Nashville Predators face worries at center position with David Legwand day-to-day

The Nashville Predators have been short on star power for basically the franchise’s entire existence. (There are two possible exceptions: Peter Forsberg’s brief run after one trade deadline and Paul Kariya’s best moments with the team.)

That being said, the team has been scrappy enough to make the playoffs for years, with underrated center play being one of the reasons for their success.

Many Predators fans were optimistic this summer, as the team basically exchanged the offensively gifted but inconsistent and limited forward Jason Arnott for speedy two-way center Matthew Lombardi. Unfortunately, the team hasn’t been able to reap the benefits of that change because Lombardi has been injured.

The team has been able to keep its head above water, though, but Dirk Hoag of On the Forecheck is concerned that defensive center David Legwand’s murky injury status could mean trouble for the team down the middle. Hoag wonders which players will step up at the pivot spot beyond Cal O’Reilly and Marcel Goc.

If Legwand’s unable to go, however, what should the Predators do at center? Obviously O’Reilly and Goc are running the top two scoring lines, leaving two spots available between three possible contenders on the current roster – Jerred Smithson, Nick Spaling, and Colin Wilson. Smithson is at least used to battling tough opponents on a checking line and playing alongside Joel Ward, so he’s an option, and Spaling has been fairly effective in a limited role on the 4th line and PK unit. So does Wilson continue to linger in a marginal role?

As Hoag notes, “day-to-day” can mean just about anything in a league where injury details are guarded like a secret chili recipe. In most cases, I would say that a team with such a raw, makeshift group of centers would be in trouble, but this is the Nashville Predators. Coach Barry Trotz is one of the league’s best when it comes to rolling with the punches and making the most of limited talent.

Still, the team is struggling at the moment, so losing Legwand could be a problem … even if it’s in a subtle way.

Oilers go captain-less, name four alternates instead

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Edmonton’s made a fairly significant shift in its leadership group.

The big news is the Oilers won’t have a captain this season, as Andrew Ference will relinquish the “C” he’s worn for the last two years.

Ference will, however, remain part of the group and wear an “A” as part of a four-man alternate captain collective, one that also includes Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall.

The news of Ference being removed as captain doesn’t come as a huge surprise. The veteran d-man is a well-respected leader, but isn’t expected to be in the lineup every night this season.

The decision to go without a captain, though, is something of a surprise, especially given what new head coach Todd McLellan endured during his final season in San Jose.

The Sharks’ captaincy issue — stripping Joe Thornton, then going with four rotating alternates — was an ongoing problem, something that players, coaches and GM Doug Wilson had to repeatedly address until it blew up in spectacular fashion.

That said, the circumstances in Edmonton are quite different.

It’s believed the club’s intentionally keeping the captaincy vacant, on the assumption that Connor McDavid will evolve into a superstar and, subsequently, the club’s unquestioned leader.

Finally, McLellan noted that with Eberle currently sidelined, a fifth Oiler would be added to the leadership group — veteran forward Matt Hendricks, who will serve as a temporary alternate.

Brandon Sutter didn’t have the greatest preseason

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When Brandon Sutter was acquired by the Vancouver Canucks, GM Jim Benning called the 26-year-old a “foundation piece for our group going forward.”

Sutter was quickly signed to a five-year extension worth almost $22 million, more evidence of how highly management thought of the player.

Fast forward to yesterday, when Benning was asked the following question:

“What does it say that you made the trade for Sutter, you called him a ‘foundation’ player, and it took him until the final night of the preseason to find a spot (with the Sedins) on the wing, which isn’t his natural position?”

Here was Benning’s response:

“Well, [head coach Willie Desjardins] wants to try that out, he thinks that’s going to be a good fit. At various times, the Sedins played with wingers with speed, with [Ryan Kesler], who could get in on the forecheck and had a good shot. Sutter brings some of those qualities, too.”

While all that may be true, Sutter was not signed to play the wing; he was brought in to play center, specifically on the second line. He finished the preseason with zero points in five games. And as mentioned, he’ll start the season on the wing, not his natural position.

Meanwhile, youngsters Bo Horvat, 20, and Jared McCann, 19, had outstanding camps and are expected to start the regular season (tonight in Calgary) centering the second and third lines, respectively.

Though Sutter did finish the preseason with 12 shots on goal, up there with the most on the Canucks, it’s fair to say he did not look like a “foundation” player.

“I haven’t seen him play his best,” Desjardins said last week. “I see a guy who’s big and a good skater and who understands the game real well, but just hasn’t got that involved.”

Now, we are only talking about the preseason here. New players often take time to get comfortable. Perhaps playing with the Sedins can provide Sutter with some confidence.

“I know he’ll be there and I totally believe that,” said Desjardins.

But it hasn’t been the best start, and if it wasn’t for the encouraging play of the youngsters, it would be a far bigger story in Vancouver.

Related: Canucks roll the dice on rookies, waive Vey and Corrado