With their top players playing well, why is the team underachieving? The GM thought the solution lied in acquiring a top line center and sent very promising prospect Matt Puempel away to acquire veteran playmaker Andy MacDonald. Unfortunately, MacDonald injured himself after playing only three games with the Predators for an indefinite lapse of time and it seems the Predators will have to make it with their current roster.
GRADING THE PLAYERS
At center, before the acquisition of Andy Mac, no player had established himself as the legitimate first line player. Nik Antropov didn't work out with the Predators with only 10 points in 24 games and showing a minus 10 rating. He was sent to the Rangers in return of Anthony Stewart, who has been playing well producing 8 points in 18 games on the third and fourth line. Lauri Korpikoski has also done well playing on the first to third lines, putting up 31 points in 44 games so far. Derrick Brassard has struggled quite a bit more in the role of a first or second line player with only 23 points in 42 games. Recently called up, Greg Mauldin has been surprising in the role of third line player with 11 points in 17 games and a +8 rating. He has earned a spot on the second line for the time being. Completing the picture at center is Zack Smith, who has done a good job on the fourth line. If Andy Mac can come back in time for playoffs and the team squeezes in, then the lack of a top center should be covered.
On the wings, Chris Stewart has been leading as expected. Ryan Smyth has also beaten expectations, producing 17 goals so far and a total of 30 points in 44 games. Troy Brouwer has been a pleasant surprise being plugged anywhere from the first to third lines with 23 points in 42 games and a +11 rating. While he has been putting up points, Brian Rolston has been both good and bad, scoring 30 points in 44 games but being a team worst -11. Two wingers which were counted on have disappointed so far. Guillaume Latendresse has put up a decent number of goals with 14 in 40 games but he hasn't been passing the puck well. Taylor Pyatt has been a huge signature bust with only 14 points in 41 games along with a terrible minus 9 rating. The team has decided to send Pyatt to the farm team and to replace him with Wayne Simmonds on the wing in order to create a bit of cap room before the deadline.
Lastly, on defense, the top two have been playing a strong game. Nicklas Lidstrom and Mark Giordano have respectively 24 and 25 points in 44 games. On the second pairing, Michal Roszival has been okay with 18 points in 43 games while John Carlson has put up points but also had some problems on defense with 21 points in 44 games along with a minus 8 rating. The bottom pairing have been acquitting themselves of their job quite nicely with Ryan Mcdonagh scoring 11 points in 44 games and a plus 6 rating and Jeff Woywitka with 9 points in 43 games and the second best +/- rating at plus 10.
Overall, the team needs a steadier contribution from the second line wingers along with better performance at center. That would let the team make the playoffs where an Andy Macdonald would be crucial to the team's success.
IN THE PIPELINE
Looking at the development of the youth, the prospects can be divided in terms of their development so far this year. Some have been having breakthrough seasons, others are staying on par for the course while some others have met obstacles that have seen them stagnating. The good part for the Predators is that the majority of their prospects have been doing well, which have let the GM options to trade part of the youth for current help.
In the breakthrough category, the Nashville Predators have had their expectations surpassed. The first player that comes to mind is Justin Faulk, who has been lugging a lot of ice time at the NHL level. At his current pace, he has a good chance of being a top 4 next year on the Predators blueline. Another who has taken the WHL by storm is Tye Rattie, currently sitting at the top of the scoring leaderboard with 71 points in only 38 games, including an impressive 37 goals. Although he has been sidelined with a recent injury, Beau Bennett started the year at another level with 13 points in 10 games playing for Denver University. Alexander Guptill is also having quite the development jump, already having put 18 points in 23 games playing for the University of Michigan and coming straight up from the OJHL and USHL development path. In the WHL again, Marek Tvrdon, who only played 12 games in 2010-11, has been a leader on the scoreboard for the Vancouver Giants with 37 points in 33 games. On a team having internal issues, Matt Nieto has upped his production to a PPG pace with 17 points in 16 games, just 6 points short of beating his numbers from last year in 23 less games. In the BCHL, Mario Lucia is making a name for himself with the Penticton Vees scoring 1.9 PPG with 62 points in 33 games. He is committed to the Notre Dame University where he will be counted on as a top player. Playing with Beau Bennett, Nick Shore has already beaten his 2010-11 numbers with 20 points in 21 games. Lastly, Zack Mitchell, undrafted in 2011 will get another chance with his strong performance, putting up 43 points in 26 games so far, along with a +8 rating.
The most notable from those who are keeping along in their development curve is Jaden Schwartz. Already producing at a good pace in 2010-2011, he has put up 18 points in 13 games for Colorado College and has been the captain of Canada's U20 WJC. Others in this category would be Robert Czarnik, who is at decent .5 PPG in the AHL after completing his OHL career, Cameron Gaunce who is seemingly honing his defensive skills in the AHL, Charles-Olivier Roussel who is back on his feet playing for St.John with 28 points and a +27 rating in 35 games, Joe Basaraba who's slowly but steadily adapting to the NCAA improving his 5 points in 36 games to 8 points in 18 games with the University of Minnesota-Duluth and Steven Fogarty who has been playing well in the BCHL with a 1.2 PPG pace. In Europe, Sami Vatanen is continuing to be one of the SM-liiga's top defenders.
Unfortunately, but not unlikely, some prospects are also meeting hurdles. Brandon McMillan has been unable to build on his first successful season in the NHL and has been set back to the AHL. Brett Ritchie once again started the year slowly and had to battle an injury, but a lot more is expected out of him. Liam Liston has been a disaster between the pipes with Lethbridge in the WHL. Samuel Henley had an extremely slow start to the season after being sent back from the Washington Capitals prospect camp. Travis Boyd tried to jump a bit to far and fast and he stumbled with only 6 assists in 18 games with the University of Minnesota directly from the US National development team.
Other notables would be Max Friberg's performance at the U20 WJC where he scored clutch goal after clutch goal. In the SEL, he is limited in ice time. Bud Holloway on his part led his SEL team in scoring, an impressive feat. Connor Murphy just came back from a bad knee injury and will take time before his play can be evaluated.