Twenty one games are in the books, and it's time to grade the Predators quarter season performance.With a 12-8-1 record and 25 points, the Predators currently sit 10th in the Western Conference. Let's take a look at the team components and overall grade, and then we will look at the individual players.
Pekka Rinne has solidified his position as the number one goaltender and is rounding back in to the form that made him an outstanding rookie. Dan Ellis provides a solid back up.
After some early season shakiness, the defense core has settled down. It has been solid on the blue line and has contributed to the offense. Francis Buillon has proven to be a quality off-season add for the Predators.
This is a group that struggled mightily in the early season, and their production was anemic. It appears that they have bought in to the system that Head Coach Barry Trotz has been preaching: shoot the puck, crash the net, and get the dirty goals. This group will not light the lamp with flash; instead they have to be workman-like and to be successful, bring that effort every night.
Head Coach Barry Trotz and his staff of Brent Peterson, Peter Horachek, and Robert Bouchard do an excellent job of teaching their system and squeezing everything they can out of the talent they have been given. I contend that Barry Trotz is one of the most underrated coaches in the NHL and does more with less overall talent than any coach in the league.
This season has seen Trotz and his staff meld a core of veterans with young players attempting to make it in the NHL. He and his staff have done a masterful job of blending rookies and veterans and getting productivity.
Overall team grade: B
And now let's take a look at the individual players:
J. P. Dumont (3G-12A 14 GP)
J. P. has shown consistent play making skills and is excellent in distributing the puck to his line mates. J. P. has good puck sense and appears to be physically stronger this season. Health continues to be a concern, as he has missed time due to a concussion (4 games) and a back injury (3 games). Grade: B
Jason Arnott (6G-3A 15 GP)
The captain is streaky— goals tend to come in bunches for him, and he can go multiple games without registering a point. His leadership skills and veteran presence, both on the ice and in the locker room, are invaluable. His scoring has to become more consistent for this team to continue to have success. Grade: B-
Steve Sullivan (5G-5A 21 GP)
Sully is a dangerous presence on the ice, but at times he too can disappear. Sullivan is a sniper and often times draws the opposition's best defense pairing. The good news about his game is that he is working hard and is physical on the ice. He shows no ill effects from the back injury that kept him off the ice for nearly two seasons. His production needs to increase. Grade: B-
Martin Erat (2G-4A 18 GP)
Marty was virtually invisible for a good portion of the early season, and that is unacceptable. He has too much talent to be as unproductive as he has been. Marty has started to heat up in the last five games, otherwise, his grade would be lower. Grade: C-
David Legwand (3G-7A 21 GP)
David, like Martin Erat, was given a large off-season contract and expected to produce commensurate to the compensation he has received. Early in this season, David was unspectacular offensively, oftentimes not registering a shot in a game. Yes, he has drawn defensive shutdown responsibilities against other team's top offensive lines. Like Marty, he has too much talent to be held off the score sheet. And like Erat, his grade would be significantly lower except that his play has stepped up tremendously in the last five games. Grade: C-
Joel Ward (3G-6A 19 GP)
Joel missed much of the preseason and the first two games of the regular season with a groin strain, and it took him several contests to round his game into shape. He is now playing like he did during his breakout rookie season. Ward is strong on the puck and in the corners and is sound defensively. He is starting to get good looks at the net, is strong in front of the opponent's goal, and is a responsible player at both ends of the ice. Grade: B
Jerred Smithson (4G-0A 21 GP)
Smithson has already exceeded his goal production from last year, and has shown more offensive flash than has been evidenced in previous seasons. Smithson is sound in the defensive zone and spends time on the PK. He is a solid, quiet contributor to the success of this team in the early season. Grade: A
Patric Hornqvist (5G-5A 21GP)
Early in the season, Hornqvist was scoring and playing solid hockey. He was particularly effective on the first line with Arnott and Sullivan when Dumont was out with injury. Lately, his scoring has dropped off and he appears to be struggling in the offensive zone. He plays bigger than his body, and he has to go back to his physical style of play and work for the dirty goals that he was getting in the early season. Grade: C+
Mike Santorelli (2G-1A 16 GP)
Santorelli appears that he will stick with the Predators after being recalled from Milwaukee in the early season. He has talent in the offensive zone, but it has not translated into goals. He has been masterful in the shoot out, going 3 for 3. This is a rookie that is trying to make the jump from AHL star to productive regular for the Predators. He has potential, but the jury is still out. Grade: C
