Cullen: Predators have D, search for scoring

Scott Cullen

9/15/2011 12:31:06 PM

A team that plays a defence-first style isn't necessarily conducive to fantasy value, so the Nashville Predators tend to fare better in the standings than they might when it comes time to pick out top scorers.

Considering their offensive limitations, perhaps it's no surprise that the Predators' best fantasy prospect could be goaltender Pekka Rinne, who dazzled with a .930 save percentage last season. It might be unreasonable to expect Rinne to continue at that level, but any team would readily take his career save percentage of .920 and 2.33 goals against average in 60-plus starts.

Blueliner Shea Weber has scored 55 goals over the last three seasons; he and Mike Green are the only two defencemen in the league with more than 41 in that time, yet Weber's assist totals tend to be relatively modest (and he's been more disciplined in recent seasons), so he's not as valuable in fantasy hockey as he is in reality to the Predators.

Weber's partner, Ryan Suter, is similarly more valued in reality, particularly due to low goal-scoring numbers, but the pairing of Weber and Suter could be the best in the game -- if not, they're in the discussion -- so how they play and produce could make a real difference on the Predators' fortunes.

When it comes to forwards, because they don't have any big-time playmaking centres, the Predators offer more value on the wings. Patric Hornqvist has 51 goals and is plus-29 over the last two seasons, making him one of 13 players to have at least 50 goals and a plus-25 rating in that span. He's much closer to the low-end of that group in value, but Hornqvist could make an even bigger impact if the Predators had a more successful power play.

Similary, Martin Erat has been a productive, scoring between 49 and 57 points in each of the last seven seasons, including last year when his 50 points in 64 games ranked as the second-best rate of his career. There does appear to be a ceiling in place at this stage of the 30-year-old's career, but that's still enough to warrant selection in many leagues.

A fresh outlook in Nashville certainly turned Sergei Kostitsyn's career in the right direction and he put up a career-high 23 goals and 50 points last season, scoring 47 points in his last 58 games. Kostitsyn might be due for more power play time this season, but his shaky track record to this point in his career also means he comes with some level of risk.

Though the Predators have solid two-way performers down the middle, they aren't big scorers, and usually not enough to generate widespread fantasy interest. Mike Fisher has been durable, missing ten games over the last four seasons, but has only scored more than 50 points once in his career and he finished with just 36 points last season. At a deep centre position, that's rarely enough production to matter.

Likewise, David Legwand has a 63-point season in 2006-2007 that stands out from the crowd because he usually falls in the range of 40-50 points. Legwand did score a point-per-game in March and performed well in the playoffs (six goals, nine points in 12 games), but it's difficult to forecast an offensive breakthrough for the 31-year-old pivot.

Perhaps Cal O'Reilly is best-suited to be the playmking centre on the Predators' roster, but last year brought a career-high 18 points in 38 games before he suffered a broken leg, so it's difficult to project big things for a 25-year-old still trying to establish his place in the lineup.

For those in deep leagues, there may be some upside in young Predators like winger Niclas Bergfors or defenceman Jonathon Blum. Bergfors fell out of favour in Atlanta (and, apparently, Florida) last season, but if Kostitsyn could get his game on track in Nashville, perhaps a similar rejuvenation could be in the cards for Bergfors.

Blum showed well in 23 games with the Predators last season, so he still holds rookie status and may be the third-best offensive defenceman on the roster, behind Weber and Suter, depending on whether or not Ryan Ellis is fit to make the jump straight from junior. It's rare that the Predators would promote a defenceman immediately from junior, but if Ellis gets a shot, he'll have to get power play time to maximize his value.

Young forwards like Colin Wilson and Blake Geoffrion both have some offensive pedigree, at least in college and the AHL, so they could end up playing scoring roles at some point for the Predators. Likewise, rookie Craig Smith, fresh out of the University of Wisconsin, is an interesting rookie prospect. Smith played well for Team USA at the World Championships and dominated at the Predators' rookie tournament. Maybe it's too soon to place offensive expectations on Smith, but he'll be worth keeping an eye on as the season approaches.

Scoring has never been a strong suit for the Predators and that simply means digging deeper when it comes time to find individual fantasy value on the roster.

Depth Chart - Nashville Predators

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