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Time to look ahead…

Now that the Pred-less playoffs are under way (and therefore, some of the sting has went away as well), it’s time to look ahead to the 2009-10 season. And, quite honestly, for a team that didn’t make the playoffs, the future looks pretty bright.

That is, of course, given three certain players are back in a Predators sweater next season.

For the sake of argument, we’re going to assume that the Preds will find a way to bring back Steve Sullivan and Joel Ward. Furthermore, we’re going to assume (based on David Poile’s recent comments) that defected wing Alexander Radulov will be back as well.

So, without further ado, here are’s suggested line combinations for the 2009-10 season…

Line 1: JP Dumont – Jason Arnott – Steve Sullivan

It’s no secret (except to Head Coach Barry Trotz at times) that Dumont and Arnott are much better together than they are apart. And, of course, Sullivan was the sole “scoring threat” the Preds had once he came back late in the season. So, logic would say, if you keep these three together for an entire year, the chemistry would grow even more and each very well could be a point-per-game player. And, quite frankly, if the Predators could have their top line players with 75+ points each, it’s easy to conclude they’d be a threat on the power play as well. Seeing as how the power play was a glaring weakness this past season, you kill two birds with one stone there.

Line 2: David Legwand – Colin Wilson – Martin Erat

Now obviously Legwand is a natural center, but his success on the wing during the 08-09 season was undeniable. It even made some fans salivate at the idea of Leggy as a full-time wing. But, alas, he assumed his roll at center once injuries started taking a toll on the team. Martin Erat and Legwand have a chemistry that rivals Arnott and Dumont’s so the second line should feature those two prominantely.

Here’s where rookie Colin Wilson fits in.

Predators General Manager David Poile seems to be determined to have Wilson in a Preds sweater next season. His company line is “the path to Nashville goes through Milwuakee.” But, with Wilson, his company line has been ammended to “the path to Nashville goes through Milwuakee. But there are exceptions.” Poile recently said that he sees Wilson as a top 2 center at the NHL level. So, running with that idea, we’ve inserted him as the 2nd line center, flanked by Legwand and Erat. What better place to learn than on a line with two solid 2nd line players?

Also, as an added bonus, if Wilson gets tossed from the face-off circle, Legwand steps right in and the Preds are right back where they started: with a bonafide face-off man.

While it would be unfair to attach an expectation of production to Wilson, both Legwand and Erat are typically 50 point guys. Add that to the 225 points from the 1st line and that gives the Preds 325 points out of just those five players.

Here’s where it gets scary…

Line 3: Joel Ward – Cal O’Reilly – Alexander Radulov

This line is the wild card. Can Joel Ward, the surprise of the 08-09 season, validate his soon-to-be-pay-raise? Cal O’Reilly showed flashes of brilliance during his short stay with the big club last season. Can he harness all that talent and turn it into a Calder Trophy-esque campaign like he has the potential to? And oh Alexander Radulov. How we used to love thee. If he can squash the sour taste he left in his teammates mouths after his off-season (and EXTREMELY ill-timed) defection to Russia, can he continue to flirt with 30 goals and 60 points?

With Ward setting up in front of the net and digging in the corners to get pucks, with O’Reilly’s pure play-making ability and Radulov’s scoring touch… let’s just say this line could strike some serious fear into opposing goalies.

And that’s the third line.

Let’s give Radulov his 30 goals and a modest 50 points (modest for his talent level). O’Reilly, a point-per-game player in the AHL, managed 5 points in his 11 games on NHL ice. Three of those points were goals, which are NOT his specialty. (Does that make anyone else tingle all over?) And if we give Ward a carbon-copy of his first season in Nashville (35 points), the Predators are looking at roughly 100 points from the 3rd line as well.

Math tells us that’s 425 points throughout the top three lines (sans whatever Wilson puts on the stat sheet).

If it’s alarming to look at the 425 projected points and say “they struggled on offense last season and they only had 574 points!” fret not. That 425 points is just from eight of the top nine forwards. Don’t forget about Shea Weber’s 50+ points, Ryan Suter’s 45+ points, Dan Hamhuis’s 30+ points and anything they can get out of the 4th line.

Points aside, Predators fans have a lot to look forward to and should be chomping at the bit to get the 2009-10 season started. With Pekka Rinne showing “elite” calibur goaltending between the pipes, a solid defensive corps and three exciting forward lines, there’s really a lot to look forward to.

Too bad we all have to wait until September.

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