Every once-in-a-while we get some exclusive, first-hand information. Recently we were about to corner Nashville Predators beat writer Ryan Porth in order to extract some excellent fantasy hockey knowledge out of him. If you are unfamiliar with his work, Ryan runs the excellent NHL-based website RLDhockey.net in addition to covering the Preds for The Fourth Period and his other site Smashville 24/7. Below is the transcript of our conversation, a must read for any Predators owners.
Hey Ryan, thanks for agreeing to answer some of our questions for our fantasy hockey addicts. To start, we need to ask you the big question 1,000 people have already asked. Do you think the Nashville Predators can re-sign Ryan Suter?
I think the chances are fairly good, but they are going to have to do so before July 1st. I fully believe Suter wants to stay in Nashville. But, given his talent and age, he would get more money on the open market to be someone’s No. 1 defenseman. When Pekka Rinne re-signed last month, Preds management said that the money is there to sign Suter and Weber. Barry Trotz then mentioned to visiting broadcasters that the Preds are expected to be a cap team next year. Ultimately, to keep both Suter and Shea Weber long term, the Predators as a team are going to have to prove that they can contend for a Stanley Cup on a regular basis; under Trotz, the best chance to do so is with the Big 3 intact.
So can they re-sign Suter? Yes. Will they? That is the million dollar question that no one has an answer to.
Craig Smith has been one of the more pleasant surprises of the season (save for his empty-net blunder). Can you give us a little more information on him? What separates him from the other rookies in this class and do you think he has a legitimate shot at the Calder Trophy?
Smith has turned out to be an unreal find for the Predators. Drafted in the fourth round in 2009, Smith has proven to be a first- or second-round talent. Smith, as a sophomore at Wisconsin, burst onto the scene late last year in the World Championships with Team USA. In the Development and Rookie Camps in the off-season, Smith stuck out like a sore thumb and looked close to NHL-ready. Those beliefs were confirmed early in the year when he scored two goals in his first two games. He now leads the Preds in points and is second behind Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in rookie production.
The Predators have not had a dynamic offensive talent like this since the Alexander Radulov days. Every time Smith is on the ice, something happens. He’s not afraid to shoot the puck, has a great hockey sense. Also, his skating ability has been praised by the Predators coaching staff. Trotz went as far as to say Smith has Teemu Selanne-like speed.
Smith has been great in the first half of the season, but the Preds will need him to keep up the production.
Speaking of surprises, David Legwand is certainly playing some of the best hockey in his career. While he hasn’t kept up his point-per-game pace since returning from injury, he’s still way ahead of his projections. Where do you think he ends up at the end of the season?
Legwand has been an oft-criticized player by Preds fans over the years. The production hasn’t been there, but he’s easily one of the top defensive centers in the NHL; ‘Leggy’ usually goes up against the top line of opposing teams. The thing that has helped Legwand’s production this season is his role on the power play. He has been on a unit with Weber, Suter, Smith and Colin Wilson, and they have turned the power play into somewhat of a threat compared to years past.
Through 22 games, Legwand is on pace for 67 points. I don’t know if he can continue that pace, but if he can stay healthy, 55 points may not be out of the question.
Patric Hornqvist has recently been compared to Johan Franzen and to Tomas Holmstrom. Do you think these comparisons are accurate? Who would you liken him to and furthermore will Hornqvist ever hit the 35-40 goal range?
To me, Hornqvist is more like Holmstrom than Franzen. Hornqvist himself has said that he has looked up to Holmstrom, and Trotz has mentioned multiple times that Hornqvist is “Nashville’s version” of Holmstrom.
The more I watch Hornqvist, though, the more I doubt he can get to that 35-40 goal plateau. He is so streaky and is always banged up. He was last year, but this year has been a weird start for Hornqvist. He started the season with a seven-game pointless streak, followed by a seven-game point streak. Since then, Hornqvist has zero points in 11 games.
Hornqvist is a useful 20-30 goal scorer, but he’ll have to improve his shot (and not rely on rebound/garbage goals as much) to get to 40.
Pekka Rinne has been a tiny bit inconsistent as of late, allowing four-or-more goals six times and three goals four more times. How does he react to these poor outings? Is overuse to blame for not getting the best out of him?
In my opinion, overuse definitely has something to do with Rinne’s recent struggles. He started 23 of the team’s first 25 games, and on most of those nights is relied on heavily by his teammates – almost too heavily. In recent games, with the exception of the game in Calgary, the defense has been porous in front of Rinne. On top of that, though, Rinne can definitely improve his game. He’s simply not sharp like he was for most of November.
Rinne takes losses personally. He pins almost every loss – especially if he gives up a bad goal – on himself. In the end, he’s a level-headed player and will snap out of this funk soon enough.
The Preds are known for their defensive depth. From Jonathon Blum and Roman Josi on the big club to Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm. Who are you most excited for on the back end?
Preds fans will tell you Ryan Ellis, and rightfully so with his decorated junior career and high ceiling. I’m hesitant, however, to say that he’s going to be a great fit in Nashville. And if the Preds lock up Weber and Suter for the long haul, Ellis could be used as trade bait to acquire a young forward.
Roman Josi has looked pretty good in his short stint with the Preds thus far. He didn’t have a great game on Saturday, but for the most part he hasn’t looked like a rookie on the blue line. He’s calm and smart with the puck and should be here for a long time. Jonathon Blum, who shined late last year, has had some growing pains in the first half.
Mattias Ekholm started the year on the roster, but refused to buy into the system and unsurprisingly left for Europe when things got tough for him. In September, he looked like a great prospect. Things look a little bit differently now, and that’s not going to change unless he fully commits to the North American game.
So to answer question, Ellis brings the most excitement level – on paper. From the Preds’ perspective, they’re excited to see how Josi and Blum continue their progression.