The top two lines of the Nashville Predators (with the exception of James Neal) have had a bit of a struggle in finding their way. However, the defense, goaltending and fourth line have kept the team in contention in the very tight Central Division.
I wrote about how effective that fourth line was earlier in the season with contributions from Eric Nystrom, Paul Gaustad and the young Austin Watson. However, injuries to Nystrom and Gaustad have taken them out of the lineup.
However, that hasn’t stopped the Predators’ fourth line from continuing to contribute. New pieces Colton Sissons and Miika Salomaki have stepped up and made their presence felt.
The old sports adage of “Next Man Up” is ringing true for the young duo that are impressing fans and coach Peter Laviolette in their short time since coming up from the Predators’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals.
Sissons Showing His Stuff
Colton Sissons just missed out on making the main roster out of training camp, but was named the Admirals captain at the start of the season. The 22-year-old forward already had two goals and five assists in 10 games with Milwaukee before he was called up to help shore up the injury-depleted fourth line after Gaustad went was ruled out.
He’d not played for the big club in 18-months, but made a big return on Nov. 10 when he scored the team’s opening goal on a deflection of a Ryan Ellis shot in Nashville’s 7-5 win over the Ottawa Senators.
Sissons has also made himself known with his physical play and his maturity beyond his years. Not only is he scoring goals and providing hits, but Sissons is even dropping the gloves to stick up for his teammates like he did on Nov. 14 against the Winnipeg Jets. Sissons may not be known as a fighter, but he was willing to stick up for Seth Jones by taking on the Jets’ Adam Lowry.
It seems as if Sissons will be sent back down when Gaustad gets healthy, but his play is going to make that a hard decision.
Salomaki Starting Strong
The other newest member of the Predators fourth line is the young Finn Miikka Salomaki. His stocky frame of 5’11”, 203 pounds makes him a natural for being on the checking line. He’s been a menace to many of the top players that he’s faced because of his rugged game and his motor.
He’s already making himself known to some of the more elite players in the league. Go ahead and asked the Anaheim Ducks Corey Perry what he thinks of Salomaki after this hit the other night.
Salomaki is fully back after a shoulder injury ended his 2014-15 season. He told fellow Predators writer Colin Fitts that he was worried about playing well in Milwaukee first and foremost.
“I don’t think [about] it too much. I just do my best every day here. It’s not my job to think about it. I don’t do the additions, I just play.
He’s making the most of his opportunity in his seven games that’s played this season. Salomaki also has a goal in his short time in the Music City. He may be heading back to Milwaukee when Nystrom or Gaustad return, but Salomaki will learn from this experience and be ready if he’s needed again.
Watson Leading the Way
Who would’ve thought that young Austin Watson would be the veteran on the fourth line? However, he’s still being a factor on that young checking line.
It’s pretty much a given that Watson would probably be the replacement for Gaustad next season, but he looks at home already. Watson was not expected to score that much on the fourth line, but had a goal and two assists in the wild win over the Senators.
He’s continuing to make strides and being a steady contributor on that fourth line. It doesn’t matter who he’s playing with because he’s still making a difference.
With Gaustad and Nystrom starting to recover and the money that’s owed to them, it’s only natural that Sissons and Salomaki will both be sent back to the AHL. However, the duo is ready to go if someone else goes down or if the club needs a spark.
It’s nice to see the young guns in Nashville are starting to step up. It’s nice to see some of the talent that general manager David Poile drafted start to realize its potential.