The Nashville Predators are rolling early on, and there’s no single explanation for the 8-3-2 start. So let me point out a handful of players who have made the kind of impact you may not have seen coming.
We use this phrase a lot in hockey: “He makes the people around him better.” But it really does ring true in Forsberg’s case. The moment he was re-inserted on to the first line with Mike Ribeiro, the dynamic changed and this line became … well, more dynamic. He’s getting Neal the puck in dangerous places, and he’s converting his own chances off this lightning quick release of his. Remember, as Forsberg entered training camp this year, you were asking the question: “Will he stay?” … Never mind, now we’re asking: “Will he lead all rookies in scoring?!”
From his first shift of the preseason, you could tell Ekholm had added something to his game. He came back quicker, stronger and more confident than the prior year. In terms of his play during the regular season, he didn’t kick it in until the Country Music Association awards trip, but kick it in he has. Four points in his last five games, and he’s even getting time with the man advantage now. He defends as well as anyone in the group and is often up in the attack at regular strength. I don’t believe we’ve seen the ceiling on Ekholm’s game yet.
Signing Ribeiro last summer was a gamble; albeit one involving very little risk (One year at $1.05 million). The center was run out of the Arizona organization and sat on the side-lines of unrestricted free agency until rather late. As he signs, it’s very much an open question. Can he be the guy to get James Neal the looks he needs to score consistently? I’m not sure you can answer that after one-eighth of the schedule has elapsed, but the first 13 games look awfully promising. If not for Forsberg, Ribeiro is leading the team in scoring. He’s a very patient playmaker who sees the ice well. I like that he makes the unconventional pass that a defender does not see coming which creates the opening for a quality chance.
You didn’t see Rinne making an impact coming? Ok, maybe he doesn’t belong in this list like the others do, but since I started covering this team, I’m not sure I’ve seen him string together a better month of hockey. Of course you expect him to make an impact if he’s healthy. But like this? He’s got eight wins and an overtime loss in just 11 starts. Yes, the group in front of him is playing well. But poll any member of that same group and ask them to identify the difference; they’ll point to Rinne. He’s simply won games for his club. Seven times this year he’s had a save percentage of .920 or better. For me, the surprise comes in this way. He missed 51 games last year due to a complicated and potentially career-ending injury; given his competitive nature you’re confident he can bounce-back, but wasn’t he supposed to spend some time finding his form again? Guess not.
Here’s to a strong start.