The Rhett Rakhshani train is on schedule. The 2006 4th-rounder who elected to remain at University of Denver his senior year and captain his team (solid choice, that) has started off his pro carer by leading AHL Bridgeport in scoring. Assuming the source for Newsday is on the mark [update: Yes, and Doug Weight goes on IR] -- Rakhshani was scratched from Sunday's unreal Sound Tigers SOL -- he adds another bit of much-needed skill to the Islanders lineup. Amid all the frustration and doubt of this season, this is the kind of development that many, when looking at the team in September, expected would happen come December to February.
Listed at 5'10", 190, that frame has yet to hold the Californian Rakhshani back. In anecdotal observation from college and his camp, he looks like one of those smaller players who is aware of his surroundings and able to elude traffic. His stickhandling is a plus, but perhaps most important right now: Smart player, solid character. Here's hoping it translates at the NHL level, and soon.
Chris Burton of the Predators blog On The Forecheck exchanged questions with me about the state of our teams who seldom cross paths. You can see my answers to his questions over there. Chris's answers to mine, plus other notes, follow after the jump:
- With Mark Eaton straining his groin last game and Radek Martinek missing that game, Dylan Reese (also scratched Sunday) was expected up.
- The Predators are in a tougher division, in a tougher conference, and staying with the pack despite streaky play (like so much of the West). But remarkably, their powerplay has been abysmal, still limping at 11.6% on the season. For comparison, the Islanders have scored one powerplay goal in the last month and yet are at 14.8% on the season.
- Two can cry at this game: We mourn our injuries with good reason, but it's also a fact of life in this league and reason number one why depth is important. As Chris alludes to below, the Predators have been without free agent addition Matthew Lombardi most of the year and recently without Pekka Rinne and David Legwand.
5 Questions on the Predators with On The Forecheck's Chris Burton
Dominik: The Predators cut bait with Jason Arnott over the summer. Was that a salary decision, a sell-while-you-can-get-something (and salary) decision, or was there a conclusion that he just wasn't fit for the requested role anymore? And how is the move looking now?
Chris: While Arnott was still filling the role Nashville asked of him (perhaps in name only), it was both a selling high and salary decision. It came out over the summer that, according to Barry Trotz, Arnott had been almost the captain by default with the departure of Kimmo Timonen and injury to Steve Sullivan, and wasn't a position he was entirely comfortable with. Compounding things, his propensity to injury was high, which consequently effected his play in a detrimental manner. Jason Arnott has all the talent in the world, but there came a point in Nashville where he wasn't working hard, he took shifts off, and it was a poor influence to his younger teammates. In the end, I think it was the right decision and an easy one.
As for how it looks now, the jury is still out. At the time, turning an old and half-broken center into a 2nd round pick, Matt Halischuk, Matthew Lombardi, and $1 million extra in salary was a genius move - and probably still is, but Lombardi has missed essentially the entire year to date due to injury.
2. The Predators have drawn great teams every time they've been to the playoffs, and last year they lost to the eventual champions after having them within a minute of going up 3-2 in the series. With zero playoff series wins so far, do you feel like payroll conditions hold the team back in the postseason, or has it more been the luck of the draw? (In other words, the Isles haven't won a playoff series since before salaries skyrocketed; can we hope that some day more than one-and-done is realistic...?)
Chris: In all honesty, I'm afraid it's a little of both. While I'll concede that the Preds have had some horrible draws, the tendency to shoot themselves in the foot combined with no elite scorer is just not a good recipe for the playoffs. They undoubtedly should've beaten the Blackhawks last season, but a few mental errors saw to the end of that idea. I would certainly like for Nashville to have the money for a Marian Gaborik or even a Ray Whitney, but they're not walking through that door. We know what we have here, and I believe that budget constraints or not, the team is capable of winning a playoff series as currently constructed. They'll never go far with a pop-gun power play, but when healthy, this is a dangerous team.
So yes - there's hope...some.
3. J.P. Dumont, the one-time Islanders property, recently entered the proverbial doghouse. Any light to shed on that one?
Chris: The simple answer? No. That said, Dumont is one of the most offensively gifted players on the roster, regardless of age, but I think he's been hurt by the amount of injuries to Nashville's center corps. Not only has Lombardi missed over 25 games, but Marcel Goc and David Legwand have both been out for extended periods. Injuries such as these drastically affect chemistry and line combos, so perhaps Barry Trotz is stuck with a square peg in a round hole. Even still, though, I think Dumont could be utilized more than he has...so I don't know what's going on.
4. Like I said in my answers to you, the Poile-Trotz marriage is a model many aspire to but few replicate. When things get rough, to fans start to call for Trotz's head, or is there more of an acceptance now that this coach will not be made a scapegoat here?
Chris: After 12 (?) years, I think folks have realized that, ups and downs, Barry Trotz is going to be the head coach of the Nashville Predators for the foreseeable future. The Preds are one of only five teams to win 40 games five years in a row, and I can guarantee you that that doesn't happen without Trotz's steady leadership. He has faults, sure, but all coaches do, and I don't know of any bench boss who can bring together a locker room like he can. Nashville consistently has one of the "tightest" locker rooms in the league, regardless of personnel.
Sure, I've called for his head once or twice, but I think that if David Poile fired Barry Trotz, it would take half a decade to return to the level of competitiveness where they now stand.
5. The Predators started off with points in their first eight, then lost five straight, then have had mini-streaks ever since. Any overall read into their play beyond, "we play in the toughest division and the toughest conference"? Has this team improved over last year's model?
Chris: The Nashville Predators are consistently inconsistent. I'd like to give a resounding yes, but some of 2009-10's old habits have been creeping back into the team's play of late.
I will hesitantly say that, while they might not have "improved over last year's model", they're definitely a better suited team for the playoffs. With Matt Lombardi, Shane O'Brien, and Sergei Kostitsyn, they got faster, tougher, and more skilled, and when you consider last year's lessons learned and the naming of franchise defenseman Shea Weber team captain, I think you'll see a better Predators team, perhaps not in December, but in April, and if we're fortunate, May.