Don’t let their bright gold jerseys fool you: the Nashville Predators have never been a flashy team. The team has a history of being a defense-first organization and has never had a player challenge for the overall scoring lead – or realistically come close.
And that’s not going to change this season. Nashville’s top two players – Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis – are defensemen and the team still doesn’t have a No. 1 center. Kyle Turris, once one of the brightest young stars in the league, is one of the most expensive fourth-line forwards at $6 million. Not to mention that Filip Forsberg missed six games with an upper-body injury and former 69-point man Mikael Granlund has just four points to show for through a month of play.
But, somehow, the Predators sit second in goals-for with 60 through 15 games, trailing the high-flying Washington Capitals by three. But unlike Washington, Nashville doesn’t have a player at the level of Alex Ovechkin or John Carlson to rely on, which makes the team’s offensive explosion that much crazier. To give a bit of history, Viktor Arvidsson’s 34-goal season in 2018-19 was the best ever by a Predator. Nashville is the only team in the NHL that has never had a 40-goal scorer, something the Vegas Golden Knights have despite having just two full NHL seasons under their belt. The Preds have yet to develop a bona fide scoring star during the team’s lifespan: there have been only four instances of a Predator breaking 70 points, but it hasn’t happened since 2008.
The Predators currently lead all teams with nine players with at least 10 points through 15 games, and Mattias Ekholm (nine), Turris (eight) and Rocco Grimaldi (seven) aren’t far off. Of the big nine, six players have at least five goals, led by Nick Bonino’s eight. For comparison, the Washington Capitals, sitting first with 63 goals, have eight. In third place, the Boston Bruins have gotten 32 of their 56 goals from the top line. After that, not a single forward has more than three goals, but it’s not exactly hurting them as the Bruins sit first in the Atlantic Division. It took 17 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning to score 60 goals last year, and that’s with a lineup consisting of Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point – Nashville’s star power doesn’t come close.
The Predators are the only team with a goals-per-game average of four this season, just narrowly beating out Washington’s 3.9. Josi (16 points) and Ellis (15 points) lead the way offensively, while Matt Duchene, the Predators’ top-scoring forward through 15 games, sits tied for 43rd with 13 points. But it’s when you dig a little deeper that you find the real value in Nashville’s rise to second in the Central Division: the pure scoring depth the team has never had before. Colton Sissons has 11 points in 15 games and is well on his way to smashing his previous record of 30 points. Mix in Bonino’s eight-goal start that could result in his first 25-goal season in his 11-year career and Calle Jarnkrok’s mini-breakout with nine points in his first 12 games and you’ve got a team that doesn’t have an issue scoring right now. Heck, Turris has eight points despite playing less than 14 minutes a night.
Being this good offensively this early is unheard of territory for Nashville. Through 15 games last year, the Preds had six players with 10 points, and one of them was Turris, who had 12 of his 23 points in the opening 15 games. There’s never been another point in Predators’ history that more than five players had 10 points through 15 games, despite finishing fourth in goals with 272 in 2006-07. That’s why this season feels different: as the Preds look to be a major contender in the strong Central Division again, this is exactly the depth needed for a team to be a true Stanley Cup contender.
GM David Poile has constructed one of the deepest rosters in the NHL and deserves a ton of credit. He has kept the core together without having to overpay through free agency and coach Peter Laviolette has made use of the tools at his disposal. Add in a hot goalie like Pekka Rinne, who hasn’t had a regulation loss in nine contests this year, and you’ve got a team on the cusp of something special. It’s proof you don’t need a star forward to be a top team – you just need a balanced lineup. The fact that the Preds can seemingly count on any line to produce offense is huge, and as the club looks to stay relevant during their Cup window, it’s something they need to keep doing to showcase just why it’s one of the best rosters Tennessean hockey fans have ever witnessed.