Despite boasting two 40-goal, 80-point wingers and two 60-point centers, bolstering his organization's the top six forwards ranked high on the offseason to-do list of Nashville Predators general manager David Poile.
Days passed as the Predators sat idly by as the who’s who of free agency signed elsewhere.
Johnny Gaudreau went to Columbus. Andre Burakovsky inked with Seattle. David Perron signed with Detroit, and Ondrej Palat with New Jersey. Poile was content playing the long game, biding his time for the right player at the right price.
Enter Nino Niederreiter, a gritty, up-and-down-the-lineup player with a solid scoring touch who played a top-six role with the Carolina Hurricanes. There, he ranked third in goals (24) and fourth in hits (118) last year.
On paper, Niederreiter appears to be a perfect fit in a John Hynes-led offense. He is one of the premier forecheckers in the game, and he plays with an edge that gets under an opponent’s skin.
Because he mixes it up frequently, Niederreiter also adds value with his penalty drawing ability. He recorded 18 last year, which would have put him close to the top of the Predators with Tanner Jeannot and Alex Carrier, who each drew 25, plus Ryan Johansen and Luke Kunin, who drew 24 and 22, respectively.
Beyond his physicality, Niederreiter adds a net-front presence that the Predators haven’t had since Patric Hornqvist left in 2014. Sure, Viktor Arvidsson filled that role once upon a time, but that was basically for only a three-year window.
Niederreiter is a pest in front of the net that finishes off plays, as is evidenced by the 16 of his 24 goals last year that came from within three feet of the crease.
"I think I'm going to fit in perfectly," Niederreiter said. "That's the way they play, I think, exactly the way I like to play. It's that physical game, but at the same time, it's trying to bring the finesse when there's a chance to do so, and I think that's a big reason why I chose this team."
The problem the Predators now face — and it’s a good one to have — is determining where Niederreiter fits into the top six.
It’s assumed that Filip Forsberg and Matt Duchene, who combined for 85 goals last year, will remain paired together given their natural chemistry.
Niederreiter has played with both of Nashville’s top two centers, Ryan Johansen and Mikael Granlund, and he already has a solid rapport with Granlund from their time in Minnesota. The duo were linemates for 353 games with the Wild and put up quite impressive offensive numbers including 737 shots, 94 goals, 37 goals against, 679 scoring chances for, 298 scoring chances against, and 307 high-danger chances.
It could be argued the Predators are more well-rounded offensively with Granlund centering Forsberg and Duchene, and Johansen centering Niederreiter and likely Philip Tomasino.
However, a strong case could be made for a Johansen-led first line, which gives the Predators their best goal scoring combination, and Granlund as the 2C with Niederreiter and Tomasino.
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