Despite being notorious for never making noise in free agency, Nashville Predators GM David Poile did just that Friday by signing five players. C Matt Cullen, LW Viktor Stalberg, LW Eric Nystrom, C Matt Hendricks and G Carter Hutton–who?
There could not have been better timing either, as Nashville could barely fill out two lines with legitimate NHL talent heading into the big day. There’s also indication that business is good in Music City considering payroll is as high as it has ever been, nearing $60 million.
But where do all these new faces fit in? I may have some insight on that.
Although the Stalberg robbery made all the headlines, the only player I see getting top line minutes is Matt Cullen. Cullen is a 36-year-old centerman that can contribute in both faceoffs won and veteran leadership. He won the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 and scored at a healthy pace last season with 20 helpers and 27 points in only 42 games. That should regress, but he’s a player head coach Barry Trotz will depend on centering the top line in between RW Patric Hornqvist and LW Colin Wilson.
Seth Jones won’t be the only rookie sensation in Nashville next season. The development of 18-year-old Filip Forsberg is pivotal for the Predators playoff chances and I see him settling into a second line right wing role. Stalberg, who the Preds signed for just a $3 million annual cap hit, will play the left wing beside C Mike Fisher. The former Chicago Blackhawk is one of the fastest players in the league and has tremendous size at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds.
Compared to the depth chart prior to free agency, this top six is a substantial upgrade. Forsberg, Stalberg and Wilson all possess the potential to have breakout seasons. As mentioned, Poile has never made such a splash on the opening day of free agency and considering how much money Nashville already had invested, this was a pleasant surprise.
If you were curious about the bottom six, here you go.
3rd Line: LW Eric Nystrom, C David Legwand, RW Craig Smith
4th Line: LW Gabriel Bourque, C Paul Gaustad, RW Matt Hendricks