Predators’ 2020-21 Roster Is a Balancing Act

On Tuesday, the deadline for the NHL final rosters came and went, and then on Wednesday, the Nashville Predators unveiled their 2020-21 opening night roster. The roster features 12 forwards, seven defensemen, two goaltenders, two players that were non-designated, and five players on the taxi squad.

One of the bigger changes of this roster is that there are a ton of newcomers and younger players to mix with the core of players who were still on the team when Nashville made it to the Stanley Cup Final a few years ago. We’re going to go into the breakdown of the forwards and the potential lines and pairings, and how they will fare for the new season.

Forwards

There are 12 forwards that will be on this final roster, and the top line of the team is a familiar line, which is the JoFA line, which is Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and Viktor Arvidsson. This was the line that was established originally by Peter Laviolette during his time as the Predators’ coach. Upon John Hynes’ arrival last season, the line was shuffled around.

John Hynes Nashville Predators
John Hynes, Nashville Predators (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

When the NHL had its playoff restart in the bubble, Hynes went back to the past and brought this line back together, and it looks like they will stay with this line to start the season. This line has been a big part of the Predators’ recent success, so there’s a reason for it to be back to get this season going.

Following the JoFA line is the line that has Matt Duchene, and he has a couple of newcomers on both wings. Erik Haula on the left-wing and Luke Kunin on the right-wing. Haula came over to Smashville from the Carolina Hurricanes, and Kunin was acquired in a trade from the Minnesota Wild for fan-favourite Nick Bonino.

As the Predators added Duchene to the core a season ago, bringing in an infusion of young talent in Kunin should allow the Predators a breakout star in the years to come.

The third line also features a newcomer (Nick Cousins) playing alongside two returnees, Colton Sissons and Rocco Grimaldi. Having Cousins on this line adds to the potential scoring depth that the Predators can have on the offensive end, especially complimenting the toughness that Sissons brings and the speed of Grimaldi. They have great potential to do some wonderful things.

Nick Cousins Vegas Golden Knights
Nick Cousins, former Vegas Golden Knight (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Finally, the fourth line brings some edge and blend of youth and experience. Brad Richardson comes in from Arizona and brings a veteran presence. Richardson will be paired up with Callie Jarnkrok on the right side and what would expect to be Mikael Granlund. Granlund is on a non-roster placement until his quarantine is complete, as his visa issues should be finalized at this point.

As Hynes has done in the past, he has shaken up the lines, trying to get the best three guys who work well together and get the best results. I do like the potential of the top two lines, especially, and some additional production from the other two lines. There could be something great here, if not, some defensemen can get the job done easily.

Defensemen

The defensive pairings are pretty much consistent from the last season, and the top pair has been a mainstay in Smashville for a long time, and of course, barring injury, I don’t see much of a change coming there.

The top pair is the captain, Roman Josi, with Ryan Ellis. Both guys play both ways and are good at doing so. They defend the net, they block shots, and they are also able to score when needed. Also, they are the leaders who set the tone for not just the defense but the team as well.

Ryan Ellis Nashville Predators
Ryan Ellis, Nashville Predators (Photo by Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The second pairing consists of Mattias Ekholm and Dante Fabbro. As I touched on previously, Fabbro, I think can elevate his game even more by partnering with Ekholm, and be a true breakout star, and live up to the true value of a first-round pick.

Ekholm is similar to Josi and Ellis with the two-way style in defending the goal and blocking shots, and being an offensive scorer. If the offensive side of Ekholm can rub off on Fabbro, that will definitely be advantageous to the Preds going forward.

The final pairing are two newcomers, Mark Borowiecki and Matt Benning. Benning spent the first four years of his career in Edmonton and is more of a physical presence, and he may be a great addition to the penalty kill, which was at 76.06%, below the league average of 79.97%. Borowiecki arrives in Smashville from a long career with the Senators, and these two together definitely bring more of the physical presence to the team.

Nashville also reserved a roster spot for Luca Sbisa, who was claimed off waivers from Winnipeg, and he will quarantine in Nashville until he is ready to play and will be a great addition to the defense as well.

Goaltenders

The two Finns are going to be in front of the net again, and it has been well documented over the last few years. We know Pekka Rinne has been the incumbent starter for years, but at age 38, Rinne had one of his worst seasons. Juuse Saros was rising at the right time before COVID-19 shut the season down, but he struggled upon the restart. One thing that this unique set up may bring is these two netminders will get a lot of time in between, due to the number of games that may be played in a certain timeframe.

Pekka Rinne Nashville Predators
Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

This could be Pekka’s swan song, and if it is, he could either stay on and still be great until Yaroslav Askarov is ready, or he could try to go to a contender and get the Cup before his career ends if Nashville doesn’t re-sign him. For Saros, one has to wonder if he will get a long term deal in Smashville, or will he end up inking a deal elsewhere, and if Nashville will match.

The Preds did add five to the taxi squad: forwards Eeli Tolvanen, Matthew Olivier, Cole Smith, Alexandre Carrier, and Connor Ingram. They do have one open spot on the taxi squad, but no word of who may be the one occupying that spot. These guys will be able to practice with the team and move up and down the roster as well.

Overall, this is a solid roster, and Hynes and his staff did a nice job keeping the core together. Bringing in new talent should make the Predators a very interesting candidate in the new Discover Central Division.


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