If the Nashville Predators are going to make the playoffs, they are going to need more from their top forwards. That includes high priced talent like Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and Matt Duchene, all of whom are under-performing based on their career history. But it also includes players like Viktor Arvidsson, whose value to the Predators, both in cap value and in on-ice impact, is not easily overstated.

Since bursting onto the scene in 2016, Viktor Arvidsson has been the proverbial “straw that stirs the drink” for the Predators offense. He is routinely among the league leaders in generating offense every game and he’s quite often had the goal production to go with it. He broke the franchise single-season goals record last year with 34 tallies despite playing only 58 games.

Though he started this season at a lower scoring pace than in previous seasons, he was still among the Preds’ leaders in offense every night. He had 15 points in his first 22 games, including six goals, working primarily with usual linemate Ryan Johansen. With the way the team started out of the gate, going 9-4-2 in the first 15 games, Arvidsson’s production and the team’s success seemed like business as usual.

Then came the injury on November 23rd courtesy of St. Louis Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo. Thanks to Bortuzzo’s reckless actions, Arvidsson missed the next month with a lower body injury. The Preds somehow still went 6-3-3 in his absence, but there’s no question the offense took a hit without Arvidsson’s energy and tenacity on the forecheck.

When Arvidsson returned in late December, he was hardly the same player.

Arvidsson’s injury hampers return to Preds

Though Arvidsson managed to score a few goals in his first few games back for the Preds, he definitely did not look the same as before the injury. He didn’t have the same jump in his game, the same intensity in the offensive zone, the same presence on the ice.

It’s understandable. To suffer such a violent lower body injury in a sport that relies so much on lower body strength and flexibility has to be difficult. No doubt Arvidsson was probably a bit hesitant to give full speed on every shift. The body sends warning signals that are sometimes impossible to ignore or bypass, even for professional athletes.

Over the course of the next 16 games, Arvidsson scored six goals and had one assist. Though that’s not terrible, it’s not the production you’d expect out of someone like Arvidsson.

Arvidsson was still being used in his normal roles, as an “F1” forechecker, on the power play as a net front presence, and in key late game situations when a goal was needed. But his usual speed and energy just wasn’t there, again, likely because the lower body injury was holding him back.

However, though it’s taken about 20 games or so, it finally looks like the old Viktor Arvidsson is making a come back.

Return to normalcy for Arvidsson

On Tuesday, Viktor Arvidsson scored a very typical Viktor Arvidsson goal. It came on the power play in the 2nd period, just after the Preds had tied the game 2-2.

Arvidsson camped out in front of the Ottawa net, either awaiting a pass from the wing or for a rebound from goalie Craig Anderson. He got the latter, putting the puck in the net after a shot by Calle Jarnkrok bounced off Anderson’s pads.

That put the Preds up 3-2, which they held until the final whistle. The win also launched the Preds into a playoff spot for the first time under John Hynes.

After the game, Arvidsson talked about how he’s felt recently and if he felt like he’s been improving.

“I think I’ve found my game a little bit more,” Arvidsson said. “I feel like I’m a little faster out there. Starting to get going. I think me, [Matt Duchene] and [Calle Jarnkrok] are working good together, we’re creating offense in the offensive, so that’s good.”

But it wasn’t just about last night for Arvidsson. Just based on the eye test, Arvidsson has looked like a different player over the last few games. He seems faster on the puck, quicker in jumping on loose pucks, and stronger in fighting for space in the corners. These are all great signs for his return to full strength on the Preds.

The good news is that underlying metrics also back up what we can see on the ice. Comparing Viktor Arvidsson’s first 44 games with his last six games shows an encouraging trend in two keys areas: shot attempt share and expected goals share.

Viktor Arvidsson Nashville Predators
Stats via Natural Stat Trick

This increase shows that he’s starting to play a bit faster at both ends of the ice. Using speed to create chances in the offensive end has always been Arvidsson’s specialty, and it’s something that his defensive game benefits from as well. After all, the more time you spend in the opponent’s end, the less time you have to spend defending in your own end.

Granted, it’s only a handful of games. It’s probably not time to brand Arvidsson as fully recovered from the injury, nor can we project with any accuracy his end of the year goal and point totals. Injuries tend to muddle that sort of thing.

But based on the type of player we’ve been seeing on the ice recently, I think it’s safe to say Viktor Arvidsson is starting to return to normalcy. For the Nashville Predators, the timing could not be better.

— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —