NASHVILLE – For the first time in more than 15 years, the Nashville Predators woke up without center David Legwand as a member of the organization.
That means if the Predators hope to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they will have to do so with new players in key roles.
Principally, that means Colin Wilson.
The 24-year-old forward was the No. 7 pick in the 2008 NHL Draft and has played a variety of roles, but has never truly had the opportunity to center the Predators' top line.
Now he does. At the Predators' morning skate, Wilson worked between right wing Craig Smith, who leads Nashville in goals with 18, and Gabriel Bourque. He also took Legwand's spot on the top power-play unit on the right half wall.
The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Wilson has mostly played left wing in recent seasons, but 10 games ago the Predators moved him to center. In his first four seasons, he totaled 46 goals and 57 assists in 210 games. This season he has seven goals and 17 assists in 61 games, but no goals and four assists in his past 22 games.
"Since I've been drafted here they've always talked about me being a center and I made that move however many games ago," Wilson said. "Now [it is] just a bigger spot with bigger minutes at center, and that's what they always planned on so that's a big test."
Nashville coach Barry Trotz said that Wednesday was a "sort of a very sad day for me," in watching Legwand depart the organization, even if Trotz knew the move ultimately benefited his team.
In a 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday, Wilson earned some respect from the coach for fighting 6-foot-4 Penguins defenseman Robert Bortuzzo. Wilson took six stitches under his right eye and five above it following that incident.
Trotz agreed that now is Wilson's moment to shine.
"It really is," he said. "We drafted Colin to be an offensive centerman. We finally put him back in that role and he's going to get some of those minutes that David does. So what comes with those minutes is responsibility, as well. A responsibility to produce and a responsibility to play against higher-end guys on a regular basis at the center ice position.
"As a young guy, I think Colin is up for it. Physically, he's up for it. I think his transition back to center, I've been happy with it. The only thing is he hasn't got is a little bit of production yet. Hopefully, that comes. It really has opened up a spot for Colin Wilson."
Captain Shea Weber said it was difficult to see a teammate like Legwand go. Nashville also traded 29-year-old defenseman Kevin Klein to the New York Rangers on Jan. 22.
"It's obviously tough," Weber said. "You get to know those guys. Kevin's a guy that I got drafted with, so that's a guy I had literally come up through the organization with, and Leggie was here the whole time I've been here. They are both guys I'm going to keep in touch with for a long time. That's the way the business goes. We have to focus on getting back in the playoffs here."
Nashville enters its game Thursday against the St. Louis Blues six points out of the final wild card spot in the Western Conference.
Here are the projected lineups:
Alexander Steen – David Backes – T.J. Oshie
Jaden Schwartz – Patrik Berglund – Vladimir Tarasenko
Steve Ott – Derek Roy – Brenden Morrow
Magnus Paajarvi – Maxim Lapierre - Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester – Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman – Kevin Shattenkirk
Ian Cole – Roman Polak
Scratched: Carlo Colaiacovo, Chris Porter
Injured: Jordan Leopold (ankle), Vladimir Sobotka (leg)
Gabriel Bourque – Colin Wilson – Craig Smith
Eric Nystrom – Matt Cullen – Viktor Stalberg
Nick Spaling – Mike Fisher – Patric Hornqvist
Rich Clune – Paul Gaustad – Patrick Eaves
Roman Josi – Shea Weber
Michael Del Zotto – Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm – Seth Jones
Scratched: Victor Bartley