If you’ve been paying attention to Gone Puck Wild lately, and shame on you if you haven’t, then you know school has begun as Wild fans brush up on their knowledge of the new teams within Minnesota’s division. This week, that new team just so happens to have a score to settle with Minnesota–that’s right–we’re talking about the Nashville Predators. Going through Sunday, we’ll break down Nashville’s major additions and subtractions, strengths and weaknesses, prospect pool, 2013 draft class and team outlook.
Yesterday, we determined that the defense, while young, is unquestionably Nashville’s biggest strength. However, there’s more to hockey than just defense; someone’s got to put that biscuit in the basket.
In an effort to create a more well rounded team, Preds GM David Poile brought in free agent forwards Viktor Stalberg, Matt Hendricks, Eric Nystrom and Matt Cullen. Hendricks and Nystrom fit the prototypical Nashville forward mold–solid two-way forwards that aren’t going to put up a lot points, but can log good minutes. Cullen and Stalberg, on the other hand, are on the higher end of the spectrum.
Stalberg is a very speedy and sizable forward at 6’3″ 209-pounds, coming off nine goals and 14 assists for 23 points and a plus-16 rating in 47 games with the Stanley Cup Champions. His best season came the year before, when he scored 22 goals and 21 assists for 43 points and a plus-6 rating in 79 games. In 243 career NHL games, the big Swede has scored 52 goals and 52 assists for 104 points and a plus-11 rating. Oddly enough, in his four seasons in the league, Stalberg has yet to notch a power play goal in either the regular season or playoffs. In three postseason campaigns with the Blackhawks, he has scored one goal and five assists for six points and a negative-1 rating in 32 contests. You can bet Nashville is counting on Stalberg’s power play woes to end and soon.
Cullen–man, it’s weird thinking of him in another team’s sweater–is very likely the biggest veteran piece added to Nashville’s forward corps. In 15 seasons, and 1,073 career NHL regular season games, the Minnesota native has scored 202 goals and 360 assists for 562 points, a negative-52 rating and 52 power play goals. In addition, Cullen has also added 11 goals and 28 assists for 39 points, four power play goals and a negative-4 rating in 68 postseason games. Though he won the Cup with Carolina in 2006, he will forever be etched in the annals of Wild history when he dished an amazing primary assist from his belly on rookie Jason Zucker’s overtime game-winning goal in Game Three against the ‘Hawks this past May.
Long story short, there isn’t a doubt Nashville’s offense has been improved, but is it enough? They didn’t acquire a legitimate top line player, though they have a candidate in rookie Filip Forsberg vying for a spot. The Preds are going through some growing pains, and offense is still a weakness when compared to the teams around them. However, things can only get better from here, and Nashville fans have a lot to be excited about in the coming seasons.