Welcome to the young guns edition of the 2020-21 Nashville Predators Report Card. Last time, I went over three of the most disappointing players on the roster, but, fortunately, all of the young guns performed exceptionally well this season, which makes my job much easier and more fun. Nobody wants to be a negative Nancy, and all of these players provided a spark to a downtrodden team when they needed a boost. They all bring unique skills to the table, so here’s a look at how they helped the Predators.
Eeli Tolvanen was special this season. Despite being a healthy scratch at the beginning of the season, he came in and proved his worth. There was talk about his development and that spending a couple of seasons in the minor leagues might be a sign of trouble. However, he proved all of the doubters wrong.
In his first game with the Predators, Tolvanen scored against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but it took about seven games without a point for him to get accustomed to the NHL’s speed and physical play. He broke out after that, scoring 18 points in his next 23 games. He led all rookies in power-play goals, and his name came up often in the Calder conversation. Unfortunately, his season was derailed by a lower-body injury that cost him just over two weeks.
His production after the injury wasn’t the same, and it carried into the playoffs. He looked pedestrian, scoring three points in his final nine regular-season games, and then, after being scratched in Games 1 and 2 to start the playoffs, he didn’t score a single point in four games. His 38.96 playoff expected goals for percentage (xGF%) ranked 13th on the team (of 18 players); not a great postseason showing for the youngster.
Tolvanen’s play during the regular season was excellent outside of his post-injury issues. Even when he wasn’t scoring, he delivered excellent passes to his linemates, Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen. While he was not good in the postseason by any means, it’s a small sample size, and something tells me he wasn’t 100% healthy. Overall, his season was excellent, and he proved that development in the minors was working (from “Predators May Soon Be Rewarded for Patience With Prospect Tolvanen,” Nashville Post, 07/30/2020).
Overall grade: A-
I advocated for Alexandre Carrier to be on the roster last season when the third defensive pairing was awful. Watching Carrier play lights out in the minors was convincing enough to get me on the “bring Carrier up” train. In 19 games in Nashville this season, he proved me correct. While he only had one goal and two assists, he skated with extreme intensity and was able to pressure opposing teams into giving up the puck deep in their zone. At a 52.09 xGF% per Evolving-Hockey, he played above-average in replacement of injured players. Playing with Mattias Ekholm in the regular season, he seemed to gain more confidence game-by-game.
As for the playoffs, Carrier was arguably the second-best defenseman on the team behind Roman Josi. He played slightly below average with a 49.59 xGF%, second among defensemen and fifth on the team. He also tallied two assists over six games. The bar for an acceptable postseason performance isn’t exactly high, but it’s still good enough that harping is undeserved.
Carrier wasn’t a standout player on the blue line most nights; however, he showed flashes of great play. He’s a fun player to watch, and he’s not afraid to take risks. That being said, his season wasn’t great but not bad at all either. A middle-of-the-pack grade seems fitting.
Overall grade: B
One of the four members of The Herd Line, Yakov Trenin, was a tremendous physical presence for the Predators this season. Although he may not have scored the most points with only 11 in 45 games, that wasn’t his primary purpose. His line was expected to forecheck, playing good defense, and keep the puck out of the net, and they did just that. Individually, Trenin was fourth on the team in the regular season with a 54.46 xGF%, which is precisely what you want to see if you’re general manager David Poile or head coach John Hynes. Considering the team’s woes in 2019-20, this line was a treat for fans in 2020-21.
As for the playoffs, Trenin put up some decent numbers, but overall, he wasn’t great. His 37.57 xGF% was 14th on the team, and that was mainly due to his inability to generate high-quality chances. His expected goals for per 60 (xGF/60) was 17th on the team at 1.36. He did take advantage of some chances, but The Herd Line noticeably didn’t create nearly as many chances as they had been during the regular season.
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Trenin had a solid regular season and a not-so-great playoff series. It’s a huge bonus that he was among the most integral parts of the Predators’ resurgence, but his box score numbers and possession metrics didn’t impress me enough to give him a truly high grade.
Overall grade: B
As a mid-season addition to The Herd Line, after an unfortunate injury to Mathieu Olivier, Tanner Jeannot came in with his 6-foot-2, 207-pound frame and lit up Bridgestone Arena. Massive hits from “The Ox” quickly made him a household name. He scored five goals and seven points in 15 games and had the best xGF% on the team among players with a minimum of 150 minutes. His ability to score goals and blow players up along the wall made him a fan favorite that most said should be a roster mainstay. Considering Jeannot’s background, it was great to see him thrive with the NHL club.
His playoffs, however, were disappointing. In five games, Jeannot posted only one point and ranked 16th on the team in xGF% at 35.61. He didn’t play up to his usual defensive game, and his offense flew out the door. He was the only player below Trenin in xGF/60, and, without that stat, it was easy to see that he just wasn’t playing at the same level. He was non-existent in the offensive zone or on the rush throughout the series.
However, Jeannot’s numbers in the playoffs and regular season come in tiny sample sizes, which isn’t optimal for making a concrete judgment. However, we know that he loves to hit, forecheck, and he can score. He is a piece of the puzzle that the Predators were missing for a long time, and it would be disappointing for him not to be a full-time roster player next season.
Overall grade: B+
The season started with few young players on the roster. However, after a number of injuries hit the Predators, they got their rightful tryout with the big club, and it paid off for all of them. The chance to show off their skills in front of the coaches and fans should help their case to make the team in the future. The sample may be small, but look out for these players to come out firing on all cylinders within the next season or two.
Jeff is a writer for the Nashville Predators department here at THW. He lives and attends high school in Nashville. His family has been season ticket holders for the Preds since their inaugural season. He writes for his own Substack, Last Word on Sports in the hockey department, and the Predators SB Nation site, On The Forecheck