The Nashville Predators have concluded their preseason schedule, posting a 4-2 mark and giving a lot of young players the opportunity to lock down a roster spot. After today, when Nick Spaling was sent down to Milwaukee, the Preds roster stands at 29 players. As of this writing, there have been no further roster moves. This tells me that the coaches are doing some serious evaluation of some of the younger players that remain on the roster and that the staff may be closely watching the waiver wire to see if there are some bargains that can be picked up, especially at the forward position.
What of the 29 players that are on the roster at the conclusion of the preseason? Let’s start in the goal first. Pekka Rinne, the putative starter, had at best an average preseason campaign. His .800 save percentage belies the fact that there were some fluky goals and poor defensive coverage in front of him. Dan Ellis, currently penciled in as the back up, had a stellar preseason campaign, logging a .944 save percentage and looked strong in the net. The Predators should be solid in net with either net minder able to handle the goaltending duties. Rinne’s performance does not concern me as he was moving well, showed the good glove, and was sound positionally. I expect him to come out strong for the start of the season and have another solid campaign.
The blueline for the Predators is solid in the top four players, with Shea Weber and Ryan Suter manning the first pairing and Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Klein anchoring the second pairing. The fact is that Hamhuis has to play solid and not commit the occasional turnover that he is prone to do that puts his goalie in a difficult position. Klein is sound, but has to step up his intensity. The addition of Francis Buillon should help the D corps as his experience and physical play will be welcome. He played his first game for the Predators on Sunday against Columbus and notched a goal for the Preds. The remaining two slots are up for grabs, with a three way battle between Cody Franson, Alexander Sulzer, and Teemu Laakso competing for the two slots. At this point, it looks as if Sulzer will have one of the positions secured, and the battle is between Lasskso and Franson for the final slot (the Preds are expected to carry six blueliners to start the season). In my opinion, neither of these two have distinguished themselves enough to make this an easy call for the coaching staff.
The forwards remain the biggest question for the Preds. The top line of Arnott, Dumont, and Sullivan is set, although Sully has missed the last three games with a minor groin strain. David Legwand centers the second line with Marty Erat on one wing, and it appears that Mike Santorelli will start as the second line winger. Santorelli had a strong camp and hopefully for Predator fans will grow into that position and be productive. Speaking of production, Legwand and Erat have to produce at a higher level. Frankly, the success of this team and the potential return to the playoffs for the Predators depends on these two being productive- more so than they have been in past seasons. Rookie Colin Wilson started camp strong, but missed the last four games due to a groin strain, and it appears that he will begin the season in Milwaukee as he attempts to get healthy. I expect him to be back with the Predators before too much of the season lapses.
This team will again be challenged to score goals, and as mentioned, it is imperative that two players in particular, Erat and Legwand, have strong campaigns and improve their point production. Young players are going to be given an opportunity with this team, and they must make the most of it. It would not surprise me to see the Predators to look at possibly picking up a forward off waivers if they believe they can add consistent scoring punch to the line up. If this team is to be successful, they will have to have solid goal tending, play sound defense, and they will have to have production from the second and third lines. The margin for success with this team is razor thin, and veterans are going to have to step up their play and youngsters are going to have to produce to win.
About the Author: A native Nashvillian that grew up with minor league hockey, I'm now a devoted Predators fan and NHL follower. I have had the privilege of allowing my children to grow up watching the Predators and seeing the joy on their face when they are at a game. By day, I am a partner in an independent investment management company in the Nashville area. I played collegiate football and graduated from the University of South Carolina and graduated from the LSU graduate School of Banking. So yes, there are real true southern hockey fans in these non-traditional markets.