It’s time for Nashville Predators hockey! It sure feels good to say that again.
For the third consecutive year, I am back to provide coverage on what should be the most successful Preds team in their history.
Coming off a thrilling post-season, yet a disappointing loss in the seventh game of the second round of the playoffs vs. the San Jose Sharks, Nashville is back with what looks to be an even stronger team and optimism from players, coaches, fans, and even league pundits! Yes, there are nationally respected hockey writers who are predicting big things for the Preds, from individual awards to some major team hardware.
Could this be the year the team goes all the way? I’m not going to go out on a limb and predict a Stanley Cup victory, but I will say that the team General Manager David Poile has handed Coach Peter Laviolette is without a doubt a contender for the Cup, and should, barring injuries, be favored to win on most nights over the course of the 82-game regular season schedule.
We open the 16-17 campaign with a game on Friday night against chief rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks. Chicago began their season at home on Wednesday vs. St. Louis and dropped a 5-2 affair.
Wouldn’t it be delicious to have the Hawks leave Nashville with an 0-2 record? You bet it would!
Let’s take a look at the personnel that has made the final roster for the Predators this season.
Starting up front, the Preds have returning forwards Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, Calle Jarnkrok, Ryan Johansen, James Neal, Mike Ribeiro, Miikka Salomaki, Colton Sissons, Craig Smith and Colin Wilson. Cody Bass, who spent much of last year in Milwaukee, joins the Preds on opening night as a gritty winger who may be called upon for some toughness.
Additionally, former first round draft choice (2014) Kevin Fiala has cracked the roster and will be inserted on the top line with Forsberg and Johansen from the start of the season. Fiala has great speed, and had a very impressive training camp.
The other forward is also a returnee, but because of the departure of Shea Weber (more on that in a minute), the captaincy has been turned over to veteran Mike Fisher. The 36-year-old center has the respect of his teammates and will be the perfect leader for this team.
On defense, you’d have to be living under a rock not to know about the key addition to the back line. PK Subban comes in from Montreal in exchange for Shea Weber. While long time Preds fans may have to take a moment to adjust to the loss of the former captain Weber, it won’t take a long time to have the exciting and excitable Subban win over the hearts of the crowd. An electrifying skater with incredible instincts at both ends of the ice, Subban should have people jumping out of their seats with his dynamic play in short order.
Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm return, and round out the “top four” that should eat close to 45-50 minutes of each game. Second year rearguard Tony Bitetto had a solid camp, and on most nights should find himself paired with one of two newcomers to the Predators on the third pairing.
Yannick Weber and Matt Carle were brought into the mix via free agency. Weber, 28, has had parts of eight years experience with both Montreal and Vancouver, and scored 11 goals two seasons ago with the Canucks. Carle, 32, is familiar to Coach Laviolette based on time the two spent in Philadelphia. He also spent time in both San Jose and Tampa Bay and has notched 282 points over his 11 year NHL career.
As has been proven time and time again, an NHL team will generally only go so far as their goaltender can carry them, and for the ninth consecutive season, starting chores will go to the most popular player on the team, Finnish netminder Pekka Rinne. Despite what most people would consider a slightly “off” 2015-16 season, Rinne stood tall in the playoffs and took the team to game 7 in San Jose, before dropping the final game and sending the team into the off-season.
Rinne has a new backup this year as free-agent Carter Hutton moves on to St. Louis. Marek Mazanec, a 25-year-old Czech who has seen 27 games of action with Nashville in the 2013 and 2014 seasons will inherit Hutton’s position and top goaltending prospect Jusse Saros will begin the season as the clear number one in Milwaukee with the Admirals.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN THE EARLY GOING
As stated earlier, Nashville opens its season on Friday Oct. 14th at home against Chicago. The stay is brief, as just 24 hours the two teams find themselves back on the ice, but at the United Center in Chi-town. Tuesday, the Preds face off at home against Dallas and then play in Detroit on Friday the 21st.
I expect the tempo to be strong, the passing crisp, the goaltending excellent, and of course the defensive corps is clearly the best the league has to offer, so I don’t see too many goals getting past Pekka.
I’ve been a hockey fan for over 50 years, and have rarely been as rah-rah optimistic as I am about this season. This team, top to bottom, needs to get off to a good start and not take their foot off the gas pedal.
Stay healthy, stay strong, and stay right here for your weekly update on the Nashville Predators.
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