The breakout line from last year of Kulemin, Grabovski and MacArthur seem to have picked up right where they left off. These three have been a dominant trio in every game they have played this preseason, creating chances, winning battles and not giving up on any play. The effort and hands shown by Grabovski on his second goal after pinballing around in front of the net should be enough to put an end to any questions about this line. Together this line should once again reach the 80 goal plateau and with more experience likely top it. There are (if healthy) two guys with top end potential of 35-40 goals and with C-Mac around expecting 90-100 from the second line isn’t unreasonable.
What is more exciting is the instant gelling of Colby Armstrong, Tyler Bozak and Matt Frattin/Nazem Kadri. While this may not represent a typical Burke bottom six they are preforming magic on the ice. Bozak, when he was healthy, has been the best forward in the preseason now that he is in a role more suited to his skill. With Armstrong there to do the dirty work (as he does oh so well) and a hungry, flashy and very talented kid on the other side 40-50 goals out of this group would be possible. Expect Bozak, if he continues at the same level, to net a minimum of 20 now that he will not be up against top defensive pairings anymore. While Kadri seems destined to make this lineup, Frattin has outshined the former 7th overall pick.
That is where the optimistic appraisals of the front end stop. As of yet Tim Connolly has failed to impress, Phil ‘The Thrill’ Kessel looks a step slow and Joffrey Lupul keeps missing his chances. This “top line” needs to develop some chemistry before the season starts since this team cannot afford to lose sight of the playoffs before November once again. It is still too early to tell so for now I will withhold judgment since chemistry doesn’t develop over night. For this team to succeed Kessel needs 35-40 goals this year, Lupul around 25-30 and Connolly in the 60 assist range.
The fourth line… Well, this line does not matter much, Orr has a job, will be replaced by Rosehill as his contract nears its end or when injuries happen. The Darryl Boyce/Philippe Dupuis fight seems meaning less, it could go either way, regardless neither will net more then 5-10 goals. Keeping the puck out of the net is the only priority for this line (after punishing the opposition of course). Crabb has heart, but is not big league material, the best man for this spot, Timmy Brent was allowed to walk the Carolina and will be sorely missed.
Across the street in Ricoh Coliseum there should be some serious competition as several kids are nipping at the heels and ready to take the job of anyone who is under performing. Either Kadri or Frattin will be cut. Whoever it is will be the first called on should the unthinkable occur and a forward if hurt or coasts through the first month. Beyond them will be Joe Colborne who should be ready by next season providing he puts on some more muscle. Luca Caputi, brought over in the Pylonikarovski deal seems to have been a dud and once again fails even challenge to make it to the final cut, but project forwards like Marcel Mueller, Brayden Irwin and NCAA standout Jerry D’Amigo could see some time providing their play improves dramatically over last season. It may also be time to see what Kenny Ryan or Ryan Hamilton can offer in a shutdown, fourth line role after several years in the system.
A lot of this season’s production relies on best care scenarios, continued development and a healthy lineup. But so long as goaltending is even just mildly better than it was out of the gate last season small hiccups won’t end the season prematurely. As the playoffs go, it is doable with this forward crew, after all Nashville makes it to the post-season in a much stronger Western Conference without a single 25 goal scorer, and only two who reached the 20g mark last season. You just have to beleaf.