Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2017-18, where LastWordOnHockey.com gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2017-18 Stanley Cup pick. Today the series continues with the 2017-18 Nashville Predators.
Last season was one to remember for the Nashville Predators organization and their fans. In Peter Laviolette‘s third season he managed to lead the club to a solid 41 wins and 29 losses, including a 24-9-8 record at Bridgestone Arena. Although it wasn’t the organization’s most successful regular season, their 41 wins were enough to propel them to their third straight playoff appearance. From there, the Predators playoff run was nothing short of remarkable and memorable.
After sneaking into the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the Western Conference’s eighth seed, the Predators shocked the entire NHL. In their first round matchup against the Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville swept their divisional rival, advancing past the first round of the playoffs for the fourth time in franchise history. The team from Middle Tennessee would then go on to defeat both the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks, both in six games.
The Stanley Cup Final was next against the reigning champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins. It marked the first time in franchise history that the organization had played for the Stanley Cup and was it ever memorable. Although the Predators ended up losing in six games, many positives came about from the experience. According to Zach Oswanski, the team learned many things about itself. They learned that Pekka Rinne is still one heck of a net-minder, that the Preds young players are budding stars, that the defense is elite, and that David Poile can run a hockey team. Most importantly though, last season taught many that the city who’s metropolitan area holds 1.8 million people, located on the Cumberland River, is in fact a hockey town.
With Nashville keeping much of their core from a season ago, and adding a few more pieces to their already dangerous lineup, the 2017-2018 Nashville Predators will once again create buzz in Smashville.
After the Predators season ended, the organization turned it’s attention to the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. In the first round, the Nashville Predators drafted Eeli Tolvanen with the 30th pick. The 5’10, 180lb forward was ranked 8th on NHL Central Scoutings final ranking of North American Skaters after an impressive season in the USHL with the Sioux City Musketeers. In 52 games, he recorded 30 goals and 24 assists. The 18 year old elite sniper was one of the purest goal scorers in the draft. Currently, Tolvanen is playing in the KHL and has not disappointed. So far he has recorded eight points in nine games with Jokerit.
In the second and third round, the Predators would draft a pair of USNTDP teammates. To start, they took forward, Grant Mismash, with the 61st pick and then selected defenseman David Farrance 31 spots later. Both players will be playing NCAA hockey next season at the University of North Dakota and Boston University, respectively.
The Predators would round out their draft class by selecting goaltender Tomas Vomacka, forward Pavel Kotlygin, and defenseman Jacob Paquette.
Signings and Trades
After the draft, the Nashville Predators had some other important business to take care of. To start, they needed to sign a number of key Restricted Free Agents including Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson. David Poile would ultimately sign Arvidsson to a seven year deal and a week later locked up Johansen to a mammoth eight year contract.
Poile also made a number of other moves in order to strengthen his lineup ahead of the 2017-2018 season with a number of acquisitions on July 1st. First and foremost, with the uncertainty of the future of Mike Fisher‘s NHL career, Poile went out and made a major move, signing Nick Bonino. The two time defending Stanley Cup Champion will be a huge addition for the Predators next season by being a strong two-way presence up the middle.
In addition to Bonino, Poile also bolstered his blue line by acquiring Alexei Emelin from Vegas and added experience up front by signing Scott Hartnell. The addition of Emelin is a particularly significant move for the organization if the want to find success with the recent announcement that elite defenseman, Ryan Ellis, will be out long term with injury.
Aside from the additions and players brought back, a few players left the Predators as well. Most notably, the Predators exposed James Neal in the expansion draft where he was selected by the NHL’s 31st franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights. Neal’s departure brought about many questions, some of which remain unanswered. This includes the main question: who will fill the offensive void left by the former 30 goal scorer next season? Also leaving the Preds was Collin Wilson who Poile, shipped off to Colorado for a fourth round pick in 2019.
2017-2018 Projected Line Combinations
Filip Forsberg – Ryan Johansen – Viktor Arvidsson
The Nashville Predators will once again have a formidable forward group next season led by Johansen, Forsberg and Arvidsson. With a full year of experience playing together under their belts, there is no doubt that the Preds top line will be able to produce at a high level. The trio will definitely be one of the league’s top lines once again.
The addition of Bonino will also be a big factor for Nashville next season. Bonino will contribute offensively, in addition to playing tough minutes as a shutdown centre. This added depth down the middle should allow Johansen to focus more on producing offensively.
Finally, it will be interesting to see how Nashville’s younger, inexperienced forwards will fare. It’s unlikely that Colton Sissons will contribute at the same rate as his postseason production, but he should still have a solid campaign. Other youngsters who will likely have strong campaigns are Calle Jarnkrok and Kevin Fiala. It should come as no surprise if Jarnkrok’s production increases as he likely will centre Scott Hartnell, who is still somewhat dangerous offensively. Hartnell recorded 37 points in the regular season last year, 34 of which came at even strength.
Roman Josi – Alexei Emelin
Seventh defenseman: Anthony Bitetto
The core of Nashville’s defence will be returning this season but they will be missing one of their elite. As already mentioned, the Predators will be without the services of right handed defenseman, Ryan Ellis, who will be out of the lineup for four to six months. Although this is a big loss, the Predators D-Core should be fine as Alexei Emelin will be joining P.K Subban, Roman Josi, and Mattias Ekholm to make up the top four. Emelin may not be as offensively gifted as Ellis, but his NHL experience and physicality will allow him to successfully fill in. Ultimately, as long as no other major injuries plague the Predators blue line, especially while Ellis is sidelined, Nashville’s defense will still be one of the league’s best units.
Between the pipes, the Predators are backstopped by a tandem of Finnish-born net minders. The Clear starter once again will be Pekka Rinne. There is no doubt that he is one of the best goaltenders in the NHL and will carry the bulk of the workload next season. If for some reason you believe that the 34 year old is on the decline, think again and just look at his postseason stats last year. In 22 games, Rinne posted 14 wins, a .930 save percentage and a goals against average below two. The rest of the workload will be picked up by Juuse Saros. As long as Rinne stays healthy, the Predators can find solace in their goaltending situation.
Players To Watch
With Bonino joining the Predators this off season, he will definitely be a player to watch. Ultimately, Bonino will slot in as the number two centre behind Ryan Johansen next season.
While with Pittsburgh, Bonino was the Penguins third line centre, averaging just over 16 minutes per game. Now, with Bonino theoretically logging more minutes in Nashville, it will be interesting to see if he can surpass his production of 37 points from a season ago. If Bonino is able to increase his offensive production, the Nashville Predators may be the deepest they’ve ever been at centre. Also, it will allow the Predators attack to be more balanced during the 2017-2018 campaign.
After fracturing his Femur in game one of the Western Conference Semi Final against the St Louis Blues, Kevin Fiala should be healthy by training camp, according to GM David Poile. Fiala, 21, had 11 goals and 16 points in 54 regular season games last season, his first full NHL season. The under sized left wing has all the skills to be an elite forward, and the Predators will be hoping that he can take another major step forward. If he is able to do so, he will likely make up a group of young Predators that will help replace the production of James Neal. If Fiala sees solid minutes next season and remains healthy, a 20 goal campaign could be in the cards for the Swiss born forward.
Craig Smith, 28, once again had a disappointing season with the Nashville Predators. After recording a career high of 52 points during the 2013-2014 season, Smith’s production has dipped every year since. Heading into the 2017-2018, the Predators hope to see the Madison, WI native return to his peak. At 28, Craig Smith is still relatively young, and so he should be able to put his career back on track. According to Last Word’s Grant Hardeman, it is now or never for Craig Smith if he wants to remain in Nashville.
Players On The Rise
Heading into the 2017-2018 season, one player who is definitely on the rise is Colton Sissons. After getting his first taste of NHL action during the 2013-2014 season, Sissons played his first full NHL season a year ago. In 58 regular season games, he notched a mere 10 points, but broke out in the postseason. After a number of injuries, the 23 year old took on a larger role in the playoffs and ultimately thrived, recording 12 points in 22 games. With Sissons being relatively young and inexperienced, there is still plenty of room for improvement. It is not beyond reason to expect Sissons to take a big step this season. If he does, he could score somewhere between 25-40 points. However, where Sissons will likely make a name for himself next year is in the corners. He is a dependable two-way player that has a very high compete level..
After playing only 15 regular season games last year, Pontus Aberg had his coming out party in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In 16 games games during the Preds playoff run, the speedy forward showed his offensive upside notching five points. The prettiest of his five points came in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final after he used his speed and skill to score a beautiful goal. Heading into the 2017-2018 season, Aberg, 23, is poised to continue to build off of his strong postseason. Since he is still very inexperienced, it’s unreasonable to expect the Swedish winger to record tremendous numbers next season, but 25-35 points should be in reach. Ultimately, as Aberg continues to become accustomed to the NHL his play will only improve. In a few years, the Nashville Predators should have a consistent scoring winger.
Players On The Decline
Over the course of his 16 year NHL career, Scott Hartnell has been a relatively consistent offensive producer. However, as noticed by his numbers the last few years, it is evident that his career is winding down. The former 60 point, 30 goal winger has seen his production steadily decrease the last three seasons. During the 2014-2015 season, he recorded but 60 points, but managed just 37 last year in one more game. With that said, the 35-year-old Hartnell will still be an impact player with the Nashville Predators during the 2017-2018 campaign. He may not make the same offensive impact that he used to, but he will impact the Preds by helping to guide Nashville’s younger players.
2017-2018 Nashville Predators Season Prediction
After a disappointing end to last season, the Nashville Predators organization and fans are itching and excited for the start of the 2017-2018 season. After a busy off-season that saw some key signings and a couple of trades, the Predators are positioned to be a threat and expectations are high. With that said, the Western Conference will be incredibly tight this season, so the Preds will need to come out strong stay consistent all year long. If the Predators young core can take another step forward, anything is possible.
Final Prediction: The young core of the team will continue to develop and will contend for the top seed in the Western Conference at the conclusion of the regular season. Looking past the regular season, the Predators depth will carry them to the Conference Final before being eliminated, as last year’s run will catch up to them.
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