The Nashville Predators were aggressive during the off-season and acquired four new forwards in Matt Cullen, Matt Hendricks, Eric Nystrom and Viktor Stalberg that added a whole lot of depth up front. That depth is creating a very intriguing battle for roster spots at forward during training camp, which will carry over to the preseason action this week.
“It creates a lot of competition,” said Predators head coach Barry Trotz. “It’s just like anything. You have to raise your level when there is competition, and there is a lot of it right now.”
Some of the forwards that are right in the middle of that battle at forward are Taylor Beck, Rich Clune, Filip Forsberg, Nick Spaling, Craig Smith and Austin Watson. Here’s a breakdown of what each player needs to do to try and earn a spot for the Predators…
Beck has been impressive during training camp so far and is really making a case to stay on the NHL roster. He’s embraced the competition in training camp and has developed a lot of trust in his own game.
“Competition is always good come training camp. I know for me I just want to play my game. I know what makes me successful, and I’m going to stick with that and whatever happens happens,” Beck said.
Beck got his first shot at the NHL last season and responded very well. By season’s end, he was arguably the best forward on the ice for the Predators. He’s not afraid to shoot the puck and registered three goals and four assists in 16 NHL games last season. That experience has motivated him.
“I think experience was everything,” Beck said. ”I got that little taste. Now I’m so much more hungry for it. I worked hard this off-season and I’m ready to go now.”
Clune’s role last season was a much-needed one. He could contribute offensively from time to time and was solid in his own end. He also brought a physical presence that the Predators were lacking. It’s going to be a little tougher for him to get on the ice every game this season, but he understands that changes needed to be made after the Predators’ disappointing season last year.
“There are a lot of forwards that are vying for spots. Anytime you don’t make the playoffs, nothing is really set in stone. I think the organization is going to put the right guys on the ice who they think can win, and that’s just reality,” Clune said. ”The guys we picked up in free agency are great players, and we definitely made a lot of upgrades. We have four good lines that are going to be able to compete with anybody in the league so it’s good.”
Forsberg may be the biggest wildcard in this battle at forward. It’s conceivable if he doesn’t make the NHL roster right out of camp that he would want to go back to Sweden. However, that would be pretty counterproductive to him adjusting to the North American game. Skills wise, Forsberg is NHL ready. He’s just got to put it all together and that’s what he’s trying to do in training camp.
“Well you’ve got to step up every practice and every time you’re on the ice, do your best, and show the best side of your hockey game. It makes it fun because everyone is competing. That’s why hockey is the best sport,” Forsberg said.
Last season, Forsberg appeared in five games with the Predators. He used that as a valuable learning experience to prepare himself during the off-season for this training camp.
“I got a little feeling about how hard it really is in the NHL and knowing how much effort you have to put into it to be successful, so that’s something I’ve been keeping in my mind the whole summer when I’ve been working out.,” Forsberg said. “Hopefully I can take that with me through training camp, too.”
Spaling is going to have a difficult route to make the opening night lineup because of the situation the Predators have at center. If Spaling is going to crack the lineup, it’s most likely going to have to be at wing because all four center spots are taken. More than likely, the Predators are going to need their depth at some point because injuries happen in hockey. Spaling can play center or on the wing so that might make it a little easier for him to make a case for himself.
“Every day is a big day, and we’ve only got so many spots and lots of forwards so it makes for competition and a hard-fought training camp,” Spaling said. “Seasons are always full of unexpected injuries and things like that so depth is huge. To have the depth around here that we do is a great thing I think going forward, especially getting deep into the season.”
Spaling didn’t have a great season last year, but that was a common theme for almost every Predators forward on the entire roster. The team seems to have completely changed its mindset so far during training camp this year, and that’s what Spaling is focused on this season.
“We’ve got to git rid of the way we played last year but remember how unacceptable it was and just get back to the way we can play and get back to the things that make us Predators,” Spaling said. “I don’t think we showed that last year not even close to consistent enough so this year is just about regaining that, and that’s something we will do.”
Smith has been arguably the most impressive forward in training camp so far. He’s in incredible shape and is flying around all over the ice. He has embraced the competition in training camp and is making the most of it so far.
“It’s pretty good. It’s competitive. You’ve got to be in shape. Guys who aren’t in shape, it’s going to show so it’s just making sure you’re competing hard. Every time you hit the ice, it’s you against the other guy,” Smith said.
Smith is coming off of a sub-par season and has a lot to prove this year. However, he knows that training camp isn’t just about competing. It’s also about coming together as a team, and that’s what he’s trying to do before the season starts in October.
“Meet some new faces and go through it together,” Smith said. ”It’s going to be a tough camp, and I think we’re doing a good job of pulling each other along and making sure we’re making some friendships that will carry on through next season.”
Watson started training camp at a bit of a disadvantage because he was injured, but returned to the ice on Sunday morning. He’s in a similar situation to Spaling due to the fact that the Predators have a lot of depth at center. It’s going to be difficult for him to make the team right out of camp simply because of a numbers game, but that isn’t going to stop him from trying.
“There are guys here like myself that want to make this team but need to compete for spots. It makes for a great atmosphere in training camp. Everybody is working hard, and nobody is going to get anything given to them. Everybody’s got to work for what they’re going to get,” Watson said.
Watson also got a brief taste of the NHL last season and went from looking out of place to fairly comfortable with each passing game. Now, he knows what he has to do to be successful at the NHL level.
“I think just play the way I know I’m capable of and the way I kind of showed toward the end of the year last year. I’ve got to play a good, solid two-way game and keep my feet moving and try to contribute offensively,” Watson said.