As impressive as it was that the Nashville Predators reached the Stanley Cup Final last spring without their top two centers, it was still a glaring need.
Losing to Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Pittsburgh Penguins last June showed the Predators the shallowest part of their lineup.
Not anymore. After signing former Penguins center Nick Bonino in the offseason and acquiring Kyle Turris on Sunday night, Nashville now has depth down the middle to hang with anyone in the NHL, including the Penguins.
”With the acquisition of Kyle Turris, we are now as skilled and as deep at the center position as we ever have been,” general manager David Poile said Monday in Nashville. ”In terms of playing the game and matchups, using Pittsburgh as an example, the Malkin-Crosby duo, now we’ve got way more flexibility and can create some new strategies on how we can play against them if we are healthy and have all of these center ice men to play against them.”
The Predators now boast a 1-2 punch of Ryan Johansen and Turris, who came from the Senators in a pair of trades that included Colorado shipping Matt Duchene to Ottawa. Bonino, Colton Sissons and Calle Jarnkrok are all options, too, so Poile can halt his seemingly perpetual search for help at center.
With Bonino still recovering from a foot injury he suffered in the Cup Final, there’s time to see how it all fits together. But Turris, whom the Predators signed to a $36 million, six-year extension that keeps him under contract through 2023-24, can be a matchup nightmare no matter where he plays in the lineup.
”I like being strong defensively and helping out in my own end, but I love playing offense and contributing offensively,” said Turris, who has 320 points in 544 NHL games. ”I feel like that’s a big part of my game is trying to help create opportunities offensively for my linemates and myself.”
Turris and Senators GM Pierre Dorion exchanged verbal jabs about not getting a deal done to stay in Ottawa, but it was clear that relationship wasn’t going to continue behind the 28-year-old’s potential free agency July 1. Poile said the Predators were comfortable signing Turris to a six-year deal – even though his camp asked for eight – because he will be 34 by the end of the contract and is in good shape.
What Turris gives the Predators now is a playmaker in his prime to complement wingers like Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson as 35-year-old goaltender Pekka Rinne is still on top of his game. And Nashville didn’t have to give up any of its top-four defensemen – Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis or Mattias Ekholm – to make the trade happen, which Poile said was the key.
”The defensive corps there is so good, the goaltending’s so strong and the forward depth is great as well,” said Turris, who hopes to play his first Predators game against the Penguins on Saturday. ”Roman and P.K. and Ekholm and Ellis and all the guys, they’re so good at moving the puck and such good players that it’s exciting knowing they’re on the back end giving us the puck and we have to get going so that we give them options.”
Freelance reporter Jim Diamond in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed.
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