NASHVILLE – The Nashville Predators have gone with a youth movement in recent games – one that necessity has brought on.
In each of the last two games, a Predators forward has made his NHL debut. Austin Watson did it last Sunday and Daniel Bang follow suit on Tuesday. That number could increase to three in four games when the Predators host the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday and Filip Forsberg, the highly touted prospect whom Nashville received on April 3 in exchange for long-time first-line wing Martin Erat, could make his debut.
Injuries to veteran players are the main culprit for the youth movement. On Thursday, the Predators announced that center Colin Wilson, who led the team in points when he injured his shoulder on March 9, and checking center Paul Gaustad, who has battled through three different stints this season from missing games with the same shoulder injury, would each have season-ending surgery. In addition, wing Gabriel Bourque, who remains tied for the team lead in goals with 11 despite not having played since April 1, also will be shut down and will undergo a procedure on his knee.
In many ways, the decision for those players to have surgery and not be able to finish out the season signifies that the Predators’ playoff hopes have been extinguished. Predators coach Barry Trotz was asked on Friday if he thought shutting those players down would have a psychological effect on the team, which had seven games left entering Friday night’s game but is six points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“I think just the realization,” he said. “I think most of the guys knew they were probably, if they were coming back, it would be right at the very end. I don’t think it has any effect. I think what the guys in the room have to look at now, especially guys who have been sort of on the bubble in their careers or who are trying to make it now in their careers, this is an opportunity to showcase what they have.
“They’re playing up above maybe where they would be with a full roster. This is an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, I can play at the next level’ or that line up or whatever or two lines up.”
With the Predators reduced to – in the words of Trotz and at least one player – spoiler, the most interesting story line remaining in the season could be that of Forsberg, who was selected 11th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft by Washington.
Trotz said on Friday that “there’s a chance he’s coming tomorrow.” Forsberg, 18, already is signed and his season in Sweden is complete. The Predators are scheduled to practice at noon on Saturday, which is probably too early for Forsberg to participate with them on the ice.
If he does come, Trotz said Forsberg would likely take part in the morning skate on Sunday when Detroit visits Bridgestone Arena. Beyond that, whether he suits up remains up in the air.
“We’ll have to decide what we do from there,” Trotz said. “We’ll have to do what’s best for him.”
Forsberg’s Swedish club is Leksands IF, whose Web site posted a video of Forsberg on Friday. According to Google Translate, the link previewing the video said, “Tomorrow begins a new adventure with the departure towards Nashville.”
Bang, a native of Sweden, said one of his good friends, Johan Ryno, plays with Forsberg for Leksands.
“From what I’ve seen and heard, he’s a really good guy,” Bang said of Forsberg, Sweden’s captain at the World Junior Championships.
In 33 games with Leksands’ second division team this season, Forsberg averaged a point per game (15 goals and 18 assists). At the World Junior Championships, he had three goals and two assists in six games for the Swedish national team. He has good size at 6-foot-1, 188 pounds.
The story as to whether he becomes the dynamic forward the Predators have lacked for years could begin on Saturday.