Prior to the losses in Chicago and now Winnipeg, I took a look at the Goalies and Defensemen, and assigned them some grades based on a half-season look at where the team is at.
FILIP FORSBERG – (C-) – Hey, don’t get me wrong. I love this guy, but these grades are based on the 2015-16 team, first half of the season, and he was definitely below average. I have no doubt that come season’s end, if the team makes the playoffs, he gets this grade up considerably. If the team flounders, and he is just another guy being offered an early shot at the Worlds, then he was a big disappointment.
JAMES NEAL – (C) – It’s awfully hard to say that your team’s leading goal scorer is also a big disappointment, but prior to Ryan Johansen’s arrival, he was just ok, and a carbon copy of his debut season in Smashville, which was nothing to write home about. He had a nice 40 goal season playing alongside Malkin a few years back (2011-12) but there’s no denying there’s no Malkin in Nashville.
MIKE RIBEIRO – (F) – Sorry, Mike. You made everyone around you better last year. This season, it’s a whole different story. Your numbers aren’t horrible, but you are not making any of your linemates look particularly good. And, you’re here for a year after this one. No one will touch you at the deadline, so I have to hope you practice patience and hold onto that puck a second longer than you did in the first half. Find your game. Earn your keep. Make us spectators oooh and aaah…
COLIN WILSON – (D) – An enigma. Seems to have all the tools, and at 25 years old, should be a rising star. Instead, he’s an overpriced guy who doesn’t seem to be a fit anywhere the coaching staff puts him. His time spent injured has limited some of his ability to rack up some points, but on pace for less than 10 goals for the full season, he’s certainly not worthy of a 4 year, 4M per kind of deal. That being said, I imagine a few GM’s remain intrigued. Stay tuned.
CRAIG SMITH – (D+) – The second half of the “Enigma Twins” has job security, a fat wallet, and a string of games where he’s completely invisible, which are then followed by a couple of games where he either scores, or misses insanely obvious chances. There’s always that fear that when David Poile tires of his act, and ships him to fillintheblank, he will find the consistency that has eluded him thusfar in his career. Skilled, but not a guy who shows up on a nightly basis.
CALLE JARNKROK – (B) – Fact is, this is a guy who some people thought would slot down as far as Milwaukee this year, but he made the team and then found himself with increased ice time and responsibility. His numbers are a reasonable uptick from last season, but not up enough to say he’s absolutely taken the final step to NHL security. Valuable on the PK, and often called out for his exceptional Hockey IQ. Bold steps forward in the first half of the season.
MIKE FISHER – (D+) – Were we kidding ourselves when we judged how well Fisher played last year after joining the team around Thanksgiving, having missed two months recuperating from an injury? Really invisible for long stretches this season, and having missed a handful of games due to yet another injury, it’s beginning to look a lot like he needs to turn it up a notch or the team will be Golfing in April.
CODY HODGSON – (D+) – Poor Cody Hodgson. He of the great “CORSI” statistics. He of the ten minutes a night he lulled you to sleep as you thought MAYBE he’d rebound from a couple of off seasons and become a legit offensive threat for Nashville. Winner of this year’s Derek Roy/David Poile/We Tried, We Failed Award.
ERIC NYSTROM – (C) – Nystrom may not have enough decisions to win an NHL Cy Young Award, but at 7-0, he’s got to be in the mix. Obviously he rarely passes the puck for a high scoring chance, but he is willing to plant himself in front of the net to get pucks bounce off him on occasion. That he doesn’t get a second on the PP means opposing netminders rarely have to fear they won’t actually see a Preds shot coming.
PAUL GAUSTAD – (C-) – The deal is that his deal is almost up. If the Preds continue to contend for a playoff spot, they may not be sellers at the deadline, but in any event, this is a guy Poile can parlay into a draft choice of some sort come March 1st, because honestly, most contending teams could use this guy on the faceoff dot. A much better player than he shows nightly in a 4th line role in Nashville.
AUSTIN WATSON – (C) – Another of the bubble guys who may shuttle between Nashville and Milwaukee at any time (along with Salomaki, Arvidsson, and Sissons) – Big, tall, strong, 23, but hasn’t shown the kind of offense that would keep him in a top 9 forward slot. Fourth line guys are in abundance in Nashville, so I don’t suppose his future moving forward past this season, will be paved in gold.
RYAN JOHANSEN – (INCOMPLETE) – We know the guy is an “A” when on his game, and the first few games he played for the Preds showed that he will be a nice fit on the top line, and first PP unit. Finding comparable linemates may be an issue, but for the moment, let’s say Neal and Forsberg should benefit from this guy’s skill set.
MIIKKA SALOMAKI – (C) – You won’t see him show up on the scoreboard very often, but the fact is, he does work his tail off, and he has tremendous hockey instincts. Slightly undersized at 5’11, but solid at just over 200 lbs, “Salty” seems to do his job with few errors, and though he might be a bubble guy right now, if he chooses to continue his career in North America, he’d fit right in on any Preds team.
VIKTOR ARVIDSSON – (C+) – Gets the benefit of the doubt from me because I think with my heart and not my head on occasion. He plays as if he were shot out of a cannon. Absolutely fearless, and plays in areas few Preds care to tread. Problems are balance, and bad penalties. Gotta believe he still has a future in Nashville, but for now, he’ll pile up the points in Milwaukee.
GABRIEL BOURQUE – (C-) – A goal and three assists in 22 games and a bunch of injury time, and you forget he’s just 24. The man has hands of stone, but he does show some effective play along the boards. He’s never going to be much more than he has shown in his six years in the organization, but remember the lockout year? He had 11 goals in 34 games. Seems like an improbability at this point moving forward.
COLTON SISSONS – (C) – Average, in that not a lot was expected of him, and he delivered just that. Had a goal and an assist in 19 games. He’s 21, and Captain of the Milwaukee Admirals. Will he be 31 and Captain of an AHL team in 10 years? That’s the question. Still has upside, and Preds brass seem to know that.
KEVIN FIALA – (INCOMPLETE) – A recent (fairly undeserving) recall, around the time of the Johansen trade in an effort to jumpstart the offense. There’s no question this kid has an NHL future, and he’ll be a fan favorite in no time. Watch the attitude, and pray for maturity.
CODY BASS – (INCOMPLETE) – But, you know how I feel. The guy has been a marginal NHL guy with Ottawa, and Columbus, with some minor league stops in both the Lightning and Blackhawk organizations, and will be a footnote in Preds history when all is said and done.