Welcome to the latest series here at Last Word on Hockey. Each day, we will take a look at a new team and examine three of their potential breakout or bounce-back players. What are these? These are players that have the chance to make a serious difference with their teams. Whether that’s as someone who finally finds their place in the NHL, or as someone who had previously been good but has struggled as of recently. Each day we will be looking at a different team! However, today we will take a look at the potential 2020-21 Nashville Predators key players.
When analyzing the 2020-21 Nashville Predators roster, it becomes clear that when it comes to top players, Ryan Johansen leads them all. The centreman, however, did not have his best season during the 2019-20 and is probably the best candidate for a bounce-back in the 2020-21 season. Johansen signed an 8-year, $64 million contract in 2017 and was always above the 50-point mark per season. But during the last one, his performance changed drastically. He only scored 36 points (14 assists, 22 goals) in 68 games. Shortened season or not, that is not what the team or the fans expected from the top-line centreman.
The 28-year-old forward needs to raise his game up and bounce back to his playmaker and goal scorer status. If the 2019-20 Johansen is the one Nashville will get for the next seasons, the player will likely lose his spot as the number-one centre on the team. With that, he will become one of the “overpaid players” that the media loves to go after questioning if he will ever come back to what he was before. He needs a fresh start in the 2020-21 season and take over his number-one spot, not only as his title but in his game as well.
Coming right beside Johansen as a bounce-back candidate is his winger, Viktor Arvidsson. He is a fundamental goal scorer for the Predators and his performance was, to say the least, disappointing. Arvidsson, who in the 2018-19 season played only 58 games and still scored 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists). He did not do well during the 2019-20 season and his stats show. In 57 games – one less than the 2018-19, he scored only 28 points (13 goals, 15 assists). Then he completely disappeared in the qualifying rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs when his team needed him the most.
The winger plays on the top line and his low performance probably affected Johansen as well – and that is not what Nashville needs. Arvidsson is a leader amongst the Predators. The team looks up to him and most of their strength comes from him. His performance reflects in the roster and he needs to step up to his role if Nashville intends to go to the Cup run next year.
For the breakout position, the promising Finnish talent Eeli Tolvanen is the right choice. The young player has not made his official NHL debut just yet. Nashville might need to make that happen for the 2020-21 season. With their top players doing as badly as they are now, the Predators need a solid second-line to get the job done. And that is not exactly what has been happening. Tolvanen has been prepared for three years and there is no better time to start on the main team than next year. He needs to take his place as soon as possible.
However, the transition from the AHL – and KHL, where he is currently playing – needs to be made carefully. Tolvanen has to adapt to the NHL level to slowly start bringing more depth to the team. And making his way to the second line – where he surely can shine. The next season needs to be his official entry to the NHL. It is the right moment and he is more than ready to step up to his role. The 21-year-old winger has prepared for long enough. There are a lot of expectations surrounding him. If Tolvanen manages to prove himself worthy of the NHL, Nashville will have a great second line. That will help their top line get back on track – which solves at least one of the team’s problems.