We’re inching closer and closer to the NHL’s return to play. We know the where and pretty much the when of this much-anticipated conclusion to the 2019-20 season. We are learning more and more about how the return will look with developments slowly being released week by week. Now’s finally the time to have a reasonable level of excitement and start, or at least try, to put these terrible months void of hockey behind us.
It’s also a perfect time to start predicting, analyzing and critiquing the moves and decisions that playoff teams need to make.
One interesting area of discussion is the rosters. Under the Return to Play Plan, teams will be allowed expanded rosters – 28 skaters, plus as many goalies as teams see fit. According to reports, most teams already know who they want to add to their roster and have informed their minor league affiliates of their plans. However, just for fun, let’s breakdown who the Nashville Predators should add to their expanded roster or “taxi squad.”
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As it currently stands, the Predators have 22 skaters listed on their roster, meaning they have up to six empty spots to utilize. As mentioned, no limit has been put on the number of goalies. So, as the American Hockey League (AHL) has already officially cancelled their season, the Predators could have Troy Grosenick or Connor Ingram, or both, join them. After all, it’s better to have and not need than to need and not have. So, there’s the easy decision made, on to the skaters.
Look, the Predators’ free agent signing from last summer may be one of the most frustrating players in the organization. It’s not because he doesn’t work hard, or because the team overpaid – he only has a $700,000 cap-hit. But rather Carr has struggled to firmly plant his feet under the table and secure a role with the Predators full time, despite being one of the best players in the AHL.
As mentioned, the Predators currently have 22 skaters – 14 forwards and 8 defensemen – on their roster and clearly as of when the season came to a halt, Carr was not seen as one of the top-14 forwards in the organization. However, when expanding the field, Carr deserves to make the cut.
When donning the Predators’ gold, Carr managed just 1 goal in 11 games. However, his time with the Milwaukee Admirals was far more successful. Last season, the native of Sherwood Park, Alberta, played in 47 games registering a team-leading 50 points, which was also the 10th-best mark in the AHL. He also led the Admirals with 23 goals.
His gritty style works well with Colton Sissons, Austin Watson and even Nick Bonino. Carr will be a great option should a spot open up or need to be filled.
Filling the roster will be a strategic game. The six extra roster spots the Predators have can be filled with any position, excluding goalies, obviously. So, there will need to be a lot of thought put into what the team may need. The Predators are well-known for their defense and barring any injuries, all pairings are fully locked down. However, it would be foolish not to have a few extra defensemen on hand, and Carrier may be the best the Admirals have to offer.
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The 23-year-old led the Admirals’ defensemen with 37 points, which also placed him in the top-10 for defensemen league-wide. He also finished the season with a plus-15 rating, the team’s fourth best in that category.
Carrier has already made his NHL debut, appearing in two games back in 2016-17 and another three games in 2019-20. He’s a mobile defenseman who can move the puck. The closest comparison to a current Predators’ defenseman may be Yannick Weber. If Carrier were to assume a role beyond training camp, the third pairing would be best suited to him, possibly balancing a big-body like 6-foot-6, Jarred Tinordi or a less-mobile, Dan Hamhuis.
The Admirals’ youngest player has to be on this list purely because of his natural offensive skill. Tolvanen may not be quite ready to crack the Predators’ full-time roster just yet, but he certainly has worth to Nashville’s training camp.
The 21-year-old has a deadly release and can score from almost anywhere in the offensive zone, which helped the forward record the second-most Admirals’ goals this past season.
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General manager David Poile and the rest of the Predators’ management have developed a forward group with depth, so Tolvanen making an appearance in an actual game seems highly unlikely. His experience will work against him when it comes to playoff hockey. But the former first-round pick’s value will come from the reps the full-time defense will get chasing and attempting to contain the crafty forward with a lethal shot during camp.
With 84 games of NHL experience, Gaudreau is one of the most seasoned NHL players on the Admirals’ roster. The native of Bromont, Quebec, didn’t exactly have an outstanding season in Milwaukee, registering 11 goals and 17 assists in 42 games.
However, flashback to 2017 where Gaudreau became somewhat of a hero for the Predators. The forward who famously had a makeshift stall in the Predators’ locker room recorded three goals in the six-game Stanley Cup Final series, including a goal in each of the critical third and fourth games, which the Predators won, resulting in a tied series.
There are no overly convincing stats indicating that Gaudreau is a no-brainer. But considering teams have a luxury of expanded rosters, it may be worth adding the 27-year-old to the mix. The Predators could do with some 2017 playoff magic and seeing as hockey and superstitions go hand-in-hand, why not put the forward on the call-up list and see what happens?
Donovan would be another strategic selection. The 30-year-old has 69 games of NHL experience and has been a serviceable defenseman for the Admirals. The native of Edmond, Oklahoma, is coming off a season where he registered 32 points in 62 games. Behind Carrier, Donovan was the Admirals’ most productive defenseman.
The former fourth-round pick of the New York Islanders is a great depth defenseman to have on hand. Donovan is key to the Admirals’ power play and was tied for the team lead in goals on the man-advantage by defenseman along with Carrier.
Again, like Carrier, it is highly unlikely for Donovan to be featured in an actual game, but he’s certainly the type of presence that the Predators could benefit from during their training camp.
Finally, there’s Olivier and he may be slightly different to all the others on this list because it wouldn’t be that crazy for him to dress for a playoff game or two. Think about it, Olivier saw time with the Predators before the pause, suiting up for eight games. Although from a stats standpoint he didn’t leave a massive impression – registering just one assist – his game was far from boring.
The 6-foot-2 forward plays like he has something prove and runs over anything that moves. We all know that the physicality seems to double in the postseason, with the mantra of “hit or be hit” running rampant every night. Olivier’s game seems built for this.
Admittedly, he’s not a flashy player and it’s very doubtful Olivier will lead a goal-scoring surge, but he does all the right things. He’s more than willing to sacrifice his body to block a shot, take hits to make a play or flat out hit defensemen while on the forecheck. He’ll stick up for his teammates and that’s usually welcomed in a locker room. He may be a dark horse, but Olivier may be one of the smarter promotions for Poile.
The former Minnesota Golden Gopher has a lot of exciting potential. Predators fans got a brief glimpse of him when he made his NHL debut in 2018-19 – his only NHL appearance to date. What works against Pitlick, and the reason he’s a notable consideration and not a selection, is his experience. The Plymouth, Minnesota native is still developing his game and doesn’t seem quite ready.
One of the pieces the Predators received in the P.K. Subban trade, Davies has been a pleasant surprise for the Admirals so far. He led the team with a plus-26 rating, but Carrier and Donovan can offer more to Predators right now.
He’s not as offensively skilled as Carr or Tolvanen and his physicality doesn’t hold up to Olivier’s. Richard is only 23 years old and may be a full-time NHL player in the future, but this is not quite his time.
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The implementation of the play-in series could really test the depth of teams who make deep runs. The Predators are one of the 16 teams required to earn their spot in the first round. Luckily for them, their depth is one of the strongest facets of their game.
Nashville can stack all four lines with the pieces they currently have on their roster and it’s widely accepted that the expanded rosters will be utilized more for training camps. However, the Predators’ organization should be confident that their depth runs beyond just their NHL squad.
Get excited, people. Hockey’s nearly back!