The Nashville Predators just finished off the Chicago Blackhawks, essentially knocking them out of the Central Division playoff race, after going 2-0-1 against them last week and finishing at 7-0-1 against them on the season.

But the Preds’ job is far from over.

They still have quite a bit of work to do before they can punch their ticket to the NHL playoffs.

Sitting at 4th place in the Central, the Preds have a two point lead on the Dallas Stars, but Dallas has two games in hand on Nashville, mostly due to several postponements from earlier in the season.

This means the Preds do not control their own destiny; if Dallas were to win out, they would leap-frog Nashville in the standings.

The good news for the Preds is that they should be getting Filip Forsberg back in the lineup soon. He’s been out injured for what’s deemed a week to week “upper body injury” and was placed on injured reserve as of March 27th. Last week, David Poile said he hoped Forsberg would be back “next week” which would be this week.

So… if Filip Forsberg is returning this week, what might the Preds’ lineup look like?

Preds lineup with Filip Forsberg in the mix

Filip Forsberg is the most dangerous pure offensive weapon the Preds have on their roster, other than maybe Roman Josi, who is more of a two way threat from the blueline. When the Preds get Forsberg back in the lineup, they are a better team from top to bottom, without a doubt.

But what’s the best strategy for working him back in the lineup? How do they maximize what Forsberg can bring without disrupting chemistry from other lines?

This is trickier than you might think.

For one, there are certain combinations of Preds forwards that have been working very well in Forsberg’s absence. Mind you, these aren’t players that replaced Forsberg in the lineup, but players you want to keep playing due to the nature of their contributions.

I’m talking about, of course, the 4th line, with Colton Sissons, Yakov Trenin, and Tanner Jeannot. They’ve been a God-send for the Preds, who have long awaited a skilled, physical, and energetic 4th line to put on the ice.

Since March 25th, Filip Forsberg’s last game, the Sissons-Trenin-Jeannot line has played 62 minutes at even strength together, putting up a 55% shot attempt share and a 53% expected goal share. Those are top line numbers, far exceeding the expectations of a 4th line “checking” unit.

Filip Forsberg obviously won’t play on the 4th line when he comes back. But it’s important to point out how solid that unit has been because the ripple effect of adding Forsberg to the mix could suggest a 2nd or 3rd liner might drop to the 4th line.

Under no circumstances should that happen.

Forsberg goes on top line, where he belongs

Filip Forsberg should immediately go back on the top line with Ryan Johansen and Eeli Tolvanen. Forsberg and Tolvanen were very creative in the attacking zone before their injuries hit, generating a 52% expected goal share in 120 minutes at 5 on 5. And Johansen and Forsberg already have years of chemistry built up, so it just makes sense to put these three together immediately upon Forsberg’s return.

That would bump Viktor Arvidsson down to the 2nd or 3rd line, possibly moving either Erik Haula, Nick Cousins, or Luke Kunin out of the lineup.

With this in mind, here’s what things could look like:

Eeli Tolvanen – Ryan Johansen – Filip Forsberg

Mikael Granlund – Calle Jarnkrok – Viktor Arvidsson

Luke Kunin – Nick Cousins – Matt Duchene

Yakov Trenin – Colton Sissons – Tanner Jeannot

Erik Haula should be the first one scratched; his role continues to be unclear in John Hynes’ system, so Forsberg’s return could compel a change. Cousins should get the nod over Haula because of his physical edge and tendency to agitate opponents.

This lineup would have plenty of offensive punch at the top combined with plenty of energy and physicality at the bottom to keep the Nashville Predators’ chemistry intact through the playoff push.

— Featured image via Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports —