While the first half of the 2020-2021 season made the Nashville Predators’ playoff hopes seem bleak, their second half was absolutely phenomenal. Winning 20 out of their last 28 games, they were able to sneak by the Dallas Stars and make the playoffs as the fourth team from the revamped Central Division. Unfortunately for Nashville, their playoff run would be short-lived as they would be beaten in the first round by the Carolina Hurricanes in six games.
In the 2021 draft, the Predators made two first-round selections in forwards Fedor Svechkov and Zachary L’Heureux. In total, the Predators had six picks in the draft that included Anton Olsson, Ryan Ufko, Jack Matier, and Simon Knak. General manager Brian Poile had some big pieces to sign for this season and he got them all locked down. The biggest of which being Juuse Saros, who signed a four-year, $20 million contract. They also re-signed Eeli Tolvanen and Tanner Jeannot, among others.
In arguably the biggest trade of the NHL offseason, the Predators sent Ryan Ellis to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Philippe Myers and Nolan Patrick. They would then flip Patrick to the Vegas Golden Knights for Cody Glass. They would also trade Viktor Arvidsson to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for a 2021 second-round pick and a 2022 third-round pick. As for the free agency period, Poile brought back Mikael Granlund and signed David Rittich to be the new backup goaltender.
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Last year, the Predators’ offense was middle of the road, finishing 20th in goals with a total of 156. The top scorer last season was team captain Roman Josi, who finished with 33 points in 48 games. The biggest concern for this offense will be filling the production of Calle Jarnkrok, who was selected in the expansion draft by the Seattle Kraken. The absence of Arvidsson is just as concerning from an offensive perspective. Last season, Jarnkrok finished with 28 points and Arvidsson finished with 25. That’s 53 points that are no longer on the team. That isn’t something that can easily be replaced. Tolvanen might be asked to take a bigger role and help replace some of that point production. Philip Tomasino, the 24th pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, is another notable player to keep an eye on, as he starts his rookie season.
The loss of Ellis will certainly hurt this defensive core, which was one of the best in the league last season. They were ninth in total goals against with 154 and 11th in goals against per game, averaging 2.75 goals against. Myers will more than likely take his spot playing next to Mattias Ekholm, who has been a staple of the Predators defense since 2013. Josi will continue to be one of the best offensive defensemen in the league, but the thing to watch this year is if their defensive tendencies change with this kind of turnover throughout the core.
Saros takes over as the starting goaltender this year after the retirement of Predators legend Pekka Rinne. He’s been groomed to be the starter, as he made making 35 starts last season. He set career bests in save percentage finishing at .927 and GAA with a 2.28. He also was given consideration for both the Vezina and Hart trophies. If he’s able to replicate those numbers in a full season, there is no reason he shouldn’t be in the Vezina conversation again. Backing him up is Rittich, who didn’t have much playing time last year after being traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. It will be interesting to see if Rittich in particular is shaky early on.
This Nashville team is going to rely on everyone. However, there are some players who will be instrumental if they want to make it back to the playoffs. Let’s take a look at the Predators’ key players.
Roman Josi is the heartbeat of this team and an offensive juggernaut that will be a key part of the Nashville offense. He may need to produce more with Jarnkrok and Arvidsson gone. However, if there’s anything the hockey world knows about Josi, it’s that he will do whatever he can to help the team succeed. Not a bad characteristic for a captain.
Saros may have had more starts last year than Rinne, but this will be his first full regular season as the guy in goal. Nashville has confidence in him and has built a solid foundation in front of him. But at the end of the day, the goalie is the last line of defense. Saros may have to put up Vezina numbers this season in order for the Predators to compete.
Biggest Question Facing the Predators
In order to look at the biggest question for the Predators, we have to look back a little bit. As mentioned before, the first half of the season was not kind to this team. With two of their top five scorers last year no longer on the team, can the offense produce consistently? They are going to need to find some more production from some other faces this season.
It’s going to be a tough hill to climb for Nashville this season. All of their usual Central Divison friends are back, and that’s making it one of the most competitive divisions in hockey. This year, barring another second-half run, the playoffs don’t look possible for the Predators. They could potentially sneak into a wild-card position, but it just doesn’t seem likely.
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