Pontus Aberg

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Key returns: Quick for Kings, Forsberg for Predators

Tonight’s Los Angeles Kings – Nashville Predators game (watch live on NBCSN) sees two teams closer to full-strength than they’ve been in a while.

Granted, for the Kings, it hasn’t been much of a wait. While Jonathan Quick was activated from IR on Thursday, it might have been partially a function of getting him a breather during the All-Star break as much as anything else.

That said, Quick had been struggling with just one win in his last seven games. He’s off to a bumpy start, with one goal allowed (Craig Smith) after a Ryan Johansen goal was disallowed because of a goalie interference call.

Filip Forsberg made his presence felt on that would-be Johansen goal, creating a turnover and getting the puck to Johansen. The goal didn’t count because Viktor Arvidsson bumped Drew Doughty into Quick.

Moments after this post was published, Forsberg scored early on in the Predators’ 5-on-3 power play.

One month missed

The Predators deserve credit for playing well without Forsberg, with some other key players going in and out of the lineup as well. Nashville was 7-2-2 in his absence.

It shouldn’t be too surprising that they’re a more dangerous team with Forsberg than without, what with the Swedish winger being pretty close to a point-per game guy (34 points in 37 contests coming into Thursday’s action).

Looking at January stats specifically, it’s easiest to see the impact on Johansen, who only managed four assists in 10 games while suffering a -5 rating.

According to Left Wing Lock, the most common Predators trio was Johansen, Arvidsson, and Pontus Aberg. Aberg didn’t really do much with that opportunity, and he went from top-line duty to a healthy scratch with Forsberg back.

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Particularly in the case of the Predators, Thursday serves as a teaser for what this team is truly capable of, as Ryan Ellis has been revving things up with Forsberg out of the mix.

Granted, there’s still the matter of integrating Mike Fisher back into the lineup, but either way, this could be a force to be reckoned with.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Mike Fisher on Predators return: ‘This could be our year’

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Why is Mike Fisher (eventually) coming back to the Nashville Predators and the NHL? Well, for a lot of the reasons you’d probably expect.

Fisher, Predators GM David Poile, and head coach Peter Laviolette addressed the media about Fisher’s surprise return from retirement on Wednesday, giving some big-picture answers to some of the questions surrounding his comeback.

Why?

Poile joked that he saw photos of Fisher hunting, so he thought Fisher was “relatively happy” in retirement.

Fisher certainly didn’t paint a sad picture of retirement, noting that it was “weird” to watch Predators games as a fan. Still, around Christmas time, the absence really started to sting. He’d been having discussions with Laviolette, current Preds captain Roman Josi, and others here and there about a comeback.

“It always kind of bugged me when guys came back from retirement,” Fisher said.

” … I’m all in, I’m excited. I know it’s going to be a special year.”

Fisher explained that, even without winning the Stanley Cup during last year’s exciting run, that it was the best time of his 17-year NHL career, and he believes “this could be our year.”

(He’s already aligning with the Predators from a pronoun standpoint. That’s a good sign.)

Fisher has the support of his wife Carrie Underwood, if not the three-year-old he’s been chasing around the house in retirement, and it’s clear that the Predators wanted him back. So what’s next?

How might Fisher figure in, change Predators’ plans?

When asked about the trade deadline – which serves as something of a soft deadline for actually signing Fisher – Predators GM David Poile said that he likes where his team is, but “never say never.”

You wonder if Fisher’s return might open the door for the Predators to involve another player in a bolder move?

As it stands, Nashville already had plenty of options down the middle; from top guys Ryan Johansen and Kyle Turris, to supporting centers like Nick Bonino and Colton Sissons, with even players like Calle Jarnkrok having some experience at center.

Last season, Fisher seemingly ended his career on a high note, almost doubling his 2015-16 points total (42 to 23, with 18 of those 42 points being goals). It’s not really the points that the Predators are after, and all the leadership/character/intangibles talk isn’t the full story, either.

Fisher’s versatility could be useful, assuming he can return to game form.