Jordin Tootoo (1G-1A 8 GP)
Tootoo missed the first thirteen games of the season with an strained hip flexor. His game is not where it would be if he had played more games, but there are flashes that it is coming back. He continues to be a first class pest, drawing the attention of the opposing team. He has shown good restraint and hasn't taken the dumb penalties that pests are prone to do. His offensive game needs to step up. He has the skills to do that, but so far, it is missing. Grade: C+
Marcel Goc (1G-1A 19 GP)
Goc is in his first year with the Predators, having started his career in San Jose. He has drawn mostly fourth line duty, but has been very solid in all zones. Goc has not been put into an offensive role with this team, but is a solid contributor that spends time on the PK and is good in the face off circle. Grade: B
Andreas Thuresson (0G-2A 8 GP)
Thuresson was called up due to injuries earlier in the season and has managed to stick with the Predators. He is a big, strong body, and his play has been sound but unspectacular. Thuresson has yet to demonstrate a scoring touch, and it will be interesting to see if he can make the adjustment to the NHL and begin to be productive. Grade: C
Shea Weber (5G-7A 19 GP)
Weber continues his dominant play along the blue line, and has emerged as one of the elite defense-men in the NHL. After a slow start, he has started to score with a fiercesome shot from the blue line. Defensively, he is dominant and a strong physical presence. Grade: A
Ryan Suter (2G-8A 21 GP)
Suter has quietly emerged as a first class blue liner. He has gotten physically stronger and has a great sense of what is happening on the ice, both in the defensive and offensive zone. Suter plays quality minutes alongside his partner, Shea Weber, and logs significant amounts of ice time, often against the other team's top offensive line.
Dan Hamhuis (0G-4A 17 GP)
Early in the season, Hamhuis was atrocious, registering an abyssmal -7 through 14 games. Since being paired with Cody Franson, he has stepped up his game significantly. Currently, he is a -4 and his play has been much improved. Hamhuis is an experienced defense-man who is the last year of his contract, and I would expect his play to continue to improve as the season moves along. Grade: B-
Kevin Klein (1G-1A 21 GP)
Like Hamhuis, Klein was horrible in the early season games, registering a -8 through 14 games. Currently, he is a -6, but has steadied his play since being paired with Francis Buillon. Klein has the potential to be a valuable contributor and has the tools to be better than he is playing. Grade: C+
Francis Buillon (1G-2A 21 GP)
Buillon was a quality off season add for the Predators. He has been solid in the defensive zone, and is physical even though he is not the biggest defensive player on the ice. His steady play has settled down his partner, Kevin Klein, and the veteran leadership that he brings to the defense corp has been welcome. Grade: A
Cody Franson (2G-3A 15 GP)
Franson appears to have locked down the sixth spot on the D corp, beating out the more heralded Alexander Sulzer. Franson has the physical tools to be a solid blue liner. When you watch him play, you can see flashes of being a good NHL defense man. You can also see flashes of being a rookie. Grade: B-
Wade Belak (0G-0A 10 GP)
Belak has not seen the ice very much since his role as an enforcer has been diminished. Belak can rotate between forward and defense and has been plugged in at either position depending on the needs of the team. Unfortunately, he has not been productive at either position. With the emergence of some of the young forwards and defense men, I expect his ice time to continue to be minimal. Grade: D
Pekka Rinne (9W-4L .914 Save %)
After some early season jitters, Pekka has looked like the elite goalie he was during his rookie season. He moves well and plays a sound positional game and has one of the best glove hands in the NHL. He uses his 6'5" frame to take away much of the net, yet is surprisingly agile for a man his size. Pekka gets stronger the more he plays, and he has locked down the number one goalie position. Grade: A-
Dan Ellis (3-4-1 .900 Save %)
Dan has shown that he can be a very good goalie. But he has also shown that he can let in goals that should have been stopped. Ellis moves well and is fundamentally sound, but his inconsistency has relegated him to the back up role. He can win the games he is called upon to play, and can be a valuable player as he is called upon to play some games when the schedule becomes more compressed around the Olympic break. Grade: B
Alexander Sulzer, Ryan Jones, Cal O'Reilly, Colin Wilson, Peter Olvecky, Teemu Laakso, Ben Guite, Dave Scatchard, and Tristen Grant. All have spent a few games with the Predators, but either due to injury or needing more time to season in Milwaukee, none have earned a grade.
After starting the season 3-6-1, the Predators have gone 9-2 and have emerged as one of the hottest teams in the NHL. This team must stick to the things that have been working and making them successful to make a run at the playoffs. This is a blue collar team that wins by bringing their lunch pail and playing gritty hockey. Now it's time to apply this ethic to the next 20 games.