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Five Questions with On the Forecheck

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In preparation for the second round starting on Friday, we have once again reached out to our sister blog in the series.

Nashville Predators v Colorado Avalanche - Game Six Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Just like in the first round when we talked to Hockey Wilderness, we have reached out to Dan, a Senior Editor at On the Forecheck, to better know the enemy.

1. Nashville was the highest scoring defensive core in the regular season. They did not produce much in the first round of the playoffs. How do you expect them to remedy this if you think they can?

The Colorado forecheck frustrated Nashville for the first few games, and forced Nashville’s defense to play much more cautious. Game six saw the return of the defensive mindfulness that won the Chicago series; it relied on the defensemen pulling Colorado’s aggressive forecheck further up into the neutral zone, and then finding an outlet that creates a high-danger scoring chance at the other end. The Jets have enough speed to command Nashville’s immediate respect, so I would expect to see more of this style.

2. The Jets have two first lines in Connor/Scheifele/Wheeler and Laine/Stastny/Ehlers. How do you expect the defensive pairs to be matched against them or does Laviolette prefer line matching?

The Bonino line with Colton Sissons & Austin Watson had a great series, and spent much of it matching up against Nathan MacKinnon’s line. I would expect them to tackle the challenge of Scheifele’s line. The Subban/Ekholm pairing did excellent work stifling the Avalanche top line in the second half of the series, and they were tasked with stopping the top lines last year. The Stastny line may see more variety, but I’m banking on Nashville’s top line to get the majority of the minutes. Ryan Johansen’s line had a great postseason against the likes of Toews, Kesler, and Stastny until his leg exploded last year.

3. Outside of trading for PK Subban because a potato would have made that trade, what is with the Preds having two other former Habs defensemen on the team?

Yannick Weber is a fine defenseman when he’s not asked to do too much, and playing on Nashville’s third pairing allows for that. He was a bargain contract, and signed an extension. As far as Alexei Emelin goes, Ryan Ellis missed the first half of the year due to surgery, and Emelin was a partner that allowed for some easy chemistry with Subban. It hasn’t been perfect with Emelin, but his skillset is much different than the rest of the defensive depth. Other than “chemistry”, there’s not a great explanation on why Emelin was chosen.

4. The Preds traded Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen. How has that trade impacted the Preds long-term?

That was massive, massive trade that greatly affected the trajectory of the franchise. A few years ago I was on the AIH Superfans podcast and was asked about trading Forsberg for Trouba, and I responded with a hard “no”. Not because Trouba is bad... far from it. It’s that Nashville has struggled to get a #1 center since their franchise’s creation. The Predators have only drafted in the top 5 twice since their genesis, and the first time was in 1998. Seth Jones was beloved for the brief time he was here, but most of us knew that meant a trade was coming. (I wrote this on American Thanksgiving in 2015: https://www.ontheforecheck.com/2015/11/26/9803250/accepting-reality-the-predators-have-to-address-their-center-depth-if ) Johansen isn’t a perfect top line center. He passes when he should shoot too much, and he doesn’t use his frame as much as he should, but he’s still growing. Seth Jones may be the better hockey player, but Johansen may be the more valuable player. And for Nashville, getting a puck-moving defenseman has never been a trouble.

5. The Preds had to recover from the loss of Ryan Suter and Dan Hamhuis the same summer and they eventually managed to build an even stronger defensive core. What happened in those years of recovery from those losses that helped the Preds find the success that they have found today?

Patience and forward thinking. Cornelius Vanderbilt sold off his shipping interests in favor of railroads. David Poile drafted and signed mobile defensemen instead of Kris Russell-types. Switching to a more possession-based style that relied on a mobile defender carrying the puck made this transition easier. Getting eliminated by the Red Wings and Nick Lidstrom had a lasting affect on the philosophy of the team. In 2005, the Preds drafted defensemen Ryan Parent and Cody Franson. Fast-forward to the 2008 and 2009 drafts that yielded Ekholm, Ellis, and Josi. Once those players were ready to blossom, the addition of Phil Housley to the staff and the change from Trotz to Laviolette aided their development.

Thanks to On the Forecheck for doing this with us. Here’s to a good, clean series.