The Predators hold a four-point advantage over Winnipeg for best in the Central Division and are just one point behind the Vegas Golden Knights for the best record in the NHL.
The trade deadline is fast approaching, and while Predators’ general manager David Poile is always entertaining ideas to improve his team for a run in the playoffs, Nashville certainly isn’t obligated to pull the trigger on any trades.
The Preds are just three days away from adding former captain Mike Fisher to their lineup. The 37-year-old Fisher, who came out of retirement for another chance to win a Stanley Cup, led the team last season in faceoff winning percent (54.9), power play goals (seven) and hits (160), while also leading all forwards in penalty kill time and he was fourth on the team in goals (18).
Adding a player of Fisher’s caliber gives Peter Laviolette some flexibility with line combinations. Ryan Johansen and Kyle Turris occupy the top two positions at center ice, leaving the last two spots open for any combination of Fisher, Nick Bonino and Colton Sissons.
Sissons is tied with Ryan Johansen for the team lead in winning face-offs (56 percent), so I don’t see him changing positions. This leaves the door open for Bonino to slide out to the wing, a position he played for a handful of games earlier in the year. This could potentially create a third line of Calle Jarnkrok-Mike Fisher-Nick Bonino and a fourth line of Scott Hartnell-Colton Sissons-Austin Watson. This still leaves Miika Salomaki and Pontus Aberg on the bench – talk about depth.
This doesn’t even factor in the near certainty that Nashville will bring over breakout-prospect Eeli Tolvanen after his KHL season ends, according to The Athletic’s Craig Custance.
“We’ll have a contract in place to be able to execute and have him come over here,” Predators assistant GM Paul Fenton told The Athletic on Wednesday. “Funnier things have happened. I don’t want to say 100 percent. I never do that in our business. Yes, our plan is to have him.”
One of the concerns about Tolvanen joining Nashville for a playoff run is the amount of hockey he will have played by the time he gets to North America. The 18-year-old Tolvanen has already played 47 regular season KHL games, the KHL All-Star game, five games with Finland’s World Junior team, three games with Finland’s Euro Hockey Tour team and five games with Finland’s Olympic team. All while he still has two more KHL regular season games left before Jokerit’s playoff schedule begins.
“He’s going to have had a long year with the KHL, the World Juniors and now the Olympics,” Poile said at a recent media availability. “We can’t get ahead of ourselves. We’ll have to see what happens in the next month will all of the hockey he’s going to play.
“I think this is tremendous experience for a young player to be…you know, when we drafted him there was thoughts he might be going to college at Boston College, he ends up going back to Finland and makes the team in the KHL – which he’s the youngest player in the league – he comes back and plays in the World Juniors, now he’s going to the Olympics, which is probably the second-highest hockey you can play, outside of the National Hockey League. You have to think these are all great experiences.”
Tolvanen himself feels he’s “ready to make the leap to the NHL after proving himself in the KHL,” according to Stephen Whyno of the Associated Press.
Nashville is set to add a proven, veteran center who plays a strong two-way game and an offensively-gifted 18-year-old sniper without having to surrender any draft capitol or wade into the prospect pool.
As they sit right now, very few teams have the depth to matchup with the Predators in a seven-game playoff series, save for maybe Tampa Bay or Vegas. Add to that, the additions of Fisher and potentially Tolvanen, and Nashville still has the capacity to pull off a lesser trade for one of several other players linked to the Predators, such as Tomas Tatar or Gustav Nyquist of the Detroit Red Wings.
Nearly every GM in the league should be envious of David Poile right now.