The 82-game NHL season is an expansive voyage, full of ups and down, twists and turns, turmoil and triumph. To keep the ship sailing in the right direction, a franchise must be constantly retooling its roster.
There will be injuries and under performance, balanced with new talents rising to new levels, earning the right to carry more of the team’s weight. A crew will need to be shuffled and reshuffled, members added and subtracted.
The Nashville Predators began their journey in rocky water, struggling to keep their season steady. But with a smart reconfiguration near midseason, the Music City Cats are sailing upon a 7-1-1 record over the past few weeks, looking to extend their success into the post All-Star weekend seas.
Here’s a look at three players that have impacted the team’s success.
The Colorado Avalanche lifer was given a reprieve from the NHL’s fastest sinking ship when he was traded to the Predators on Jan. 13. The 32-year-old grinder now has the opportunity to provide veteran leadership and an enforcing presence from the fourth line of a team still battling to reach the postseason.
The change of allegiance provided McLeod with a burst of newfound energy, which in turn provided the Predators with something unexpected – the glimpse of a scoring touch. The veteran forward marked only a single tally on the score sheet in 28 games this season with the Avalanche, yet has three points (two goals, one assist) in seven games since joining the Predators’ ranks.
McCleod’s scoring has been but a bonus, with the bulk of his contribution being his relentless edge on the team’s bottom line and a willingness to drop the gloves. The anchor amidst a revolving cast in his short tenure, it hasn’t mattered whether he’s been flanked by Colton Sissons, Harry Zolniercyk, Austin Watson or Derek Grant, the fourth line has been an effective combatant, proven by McCleod’s plus-3 rating over his seven games in gold.
The designated pariah of the Nashville Predators’ fan base, Ribeiro is feeling disapproval with his play by the team’s coaching staff. He’s been a healthy scratch in three of the last eight games, and perhaps tellingly, the Predators have gone an unblemished 3-0-0 in those contests.
Ribeiro has largely been a success since donning the Predators uniform on a trial basis two seasons ago. He’s marked full campaigns of 62 points and 50 points, impressive numbers for a skater in his mid-30s. Last year’s postseason, however, saw a sloppy and slow Ribeiro drawing the ire of the Fanged Faithful, and recent results suggest the dissatisfaction is well founded.
And the players who are least involved in on-ice primary shot contributions.
Perreault, Hyman, Backes, and Panik catch the eye. pic.twitter.com/fnGlEf48mY
— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) January 26, 2017
The 36-year-old center still possesses the ability to distribute the puck creatively, as evidenced by his 21 assists and 25 points on the year – numbers good enough to sit second on the Predators’ roster in assists and fifth in overall scoring. But serious issues begin to creep into his game when addressing consistency of play, decision-making, defensive responsibility and skating ability.
Time has seemingly caught up with Ribeiro, and his inability to keep pace in a league predicated on speed has left him lagging in all zones. A former 80-point scorer with a pass-first mentality, Ribeiro has built his career on his tremendous vision which now appears to be faltering, frequently leading to costly turnovers.
The Predators have responded by removing the liability from the ice despite its trace amounts of scoring, opting to plug reliable two-way forward Calle Jarnkrok into the third line center position. The owner of an underwhelming stat sheet (seven goals, seven assists in 49 games), Jarnkrok plays a hard-working, responsible game, leaving the final score to speak for itself.
It’d be an injustice not to mention head coach Peter Laviolette’s masterful navigation of injuries to the Predators’ defensive unit, but equal justice is due to elevating winger Viktor Arvidsson to the correct slot on the depth chart.
The twice-undrafted Arvidsson appeared to be a speedy but marginal forward tucked away on the team’s third line during his rookie season last year, but the 2016-17 campaign has unfolded with the 23-year-old rocketing to the top of the left-wing chart, earning top-line minutes in all situations and gathering a cult-like favoritism from fans along the way.
Been watching the Predators a bit lately. Very impressed by Viktor Arvidsson, who just scored. Around the net, does a lot of things right.
— Dan Rosen (@drosennhl) January 25, 2017
Arvidsson has been the Predators’ most consistent player, and his lightning-fast, make-the-play-at-all-costs style has made him a brilliant complement to the elite puck skills of linemates Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen. Both Arvidsson and Forsberg have averaged a point-per-game over the Predators’ current five-game point streak, while Johansen sits above the trend, with six points across the span.
While the sophomore Swede could be injected into any line and bring a strong dose of activity, coach Laviolette has banked on his high-end potential to form a lethal combination on the team’s premier line. And with all three players between the ages of 22 and 24 years old (and likely to be protected in the expansion draft), the trio may form the face of Predators scoring for years to come.
Laviolette’s most recent mold of the roster will be tested immediately following the All-Star break in contests against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Edmonton Oilers, a pair of teams who sit better than eight points above the Predators in the standings.
The Predators’ lineup will continue to be subject to change, at a minimum because defenseman Roman Josi hasn’t seen action since Jan. 12th, and a recent return to practice suggests full-time duty isn’t too far off. While it’d be foolish to keep a talent like Josi away from the ice when healthy, further tinkering with the lineup of a hot team raises the question: if something’s not broken, how many times do you try to mend it?
Chance Humphrey hails from Cincinnati, Ohio and covers the Nashville Predators for The Hockey Writers. He studies as a double major in Mass Media Communications and Creative Writing at Miami University of Ohio, and is skeptical of most intermission entertainment and those beer glasses that fill up from the bottom.