Stagnant. That’s the word I would use to describe the Nashville Predators’ offense after a terrible showing in St. Louis. While firstly, credit deserves to go to the Blues, the Predators played miserable hockey. They were too predictable, too stale, too shy, and too unsettled, and maybe even too small to beat the Blues. While Trotz and company are more than likely going to stick with their “top line” of Erat/Fisher/Kostitsyn, it is the other line that’s seeing prime playing time that stands a better chance of breaking out. That line features a very sharp Patric Hornqvist, and an also sharp Colin Wilson. Through the first few games, it’s hard to find anyone who has had a better showing.
The Blues expose quite a few flaws in teams by playing a very very basic form of hockey. They’re big, creative, patient, a little nasty, and win battles along the boards. And if either of their goaltenders are on their game, think of any term you want to use that’s along the lines of “You’re Screwed!”, and it works.
Wilson looked pretty dynamic for most of the time on ice, even though he does show a -3. Frankly, unless Hornqvist is well rested or the team started on the offensive side of the red line, neither of his linemates can keep up with him. (Legwand has had a BRUTAL start to the season, just based off the eye test.) He’s forechecking more, and been effective in that role. He’s still filling out his frame, but this year looks like another step forward for the player that the coaching staff eventually wanted to move to center this year. Comparing his annual stats is a tough task. His rookie year he was slotted with Erat and Arnott on the top line. The year after, he bounced from line to line before being scratched throughout the playoffs. Last year, he was scratched also during the postseason at times to make way for Paul Gaustad and Gabriel Bourque, which did make a difference in the postseason against Detroit. He also saw time when Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn were in Trotz’s personal drunktank against Phoenix.
How does a player go from being a healthy scratch in the playoffs to someone trusted enough to center a line? I’m not truly sure. Wilson has the tools needed to be exactly what Nashville needs, which is a top line center or left wing. He shoots well, he can make plays, and now he’s figured out that the boss likes this whole defense thing. (His -3? One of which was Artem Anisimov scoring about the coolest goal ever while battle Gaustad on a breakaway, and another was Vlad Tarasenko being all evil Russian sniper. If you’re into that whole +/- kind of thing.)
He’s becoming the player that Nashville needs more of: a guy who can skate the puck, a guy who is big enough to where he won’t be knocked off the puck in the neutral zone, and a guy who actually shoots the puck. His PPG totals have been hovering around .44, which is impressive given that most of those goals he’s creating himself and playing with less than stellar offensive talent.
The old running line among the “smart” Nashville hockey fans was to include Wilson in a package with Jonathon Blum for someone like a Bobby Ryan. Was Wilson included in the package for Rick Nash? Proabably, he’s Rick Nash. He doesn’t suck at hockey. However, having Wilson on the roster isn’t the worst thing in the world at all. In fact, he’s slowly creeping out of Trotz’s woodshed. (Currently occupied by Craig Smith)
It’s hard not to feel bitter watching the Blues play, with their roster of large and skilled forwards like Backes, Berglund, Tarasenko, Oshie, Steen (at times), and even guys like David Perron. The fact is that while Nashville was making the playoffs during the late 2000s, the Blues weren’t (save for one year) and made good on their draft pick. Wilson has a chance to be in that same company of large, stellar American forwards like Dustin Brown, Backes, and others. A little patience would serve him well with the puck.
Moving forward, Wilson might be best served playing in a role with better skaters, or at least one he can count on to keep up with him. The Preds won’t always look as bad as they did in Scottrade Center, but the top line hasn’t looked great in a long while. Playing alongside another big body like Fisher may be just the recipe needed to jumpstart an offense that relies far too much on the powerplay.