Last spring, the Nashville Predators took a serious look at their team. They lacked offensive sizzle and were about to miss the playoffs for just the second time in the past nine years.
One of the long-term fixtures in their lineup, Martin Erat, had requested a trade so that he could compete for a Stanley Cup, and suddenly a chance materialized to add the foundational type of forward they were looking for.
“When the opportunity to get Filip Forsberg came up, we looked at where we were heading,” Predators Coach Barry Trotz said in a recent phone interview. “It was time to switch on out. Hopefully Filip will be a great replacement for the next 15 years for Marty. . . . We haven’t had a high-end forward in the draft in a number of years. That was our window to do some complete change on our club.”
Nearly seven months after the Washington Capitals sent their No. 2 prospect in the organization to Nashville for Erat and AHL prospect Michael Latta, Forsberg is on the verge of making the Predators’ roster. Meanwhile, the Capitals are still working to find the best fit for Erat, who only appeared in 13 games for Washington last season because of injuries. This season will give both teams a chance to see what they’ve truly got in their new forwards.
Coach Adam Oates is using the final three games of the preseason to try the veteran forward at center. Erat, 32, has spent the vast majority of his NHL career at wing but saw occasional shifts at center for the Predators, and played the position during his junior days in the Western Hockey League. It might not stick, but Oates wants to see if Erat’s skill set lends itself to the position and provides new options for the forward lines.
General Manager George McPhee is interested to see what comes of the experiment, and to see what a healthy Erat can accomplish.
“He’s a real clever player as well, real responsible defensively, and might be a real good fit at center ice,” McPhee said. “I think we know what he is; we didn’t get to see enough last year but we might actually get more out of him playing him at center.”
Erat had three 20-goal seasons and recorded five 50-point campaigns during his 10 and a half seasons in Nashville. But last year, his point production dropped dramatically (four goals, 21 points in 36 games). After arriving in Washington, Erat recorded one goal and two assists and saw his effort to mesh with his new team derailed by a sprained medial collateral ligament and then a dislocated elbow.
Erat said he is glad to have a full training camp to work with and essentially start the process of working into the Capitals’ framework anew. He wants to contribute to achieving the ultimate goal that he left the Predators to pursue.
“Last year was hard,” Erat said. “Now I’m completely healthy and I don’t need to prove it to [the coaching staff] that I can do this, I need to prove to myself that I still have it.”
Forsberg, 19, will have an opportunity to play a significant role with the Predators this season, according to Trotz. He didn’t play in Nashville’s preseason game at Verizon Center on Wednesday night because of a lower-body injury, but has already recorded a goal and an assist in three preseason games.
The Swedish winger made his NHL debut late last year, when he appeared in five regular season games with the Predators. That experience helped smooth his transition to Nashville this fall, and Forsberg hopes that this will be the last time he has to get used to a new team in awhile.
“I’m real excited. Hopefully I can be a part of this organization for a long time, hopefully for the rest of my career,” Forsberg said. “I can have a big impact for them in the coming years. That’s what my goal is for the future, to establish [myself] with this team, with this organization. I’m very happy to be a Predator.”
Capitals notes: With a significant amount of the players expected to make the opening night roster in the mix, the Capitals claimed a 4-1 win over Nashville on Wednesday night. Eric Fehr recorded two goals while Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom also scored for Washington. Center Mikhail Grabovski notched three assists and has five in two preseason games. . . .
Defensive prospect Tomas Kundratek was placed on waivers Wednesday. If he clears at noon Thursday, Kundratek will be assigned to the AHL’s Hershey Bears.