For the most part, the 2015-16 Nashville Predators have started out looking a lot like last season’s group. However, Viktor Arvidsson, Austin Watson and Anthony Bitetto made the team out of Training Camp. Why? Glad you asked.
Young Arvidsson has a shoot-first mentality. This dovetails with Head Coach Peter Laviolette’s philosophy. The Preds coach likes loads of attempts at the net for a couple reasons. For one, any attempt could go in as you put the pressure on the defending team to keep it out of the back of the net. Two, most shots directed at the net – even if they fail to hit the cage – soften the coverage as the defending team reacts to the chance.
Arvidsson, in spite of his modest size, has proven his ability to transform puck pressure into offensive opportunity. In just his first year of professional hockey, he scored 22 goals, registered 33 assists and led the American Hockey League in shots on net. Laviolette trusts him and has him positioned alongside Cody Hodgson on the third line, a key area of emphasis. If Nashville is going to compete with the best teams in the Western Conference, they simply must get scoring from the bottom six forwards.
I like Austin Watson’s game. Your first impression is that he’s very reliable. He’s a big body, a great skater and with these things taken together, he wins more than his share of puck battles.
Even before Training Camp opened, the expectation was that Watson would play a fairly specific role. The former first-round pick had a really strong camp playing on a checking line. He has great defensive instincts, and he’s very hard to play against. Throughout the preseason, you saw Laviolette push him all kinds of penalty killing responsibility. This looks to be an area where he will make a key contribution. Watson has refined his ability to play shorthanded over his three seasons in the AHL.
Anthony Bitetto is a unique situation. It’s quite possible he is ready for prime time. He showed well in a handful of games with the Predators last season and he had a really solid Training Camp. This is not to say Bitetto would not benefit from additional time in the AHL, however, Nashville runs the risk of losing him to a waiver claim should the club attempt to assign him to Milwaukee.
So, Bitetto is a good problem to have. He’s a very capable defender who can jump into the lineup at any moment and play strong minutes as a sixth defender. However, Laviolette’s challenge will be keeping Bitetto and Victor Bartley – the other extra defender – engaged and game ready.