Jul 3, 2014
As the bulk of what’s available in free agency continues to dwindle, Nashville has a couple of decisions to make. In their quest for someone to center their top line, the Predators have taken their time trying to make the best decision for their team. If Nashville ends up choosing not to find a center through free agency or the trade market, though, it may not be the worst of decisions.
Currently the Predators have 19 players on their active roster according to current rosters provided by the NHL, six of those are classified as centers:
Matt Cullen – 2013/2014 Statistics – 77 games played, 10 goals, 29 assists, 39 points
Mike Fisher - 2013/2014 Statistics - 75 games played, 20 goals, 29 assists, 49 points
Paul Gaustad - 2013/2014 Statistics – 75 games played, 10 goals, 11 assists, 21 points
Olli Jokinen - 2013/2014 Statistics (for Winnipeg) – 82 games played, 18 goals, 25 assists, 43 points
Craig Smith - 2013/2014 Statistics – 79 games played, 24 goals, 28 assists, 52 points
Colin Wilson - 2013/2014 Statistics – 81 games played, 11 goals, 22 assists, 33 points
In truth, Paul Gaustad and Mike Fisher may be the only two who are set down the middle and will not play on the wing. That leaves four players to fight over two center spots or be moved around to the left or right wing. Wilson, Smith, and Cullen have experimented as wingers before for Nashville. Jokinen was mentioned, in David Poile’s press conference after his signing, as a player that can play wing along with center. With four potential active roster spots left open with the Predators, it may finally be time to hand a couple of young developing prospects a chance in the NHL.
Calle Jarnkrok and Filip Forsberg, two players acquired over the previous two seasons, are already speculated at making Nashville’s lineup in the fall. However, if the Predators are looking for a player in their farm system that can fill a spot down the middle as a true center, Austin Watson and Colton Sissons may be ready for their shot.
Watson has played over 100 games for the Milwaukee Admirals and was effectively pushed down the depth charts in Barry Trotz’s system. Whether Trotz was confident or not in his development, Watson has done as much as he can in the AHL and is ready for the next step, in my opinion. A 20-goal player for the Admirals in both of his seasons since moving up from the OHL’s Peterborough Petes, Watson has been extremely consistent in terms of his production and playmaking abilities.
Sissons earned an All-Star nod last season as a rookie for the Admirals, ending the year with 25 goals and 19 assists in 63 games. He can be flashy when he needs to be, he has the potential to be a solid second or third line center while playing a two-way style of hockey, and already registered 17 games last season with Nashville.
Poile has said multiple times that the team is going to be patient in finding their top line center and could do so in the coming weeks or even as far off as next year. If they’re willing to wait to find the right player for the job, then head coach Peter Laviolette could move some players around and give a chance to a couple players who would likely be first call-ups for Nashville anyways.
The Predators have plenty of options at center. Granted, while none of those are a definitive number one option right now, they certainly will be balanced down the middle. They’ve already signed a 35 year old forward as an option to fill a possible center role come October. If they’re planning on trading or signing another aging veteran for their “number one” center, then it may be a better option to let this season play out with their current roster and provide an opportunity for one or two prospects that have paid their dues and prove to Nashville they deserve to be on an NHL team.
They’ve seen players like Rich Peverley and Mike Santorelli slip through their system without ever getting a chance in Nashville, just to prosper in other environments where they were finally given a shot to perform. This could be the same scenario this season, especially with a player like Austin Watson.
It’s time to give the kids a chance. With a new coaching group in place, they may finally get one.