In 2016-17, he won 54.9 percent of his faceoffs, and he’s won at least 52 percent of his draws since 2013-14. As you can see from Hockey Reference’s metrics, Fisher saw an increasing defensive role during his latter days with the Preds, starting just 39.6 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone last season.

Fisher stated that he’s eager to complement this team in whatever way works, and his recent play argues that point.

It will be interesting to see where he’d figure in, most likely in the bottom two lines. According to Left Wing Lock, this is what the Predators’ bottom six looks like right now:

Kevin Fiala — Bonino — Jarnkrok

Miikka Salomaki — Sissons – Austin Watson

With Filip Forsberg out, Pontus Aberg is currently occupying his spot on the top line, so Aberg would serve as another useful option. If everyone’s healthy, it could make for quite the jousting for lineup spots.

Via Natural Stat Trick’s teammate listings, Fisher’s most common forward linemates last season were Craig Smith, Colin Wilson, and Austin Watson. Perhaps Fisher would once again line up with Watson and also with Sissons, giving the Predators two faceoff options on that line? That wouldn’t be the worst scenario, considering how tweaked faceoff rules means that pivots get kicked out of the dot somewhat often.

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Again, it’s pretty easy to understand why Fisher is coming back. If you saw the wild, fun scene in “Smashville” – even on TV – you’d probably get why that pull is so strong.

Management notes that there is no specific timetable for his return, which might explain some of the vagueness about where he’ll fall in the lineup.

Those questions are tough to answer, yet it’s better to have too much of a good thing rather than not enough. When you note that the Predators came into this season with questions about center depth, the additions of Turris and return of Fisher now make an already formidable team that much more balanced.

It’s fair to say that Laviolette will have a balancing act on his hands if his team is reasonably healthy, though.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Oilers vs. Predators on NBCSN

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WATCH LIVE on NBSCN

PROJECTED LINES

Edmonton Oilers

Forwards

Patrick MaroonConnor McDavidLeon Draisaitl

Milan LucicRyan Nugent-HopkinsJesse Puljujarvi

Jujhar KhairaRyan StromeMichael Cammalleri

Drake CaggiulaMark LetestuZack Kassian

Defenseman

Andrej SekeraKris Russell

Darnell NurseAdam Larsson

Oscar KlefbomMatt Benning

Starting goalie: Cam Talbot

NHL on NBCSN: Oilers hoping ‘bounces’ start going their way vs. Predators

Nashville Predators 

Forwards

Pontus AbergRyan JohansenViktor Arvidsson

Kevin FialaKyle TurrisCraig Smith

Scott HartnellNick BoninoColton Sissons

Miikka SalomakiCalle JarnkrokAustin Watson

Defenseman

Roman JosiRyan Ellis

Mattias EkholmP.K. Subban

Alexei EmelinYannick Weber

Starting goalie: Pekka Rinne

New Year in fantasy hockey: West edition

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So, the year is still pretty new. Let’s celebrate 2018 by considering every NHL team, whether it be asking burning questions, pondering make-or-break situations, and pointing out interesting tidbits.

This week, we’ll roll with the Western Conference, because they win the epic battle of alphabetical order and to reduce risks of people complaining about “East Coast Bias.” Next we’ll we go with the East.

Anaheim: What is this team?

Honestly, it’s easy to forget that Ryan Kesler is finally back. The pugnacious pivot is at five games played now, with his first goal coming last night against Edmonton. Between Kesler, Ryan Getzlaf, and plenty of others being hurt, injuries leave the Ducks’ with an “Incomplete” on their mid-term report card.

The good and bad news is that there’s some uncertainty with this team. Maybe you can take advantage of that?

Arizona: Antti Raanta could be a wild card.

Quietly, Raanta has actually been OK this season, sporting a .915 save percentage, in range of his .916 career average. Raanta stopped 37 out of 39 shots to help the Coyotes beat the Nashville Predators 3-2 in OT last night.

Wins should be tough to come by, but Raanta may be worth a look if you’re desperate for goaltending. With his next contract on the line, motivation won’t be in short order.

