Ryan Johansen has been everything expected and then some since being acquired in a swap for defenseman Seth Jones on January 6th. Through his six games in the gold and blue he’s scored two goals and added five helpers while manning the top-line center position.
While Johansen has certainly looked comfortable with his new club and carrying the title of the franchise’s first ever true No. 1 center, he has had to make adjustments and find chemistry with linemates just like any other newly acquired player would. Not helping matters is the constant rotation of wingers beside him.
The Predators are 8-11-4 since December 1 and have gone 1-4-1 with Johansen in the lineup, so finding a chemistry on the first-line has been a challenge.
The only consistent skater to play alongside Johansen in his six games has been James Neal. Together they have skated 83:42 together and have been responsible for three goals. They have without question found some mojo together, with a Corsi For per 60 minutes of 75.9 and overall Corsi For of 65.0 percent.
In close situations – when the game is either tied or a one-goal game in the first or second period or tied in the third period – the duo has both possessed the puck well with a Corsi For percentage of 68.4 percent and have posted a combined shooting percentage of 10.34 percent.
It is becoming more and more clear that Neal and Johansen are going to be a one-two punch for the foreseeable future for the Predators, but as for the other wing on the line there is still a question mark there.
The following is a list of players and their stats that have appeared on the wing with Johansen and Neal since Johansen made his Nashville debut on January 8th. All stats of the 5v5 situation.
Pros: Forsberg fits the bill of a true first-line player, has a whole season under his belt on the top line with Neal and rounds out the trio of pure goal scorers.
In his 31:16 alongside Johansen and Neal this season, he has looked right at home and the three have possessed the puck at will with a combined Corsi For per 60 minutes of 93.53 and an overall Corsi For percentage of 76.60 percent. The three’s combined shooting percentage sits at just 4.76 percent, however.
Cons: If Forsberg is on the first-line, that means he is taken away from center Mike Ribeiro. The two have played very well alongside one another, even dating back to last season. Forsberg and Ribeiro arguably made up the deadliest duo among Nashville forwards last year.
This season, Forsberg and Ribeiro have skated with one another for 327:36 and have combined for 14 goals. Their Corsi For percentage stands at 54.60 percent, which is pretty good when you look at the team’s struggles over the last two months.
Pros: The 19-year-old has played just three games with the Predators this season, but all three have been on the first-line. The teenager has unbelievable puck handling skills, has the speed to play in the NHL and has shown his scoring touch already with one goal.
If the Predators are looking for a first-line with nothing but offense and close to very little defensive ability – which is not necessarily a bad thing – Fiala makes sense. The three have 34:40 of combined ice time together and have shot the puck with a 5.56 shooting percentage to go along with a Corsi For per 60 minutes of 72.69.
In close situations, the three have looked strong, with a shooting percentage of 7.14 percent and Corsi For percentage of 66.0 percent.
Cons: The cons are pretty obvious in that he is just 19-years-old and has just five NHL games under his belt. The sample size is small both from a pure NHL standpoint as well as on the first-line. He has looked good in his three games with the Predators, but if the losing continues Fiala is an easy target to take off the top line and see if he is suited better somewhere else.
Wilson started on the left-wing in Johansen’s debut with the team against the Colorado Avalanche. However, that was the last game Wilson has played in after he suffered a lower-body injury and has since been placed on the injured reserve.
Pro: Wilson was given a short stint alongside Neal and Johansen against the Avalanche, but dropped to the second-line in favor of Forsberg during the game. In the extremely small sample size of 6:20 played together, the trio combined for a Corsi For percentage of 66.7 percent.
Con: Even if you believe that you can build chemistry in just six minutes, Wilson is not having the greatest of seasons with just four goals in 36 games, and to be frank, he hasn’t performed to the caliber of a first-line winger. Upon his return, being slotted in on the second or third-line is a likely scenario.
Giving Fiala a few more games on the first-line wouldn’t hurt, but if the losses keep coming swapping him with Forsberg on the second-line could form the best top-six possible.
Nashville has witnessed the talent of Johansen for just six games and finding two players to play alongside him and produce at a healthy clip will take time, but the clock is running out on the Predators’s playoff chances. With just 36 games left on the regular season schedule and currently out of a wild card spot, now is the time for not only the top line but for the entire team to find their chemistry.
All stats via Puckalytics.