The Nashville Predators took a step forward when they acquired Ryan Johansen, the true first-line center that they had been missing. Nearly two years later, the Predators landed a highly coveted second-line center, and surprisingly his name was not Matt Duchene. With the presence of Kyle Turris, Nashville went from good to scary good in a heartbeat.
Last season, the Predators’ first line of Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and Viktor Arvidsson was a force to be reckoned with totaling 180 points (76 goals and 114 assists). There was no question that the go-to line of the 2017-18 season would still be Johansen’s line. However, since the arrival of Turris, a jolt of energy has hit wingers Craig Smith and Kevin Fiala.
Nashville is 13-2-2 since the blockbuster trade and the second line is playing a major role in the Predators’ recent rise to the top of the NHL rankings.
Kyle Turris Leads the Way
One thing that is critical to the success of any line is a solid centerman that sees the ice clearly and generates scoring opportunities. While it isn’t always the case, centers aren’t expected to lead the league in goals scored. Their job is to lead the charge in the offensive zone and distribute the puck efficiently.
Turris has historically been a goal scorer and has scored 20+ goals in three of the last six seasons; he is on pace to eclipse the 20-goal mark yet again. So far in the 2017-18 campaign with his new team, Turris has quickly amassed 17 points (4 goals and 13 assists) in 17 games. It seems unlikely that he’ll keep the point-per-game pace but his efforts are paying dividends.
Since his arrival in Nashville, the Predators have averaged four goals per game compared to their opponent’s 2.5 goals. Turris has had a major hand in the success of the Predators’ power play with seven of his 13 assists coming on the man advantage – something that helped Nashville achieve a 13-game streak in which they scored a power-play goal on home ice.
While Turris’ success is important, the success of his linemates is equally so. Both Fiala and Smith have had moderate success early in the 2017-18 season, but the Turris effect is in full swing as demonstrated by the uptick in offensive production by the duo; a sign of a top-notch center.
Craig Smith Continues His Climb
To call Smith’s production last year a disappointment would be an understatement in his eyes. After having scored 20+ goals in three consecutive seasons, Smith only mustered 12 goals in an incredibly frustrating season. Once the 2017-18 season began, though, he showed early on that he was determined to make up for last season scoring seven points in 15 games prior to Turris arriving.
Once Turris walked through the door, Smith took his game from a seven and turned it to eleven. Compared to his four goals and five points through the first 15 games, he produced double the goals (eight goals) and triple the points (16 points) in 16 games with Turris by his side. Smith has contributed on the power play with five of his seven goals coming with the advantage.
Craig Smith 2nd of night 2-0 Smashville pic.twitter.com/QSXbdYuz6E
— HighLight Hockey (@HILITINGHOCKEY) December 5, 2017
Said Turris about Smith in the Tennessean, “He’s a really strong guy. He has a great shot and I knew he was fast, but the way he competes and battles along the walls, he’s a force.” Whether he finds himself streaking through for a breakaway or taking the puck down the boards with incredible speed to drive to the net, he generates scoring opportunities time and time again. Whatever Smith has changed either physically or mentally since last season should persist as he continues his bounce-back season.
Kevin Fiala Finds His Groove
Everyone held their breath when Fiala took a tumble into the boards during the second-round of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs against the St. Louis Blues. What ended up as a fractured femur, typically outlined as a four to six-month recovery, astoundingly kept him off the ice for only two months.
Since his last appearance in the playoffs in which he scored two goals in five games, Fiala has come back in 2017 with even more speed and skill. Combined with some assistance from Turris and you’ll find Fiala ranked third on the Predators’ stat sheet in total points and fourth in goals scored.
Kevin Fiala wrists one home past Bishop, 1-0 Preds! pic.twitter.com/df15at3jId
— NHL Daily 365 (@NHLDaily365) December 6, 2017
So far, Fiala has 23 points (eight goals and 15 assists) in 31 games compared to his 2017 season total of 16 points (eleven goals and five assists) in 54 games. Most importantly, he isn’t afraid to shoot the puck and shoot it well as he has increased his shooting percentage from 9.6 to 12.1 and is on pace for 60 more shots on net than the previous year.
Predators fans have been waiting for Fiala to have a breakout year similar to Forsberg and Arvidsson. Currently riding a seven-game point streak, it seems likely that the high-octane version of Fiala is here to stay, and that means bad news for opposing goaltenders.
Number Two Becomes Number One?
It may be early to call the Predators the winners of the Turris trade, but so far Nashville has seen the quickest payout. While they are still considered the ‘second’ line, the Turris-Smith-Fiala line has been playing more like a number one since its formation, which begs the question: “Who is the true number one line for the Predators?”
It’s tough to argue against a line with a back-to-back 30-goal scorer as well as another 30-goal scorer from the previous year. The Johansen-Forsberg-Arvidsson line, or JoFA for short, has shown time and time again that they deserve to be on the ice when the Predators need offense the most.
The JoFA line has continued their excellent play in 2017 posting 45 points (16 goals and 29 assists) since the Turris trade. The second line has put up incredible numbers as well tallying 49 total points (20 goals and 29 assists) which is bad news for opposing teams trying to slow down the Predators, who now have two top lines that can be used interchangeably.