever since he got cross-checked by Robert Bortuzzo, he hasn’t been the same player. However, he did put up a fair bit of points this year relative to his teammates and played some solid defense too. A happy medium is most accurate for him.
Overall grade: C+
The players I reviewed in this article outside of Ekholm were pretty disappointing overall. While hopefully there is a bounceback from them, it’s hard to tell what the future has in store. All three could possibly be exposed for the expansion draft, so it will be interesting to find out what general manager David Poile thinks about the future with these guys in tow.
Jeff is a consistent source for Predators content here at The Hockey Writers. He enjoys watching all sorts of hockey from juniors to the pros, and playing hockey for his high school and local teams in Nashville. He’s a big proponent of hockey analytics, and you’ll often see him using lots of statistics and data to back up his main talking points. You can find his work here, or check out his contributions on his own Substack, or at Last Word on Hockey and On the Forecheck. Lastly, you can listen to him on the Youth Movement Podcast presented by On the Forecheck or the Triple Shift Podcast. For any inquiries about interviews or questions about statistics, analytics, or just general hockey opinions you can message his twitter, @jjmid04.