Watching the first four games of the Western Conference quarterfinal series between the Nashville Predators and the Chicago Blackhawks paints a pretty different picture from the 3-1 series lead Chicago holds.
Two games have gone into multiple overtime periods; game one saw the Predators relinquish a 3-0 lead after the first period before Duncan Keith netted the double overtime game winner, then game four became the longest recorded match the Predators franchise history when Brent Seabrook netted the triple overtime tally to earn Chicago another win. The Blackhawks took game three by a final score of 4-2, but game two was all Nashville — a 6-2 win in Corey Crawford‘s only sixty-minute start lends itself to the power of Nashville’s offense against a simply above average netminder.
Nashville now faces elimination with another Chicago win, though — so the team has made nine black ace recalls from the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL. All nine players will report to Nashville.
The most promising call-up is winger Viktor Arvidsson, a sleeper fourth round pick who played for Skelleftea AIK with Joakim Lindstrom of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Oscar Lindberg of the New York Rangers. In six games with Nashville, he remained scoreless — but maintained an even on-ice goal differential regardless — and shoots often enough that it’s more a matter of ‘if’ than ‘when’ he’ll net his first NHL goal.
In addition to Arvidsson on offense — who led the Admirals in scoring over the full season — the Predators recalled their second and third highest scoring AHL forwards, Colton Sissons and Austin Watson, as well as left winger Rich Clune. Sissons, 21, is in his second pro season — after getting selected in the second round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Sissons finished out his final season with the Kelowna Rockets — and could be added as a depth player for Nashville; Watson should break the NHL lineup by next year. Both Sissons and Watson provide height that Arvidsson doesn’t have — although Arvidsson is the most solidly built of the three, he’s also the fastest — and although it’s unlikely the team will see the trio together in the post-season, any more overtime or injuries would pave the way for an easy injection into the lineup out of any of these top prospects. As for Clune, he’s unlikely to ever be an NHL mainstay; as a physical, gritty forward who isn’t afraid to throw his short frame around, though — 62 AHL games saw him post 181 PIM — so he could end up getting the recall for sheer added force.
On defense, the team only made three recalls (and all to left shot defensemen); offensive blue liner Anthony Bitetto (a sixth round draft pick from the 2010 NHL Entry Draft) and mainstay shut down prospects Johan Alm and Joe Piskula. Piskula, a former University of Wisconsin undrafted defenseman, brings both sheer size and veteran experience — he stands at 6 foot 3, 214 lbs, and has nearly a decade of league experience. Alm — who the Predators signed as a free agent out of Skelleftea, Sweden last May. Alm is a former teammate of Arvidsson’s, although he has yet to truly break out in the North American system, and may not get NHL ice time. Bittetto spent only two years at Northeastern before signing with the Predators, and he may be ready to graduate into a depth role eventually — at best, he’ll become a defensive pivot on a second power play unit, making him attractive to Nashville after Mattias Ekholm recorded zero shots over nearly forty minutes of ice time.
The final two recalls were netminders, who likely won’t get any playing time unless Rinne is injured. Magnus Hellberg and Marek Mazanec, who split the netminding duties in Milwaukee evenly this past season, both have respectable AHL numbers but likely won’t be used.