Calgary: Can Mike Smith keep this up? At 35, he’s carrying a big workload, and the Flames traded away a possible insurance policy – albeit a flimsy one – in Eddie Lack. Even if Calgary has some other goalies with future potential, is anyone ready if he hits a wall?

Chicago Jonathan Toews could be starting a hot streak with two straight two-point games after a six-game drought. Consider last season, when he scored more points after the All-Star break (30 points in as many games) than he did before it (28 points in 42 games).

Colorado: Will Nathan MacKinnon continue to rise among the NHL’s best, as he’s been doing – delightfully – so far? More on that here.

Dallas: John Klingberg already has 36 points in 42 games, leading NHL defensemen by five points. You don’t hear a ton about the 25-year-old blueliner thanks to Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, but he ranks as one of the great fantasy steals of this season.

Edmonton: Oilers in need of new contracts are the most intriguing, and recently suspended winger Patrick Maroon has quite a bit to lose if this team decides to sell, especially if Edmonton does so soon.

Beyond Maroon, interesting situations to watch include Darnell Nurse and Ryan Strome. Other guys, including Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, could also be up for grabs. It’s a mess, but it’s a mess worth monitoring.

Los Angeles: Is this Marian Gaborik resurgence real? Maybe it’s as real as Dustin Brown‘s rebound?

The often-injured scorer has 13 points in 18 games this season, with an active three-game point streak (two goals, two assists). Gaborik scored 21 points in 56 games in 2016-17 and 22 in 54 in 2015-16, so this would be quite the turnaround if this isn’t a fluke. Some of it very well could be considering his 17.1 shooting percentage, so be warned.

Minnesota: Devan Dubnyk sure seems to be back, and the same seems to be true of the Wild. Probably not a coincidence.

Dubnyk has won six times, lost once, and stopped all 10 shots in another period of relief work where he wasn’t credited with a win or a loss.

Nashville: With Filip Forsberg out four-to-six weeks, it’s crucial to keep an eye on who will trot out with Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson. Calle Jarnkrok first drew that assignment, while Pontus Aberg got the nod on Thursday. Then again, maybe it’s not worth the work if you’re the low-maintenance type.

San Jose: Joe Thornton is tied for the Sharks’ scoring lead alongside Brent Burns with 27 points, which is remarkable.

Also remarkable: Kevin Labanc isn’t far behind with 20 points. He’s getting dangerously close to convincing me that his last name shouldn’t have an “l” in it.

St. Louis: The Blues get a lot from guys you’d expect, but the boost comes from the unexpected. Brayden Schenn still leads the Blues in scoring with 42 points while Carter Hutton has an absurd .947 save percentage starting 11 games and appearing in 14.

Vancouver: This is a bad time to invest in the Canucks.

They start a seven-game road trip on Saturday, and during that time, they deal with two back-to-back sets. This team’s been way more competitive than expected, but it’s likely to be a tough January.

Vegas: William Karlsson, as an RFA, has a lot of incentive to keep his strong work going. So do a lot of Golden Knights, who also face a tough schedule in the near future. Karlsson stands out as a risk for regression, with an unsustainable 26.3 shooting percentage.

Winnipeg: Mark Scheifele‘s last game before that unfortunate injury came on Dec. 27. Since then, Blake Wheeler hasn’t really missed a beat as the new center of the top line, generating four goals and one assist in three games.

Reminder: the guy is a star.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Nashville Predators at Minnesota Wild

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CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

PROJECTED LINES

Predators:

Colton Sissons, Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson

Kevin Fiala, Kyle Turris, Craig Smith

Filip Forsberg, Calle Jarnkrok, Pontus Aberg

Miikka Salomaki, Nick Bonino, Austin Watson

Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm

Alexei Emelin, P.K. Subban

Matt Irwin, Yannick Weber

Startling Goalie: Pekka Rinne

PREVIEW FOR PREDATORS – WILD

Wild:

Jason Zucker, Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund

Tyler Ennis, Eric Staal, Charlie Coyle

Daniel Winnik, Joel Eriksson Ek, Chris Stewart

Marcus Foligno, Matt Cullen, Zack Mitchell

Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon

Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba

Mike Reilly, Nate Prosser

Starting goalie: Devan Dubnyk