3 New Predators Behind Team’s Turnaround
The five-game West Coast road trip did not start well for the Nashville Predators. However, after a lackluster 7-4 thumping at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers, the Predators rebounded for big wins against the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks. The recent two victories inch the Predators closer to the .500 mark after going 1-5-1 after their two victories to open the season.
In the two victories, it was not as much as that they won. It was how they responded to adversity and showed tenacity in achieving them. In the win against the Flames, the Predators started strong in that contest and outshot their opponent 12-3 in the first period, setting the tone for a dominating 4-1 victory. Then on Saturday night (Nov. 5), the Predators decided to spot the Canucks a three-goal lead before storming back and securing the win in a shootout. Playing a big part in these two victories are three newcomers to the Predators lineup.
The offseason free agent acquisition scored a goal on five shots, dished a power-play assist, logged four hits, and blocked two shots in Saturday’s win. He now has three points in his last three games, and he’s up to six tallies and two assists through 12 contests overall while adding 38 hits to help the Predators maintain a physical presence in their contests. Part of this success has come thanks partly to reuniting with Ryan Johansen, as the two played on the same line together with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League over a decade ago.
The Predators are starting to see dividends from signing the 29-year-old winger to a two-year, $8 million contract back in July. Niederreiter has added a spark to the team, something that head coach John Hynes noted after the Global Series, “Nino really fits the profile of a player we were looking for. I think the way we want to play, and him coming from Carolina and some of the habits that he has kind of fits right in” (from ‘Johansen-Niederreiter connection could be just the thing Preds have been missing’, Nashville Post, Oct. 12. 2022). His profile consists of a player who is known as having a strong two-way game, someone who can drive play offensively, and is an excellent forechecker. After scoring the game-tying goal, the former draft pick of the New York Islanders leads the team with six goals.
On Oct. 31, the Predators recalled Jordan Gross from the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League to help fill a roster spot left open by the injury to Mark Borowiecki. With just 11 NHL games under his belt, the 27-year-old scored the Predators’ first two goals of the game to help spark their comeback. After the game, Hynes praised the undrafted free agent for leading the comeback. “It was nice, and we needed it. You can see his offensive instincts down around the net, and then obviously, the goal from the blue line was a great shot.”
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Gross started the season well in Milwaukee, scoring a goal while adding six assists. Those seven points are the second-most on the Admirals and are tied for the fourth-most among AHL blueliners at the time of his promotion. In parts of five AHL campaigns, he has amassed 126 points (26G, 100A) in 185 games, including consecutive seasons with at least 25 points in 2018-19 and 2019-20. As a player noted for good vision and being able to move the puck, he has given himself the chance to stick around and be a productive player on the Predators’ blue line.
Mark Jankowski’s call-up on Nov. 3 raised some eyebrows, as many expected 21-year-old Phil Tomasino to be the player who was brought up. During their first ten games, the Predators have dealt with excessive penalties, continual lineup changes, and consistently being overwhelmed by faster teams. One of the newer lineup changes has paid some early dividends, as Jankowski scored a goal and assisted in the team’s last two victories. These are not exactly earth-shattering stats, but they have sparked some life into what has been a mostly dormant fourth line since the beginning of the season.
The added bonus for Jankowski and the Predators was that he scored his first goal of the season against the Flames, the team who drafted him in the first round (21st overall) of the 2012 NHL Draft. Upon his call-up, the 28-year-old led the Admirals in points (9) and was tied for the team lead in goals (5) through their first seven AHL games. In choosing Jankowski, the Predators went with someone with NHL experience, as the great-nephew of Hockey Hall of Famer Red Kelly has recorded 80 points (42G, 38A) in 272 career NHL contests. So far, the decision to go with the tough, experienced player over the talented youngster who had an uninspiring training camp has paid off.
Related: 3 Keys For a Successful Predators Road Trip
The inspired play of these three newcomers has also coincided with the improved play of Predators veterans Roman Josi, Matt Duchene, and Mattias Ekholm. The team hopes to continue their recently inspired play as they resume their five-game road trip with a visit to the Seattle Kraken. It concludes with a Thursday night contest against the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Colorado Avalanche.
Jim Bay writes about the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Nashville Predators for THW. A retired Special Education Teacher, Jim enjoys writing about hockey and all sports when he is not slashing his way around local golf courses. For interview requests or to provide content info, follow Jim on Twitter. (https://twitter.com/baysports007)