With on-ice sessions beginning tomorrow, we take a look at ten biggest storylines of the Nashville Predators as the season nears:
1) Can Forsberg and Jones shine?
All eyes will be on two of Nashvilleās elite rookies entering this yearās training camp. Forsberg played five games, tallying one assist, for the Predators last season and Jones is one of the most highly-touted defensive prospects in the last decade.Ā With both slated to make the final roster, will they excel or buckle under the pressure?
Both Forsberg and Jones had a chance to showcase a bit of their talent during rookie camp last week. They look ready for a full season of NHL action, but itās best not to count the chickens before they hatch.
2) How will the Predators sort out their over-abundance of forwards?
Nashville has fifteen active forwards on the team and plenty more fighting for a spot out of training camp. While every line pairing seems to be some sort of jumble right now, itāll all come together over the course of the next couple of weeks. However, will some forwards find themselves on the outside looking in?
Youād have to think that the recent free agent signings (Cullen, Stalberg, Hendricks, and Nystrom) will all find their way into the lineup, but that leaves only eight spots left among eleven Nashville veteran players. Will a trade happen? I donāt think so right now. Iād expect that the nightly scratch list will be heavily occupied for the first few weeks of the season.
3) Will Nashvilleās defense be improved under Phil Housley?
Last season, the Predators gave up 2.77 goals a game, their highest since the 2008-2009 season (2.78). During the off-season, Nashville fired Peter Horachek and hired United States Hall of Fame defenseman Phil Housley to replace him. Housley, who led the United States to gold in the 2013 World Junior Championships, is highly touted for his defensive prowess, but how will that help the Predators?
With new Predators defenseman Seth Jones already experiencing first hand the leadership of Housley during the World Junior Championships, can the legendary defenseman and new assistant coach help lock down the Predatorsā blue line?
4) Will an underdog make the final team?
With 60 forwards attending Nashvilleās training camp, thereās always a chance of an underdog making the final roster for the Predators. Yet, with the over-abundance of forwards already for Nashville and the final defensive spot being wrestled down, it doesnāt look promising already.
However, if a player has an unforgettable training camp and pre-season for Nashville, I wouldnāt bet against them making the team.
5) Who earns the final defenseman spot?
Ryan Ellis or Mattias Ekholm? Nashvilleās top five defensive spots are already taken by Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Kevin Klein, newly re-signed Victor Bartley, and recent top draft choice Seth Jones, so that leaves only one spot left to fight over. My guess is Ellis earns the final spot over Ekholm, however with his recent play over the past two seasons one couldnāt be surprised if Ekholm steals the job.
Nashville could arguably keep seven defenseman on the roster and just choose to scratch one, but Iād think theyāll send the runner up to play in Milwaukee.
6) Is Carter Hutton the answer for the Predators back-up goalie?
The coaching staff is set on Carter Hutton being the solution for the Predatorsā back-up goaltending dilemma. Am I convinced this is the right move? Not yet. We spoke about this same issue in our pre-season preview of HuttonĀ and I donāt believe weāll really know how ready Hutton is until he gets between the pipes for Nashville.
David Poile is sold on Hutton, Barry Trotz is sold on Hutton, Mitch Korn is sold on Hutton, so why does it seem so difficult for everyone else to be sold on Hutton? Maybe itās perhaps we just havenāt seen what Huttonās on-ice potential yet, as heās been hidden away in the minor leagues. We should get a good look at him this year.
7) Last go-arounds for Ryan Ellis and Craig Smith?
In 64 games with the Predators, Ryan Ellis has five goals and 17 assists. Craig Smith only has 18 goals and 30 assists in his 116 games with the team. Both are coming off of sub-par years and find themselves in a bit of heat coming into the season for Nashville. While Ellis is in a contract year, Smith still has another season at $2mil remaining. Both will be restricted free agents when their contracts expire.
Can they both find new ground and turn it around this season for the Predators or will they be exploring greener pastures with new teams?
8) Can Colin Wilson and Gabriel Bourque start where they left off?
Last season, both Wilson and Bourque were on pace to have career years. Bourque was leading the team in goals with 11 and Wilson had nearly a point-per-game with 19 points in 25 games before they each suffered season ending shoulder injuries. Bourque and Wilson both are expected to be part of the highlights of Nashvilleās new and re-tooled offense.
Their production will all depend on how far along and how healed they are come October 3rd.
9) Will Pekka Rinne be healthy for the start of the season?
A big question mark currently is the health of Predators star netminder Pekka Rinne. Arguably one of the best goaltenders in the world, Rinne had hip surgery during the off-season and has already been practicing with his teammates prior to the start of training camp. While experiencing the return of on-ice activity only beginning a week ago, Rinne noted itās āup to his hipā before heāll see any kind of game action.
Rinne hasnāt been fully cleared by his doctors yet, so his status is up in the air at this point. I tend to think heāll be ready for the start of the season, but whether heāll be 100% or not is the real question.
10) Are Barry Trotz and David Poile on the hot seat?
After what could easily be described as Nashvilleās worst season in franchise history last year, one can assume that David Poile and Barry Trotz are going to do whatever it takes to right the ship. Yet, are they finding themselves at the end of a short leash? The quick firing of Peter Horachek and near-instantaneous hiring of Phil Housley during the off-season was a head-scratcher, for starters. Once free agency began, Nashville then uncharacteristically loaded up with five new contracts in the first day.
Itās a interesting series of events, but is it enough to put Nashvilleās general manager and head coachĀ on the hot seat after such a poor outing last year?
Will be bringing you action from training camp all during the pre-season with on-ice sessions starting tomorrow. Stay tuned to The Predatorial for more!
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