Ahh a new season. The sight of PK Subban in a Predators uniform. The smell of freshly zambonied ice. The sound of Avs fans giving themselves false hope. It’s a beautiful thing. It doesn’t need to be said, but I’ll say it anyway: this is the most hyped up season in Predators history. The best part about it? The hype is 100% justified. The forward group is deep. The defensive corps is elite. Pekka can steal games even after a down year. In this article, we will take a deeper look at each area and make a call on what everything will look like when the horn has sounded on game 82.
Finally, the Nashville Predators enter a season with a real, bona-fide number one center and the offense looks as deep as it has in years, maybe ever. There are plenty of reasons to be excited about this forward group. The aforementioned number one center is Ryan Johansen. In a “down” year last year, he totaled 60 points. He played half the 2015-2016 season in Columbus under head coach John Tortorella, which is a situation that I would call a dumpster fire but that would be an insult to dumpster fires everywhere. Playing in Nashville under Lavy’s system alongside other talented players, he could very well reach 70 points. Speaking of 70 point seasons, Filip Forsberg is back and his hair looks better than ever. Last season, the young Swede led all Predators with 64 points and tied Jason Arnott’s franchise record of 33 goals in one season. Keep in mind, he is 22 years old. He’s twenty-two. TWENTY TWO. I am 23 years old and I’m scarfing down fried chicken and typing up a blog that only my family will read. Filip Forsberg will exceed the 70 point plateau and set a new Predators franchise records for goals in a season. Blood bank guarantee of the year of the week. Book it. Also returning are Forsberg’s fellow 30 goal scorer, James Neal (ho-hum) and perennial 20 goal scorer, Craig Smith (whatevs). Predators staple Colin Wilson is back and has every citizen of Smashville praying that Laviolette can trick him into thinking the Predators skipped the regular season and are playing 82 playoff games against various opponents. The always maddening Mike Ribeiro will be playing a more appropriate role in a 3rd line center and provides some decent depth on the power play.
Along with the returnees, there are some changes up front. The ruggedly handsome Mike Fisher is yet another familiar face, but his jersey will look a little different as he wears the “C” in the post-(Shea)Weber era. Probably, the most interesting member of the forward group on Opening Night will be rookie Kevin Fiala. He had a nice camp and preseason which earned him a spot on the roster. Not only that, but it appears he may get a shot on the fist line with Johansen and Neal/Forsberg. The biggest knock on Fiala has been his maturity, and sure, he flipped off the entire bench of the Lake Eerie Monsters last year, but a little Bash Brothers attitude may not be all bad for the Preds. If Fiala sticks on the first line, that’s great news for Nashville as they won’t have to ask Calle Jarnkrok play top line minutes again this year, which only adds to their depth. Another change among the forwards is that the fourth line got a LOT younger. Out with Paul Gaustad and Eric Nystrom. In with Colton Sissons and Miikka Salomaki. That’s the equivalent of walking into a Verizon store today with a Motorolla Razr and leaving with an iPhone 7. No, the kids aren’t gonna score a ton of goals and make flashy plays, but they are quicker, won’t get caught in their own zone, and they will pulverize opponents with their physicality.
The Nashville Predators have a great mix of talent and depth up front for the 2016-2017 season. They have extremely talented youth with proven veteran leadership. The scoring woes of old are long gone. The lone concern is the center depth being comprised of two mid 30s veterans. Will they hold up all season? If they can, this offense should be a well oiled machine. Here’s the expected line-up to start the season:
P.K. Subban and Roman Josi. The End.
Just Kidding. P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, Matt Carle, Anthony Bitetto, and Yannick Weber. The End.
In all seriousness, the Predators have arguably the best defense in all the NHL. Not having Shea Weber man the blue line will be different, but P.K. Subban’s play should make for a very quick adjustment period. The game in the NHL is trending toward a faster puck-possession style. Look at your Cup contenders in recent years. The Blackhawks, Kings, and Penguins all embody this style of play. P.K. Subban provides that style in spades. He is a fantastic skater, has great vision, and has a cannon of a shot. Subban also brings with him something Smashville hasn’t really seen: a huge personality and superstardom. He is a fan favorite already and that only figures to increase exponentially as he leaves Smashville on the edge of their seats all season. His likely defensive partner Roman Josi (Nashville’s second leading scorer last year) provides a similar skill set. Both Josi and Subban have been preseason picks by various pundits to win the Norris Trophy. That’s right, the Predators have two legit Norris trophy candidates side by side on their first defensive pairing.
Lost in all the love for Josi and Subban is the fact that the rest of the Predators’ defense is pretty damn good too. Ginger Lumberjack Ryan Ellis and the emotive Mattias Ekholm make up as good a second pairing as you’ll find anywhere. The two have unbelievable chemistry together, can move the puck up ice, and are threats in the offensive end. The third pairing will pick a Pick 2 of Matt Carle, Yannick Weber, and Anthony Bitetto. No matter which two Housley and Laviolette decide to go with, it will be an above average bottom pairing. Carle and Weber are the more experienced veteran options, but the rookie Bitetto showed some promise in the playoffs last year as well.
An extremely deep and highly talented group, the Predators defense should be fun to watch all year. The pairings will likely look as follows:
Much was made last year about Pekka Rinne’s down season. He was below the league average in GAA and Save % (2.48/.908). He looked hesitant and unsure of himself at times. He was not the Pekka Rinne that Predators fans were used to seeing. However, he showed streaks of excellence. He even stole a couple games in the playoffs. If Pekka Rinne can return to his old form, get the parade planning committee (is that a thing?) to start scouting routes. Ultimately, the Predators just need an average Pekka Rinne to compete for the division with all the talent they have in front of him.
Everyone’s favorite in game interview, Carter Hutton is no longer behind Rinne. He said #HeyThanksForHavingMeGuys and split for the Blues. Now, Marek Mazanec backs up the large Finn. Mazanec, if you recall, actually won rookie of the month a couple seasons ago when Rinne was out hurt for most of the season. Since then, Mazanec has proven himself in Milwaukee to be a steady goaltender (2.45/.912) and has earned the back-up role at the NHL level. However, Rinne’s heir apparent remains in Milawaukee in the form of Juuse Saros. In order to allow Saros to continue his development, the Preds let Mazanec come up to Nashville to play the occasional back end of a back to back set with other random starts sprinkled in to spell Pekka Rinne.
Goaltending is without question the biggest question mark for the Predators this season. File that under “Sentences I Never Thought I’d Type”. However, they just need an average performance from the men in the masks to be an elite team this season.
Atlantic Metro Pacific Central
Lightning Capitals Sharks Predators
Panthers Penguins Kings Blues
Canadiens Rangers Ducks Stars
Bruins Flyers* Flames* Blackhawks*
Sabres Islanders* Coyotes Jets
Red Wings Devils Oilers Avalanche
Senators Hurricanes Canucks Wild
Maple Leafs Blue jackets
Western Conference Final: Predators vs. Sharks
Eastern Conference Final: Lightning vs. Pittsburgh
Stanley Cup Final: Predators vs. Lightning
Stanley Cup Champions: Tampa Bay Lightning