The 2016-17 NHL season is officially over. The expansion draft and the 2017 NHL Entry Draft are in the rear-view mirror. Free agency is in its mid-July lull. With that being said, it is time for NHL general managers to examine their current rosters and to look at their prospects. When Nashville Predators general manager David Poile looks on his roster and organizational depth chart, there is no doubt that the emotion on his face is that of pure joy.
Examining the Nashville Predators Off-season, Roster, and Prospects
The joy has come about over the course of the last number of seasons which has seen Poile create a solid lineup that is built from the back end with strong goaltending, features one of the best blue lines, and is topped off by a true number one center and skilled sniper that were acquired through trades. This impressive roster took the organization to the Stanley Cup Final last year. Even though the Nashville Predators had their most successful season to date, that hasn’t meant David Poile has sat around this off-season. Poile was very active at the entry draft and thus far in free agency. He has done so in order to set up his franchise for the future and to address his team’s immediate needs. So, where do the Nashville Predators stand right now?
Before we can delve deep into examining the Nashville Predators roster, we must address David Poile’s major priorities that still need to be taken care of. At the moment, restricted free agents Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson are still unsigned.
Last season, the 24-year-old Johansen was a force up the middle for the Preds. In 82 regular season games, he recorded 61 points, while his linemate Arvidsson netted a team-high 31 goals. Together, along with Filip Forsberg, the trio were the catalysts for the Predators offence all year long. With that said, losing either Johansen or Arvidsson would be a huge blow.
Assuming both of these key RFA’s are re-signed, Nashville could arguably be a better team next season. This off-season, Poile addressed one of their major needs in finding an adequate centermen to play behind Ryan Johansen. This need became ever so apparent after Johansen missed the team’s final eight playoff games. Ultimately, Poile successfully addressed this concern just two weeks ago through free agency. On July 1st, the Predators inked a deal with two-way centre and two-time Stanley Cup Champion, Nick Bonino.
In addition to Bonino, Poile also has made a few more moves this off-season. To date, the Preds have signed Scott Hartnell while also acquiring Alexei Emelin from Vegas. He also shipped Colin Wilson to Colorado.
With all this in mind, the Nashville Predators current roster shows that they will once again be a competitive team next season. In goal, their team is backstopped by one of the best goalies in the league in Pekka Rinne. There is no doubt that he will be able to carry the majority of the workload next season and the rest will be picked up by the Preds young backup, Juuse Saros.
If there is any doubt in Saros’ ability, fans can find comfort in his 19 wins and .923 save percentage last season. It is safe to say the Nashville Predators have two very capable goalies. The only way their goaltending situation could become interesting is if Rinne were to suffer a long-term injury. Nevertheless, this goalie tandem will be very effective next season, especially behind the blue-line of the Predators.
The core of Nashville’s defence will be returning. And, as already mentioned, Alexei Emelin will be joining P.K Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm next year. The four have already proven that they make up one of the best D-cores in the league. With the addition of Emelin, the Predators defence will only get better next season. Emelin will add NHL experience to the Preds bottom pairing while also giving the Preds D-core some much-needed physicality. The 6’2″, 218 lb, Emelin recorded 241 hits last season, which ranked ninth in the entire NHL.
Up front, the Nashville Predators are in a good position. Once Johansen and Arvidsson re-sign, the Predators will have their top offensive line back for next season. Also, with the addition of Bonino, they have strengthened their team up the middle from a two-way standpoint. Furthermore, young players like Pontus Aberg and Colton Sissons could potentially be solid offensive contributors next season along with center Calle Jarnkrok.
Heading into next season, the Nashville Predators most NHL ready prospect is most certainly Vladislav Kamenev. The 6’2″, 185 lb Russian forward was drafted in the second round, 42nd overall by the Nashville Predators in 2014. Since being drafted, Kamenev has won two World Junior Silver medals and has made his professional hockey debut. Last season, he played 2 games for the Preds while spending the rest of the year with the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL. The skilled forward played in 70 games, recording 21 goals and 51 points, good enough for second on the team, behind only Pontus Aberg. With offensive production like this, the young winger should definitely challenge for a roster spot next season.
Another impressive Predators prospect that had a solid year with Milwaukee is 20-year-old Alexandre Carrier. He recorded 39 points in 72 games while also getting a taste of the NHL by suiting up in 2 games. The undersized defenseman was drafted in the fourth round of the 2015 draft, and although he is already making an impact at the pro level, he is not quite ready for the NHL. With that said, he is making great strides and will most likely see some NHL action next season. In order to make the full-time jump to the NHL, Carrier will need to get stronger as he isn’t the biggest of players at 5’11” and 174 pounds.
Dante Fabbro is another Nashville prospect that is in the pipeline and is who is also making some noise. The two-way defenseman was drafted 17th overall in the 2016 draft after spending the previous two seasons in the BCHL. During his time with the Penticton Vees, Fabbro recorded 100 points in 89 games. Last season, Fabbro suited up for Boston University. While with the Terriers, he recorded 18 points in his first season playing in the NCAA. Fabbro also earned some valuable experience last season by being selected to represent Canada at the World Junior Championship.
At the Predators Prospect Camp that took place at the end of June, Fabbro impressed showing his reliability and versatility. Moving forward, the plan for the 19-year-old Fabbro is to continue to play at BU until he is deemed ready by the Predators organization to make the jump to the NHL. Ultimately, Fabbro is still a few years away.
One final prospect that looks promising for the Predators is Tyler Moy. Moy signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Predators in early April at the conclusion of his senior season at Harvard. In his final year at Harvard, Moy registered 22 goals and a team-high 45 points. After joining the Predators organization late in the season, Moy went on to play three games with the Admirals notching four points. Nashville’s sixth-round selection in 2015 will most likely begin next season in the AHL but could potentially see some NHL action if he fills the back of the net.
Best of the Rest
Other impressive prospects coming down the Predators pipeline are this year’s first round pick Eeli Tolvanen, QMJHL defenseman Samuel Girard, BU forward Patrick Harper and forward Yakov Trenin.
One issue that the Predators must address next season is the void left by James Neal on the second line. Neal was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft. The high scoring winger will not be easy to replace.
Last season, Neal had a very productive season, recording 23 goals and 18 points. With the departure of Neal to Vegas, the Predators are in need to find a top six winger that can score. Not only did Nashville lose Neal’s production on the wing, but they also traded away another winger in Colin Wilson. With both players removed from Nashville’s lineup next season, it is apparent that David Poile is in need of one, if not two offensive wingers. While they have some promising young players, Poile’s best option to fill the void may be through free agents who remain available.
Potential Free Agent Signings
In order to fill these possible holes, David Poile could target Jaromir Jagr. Although Jagr’s age might scare teams away, he would be a solid addition to the Preds. Not only is he still a reliable point producer that could fill the void on the second line, and would add other intangibles.
First of all, his postseason experience would be valuable to a club looking to make another playoff run. Also, Jagr’s experience and leadership can be put to use by mentoring many of Nashville’s younger forwards. Finally, Jagr would be an inexpensive addition to the team, and would easily fit into their cap. On a one-year deal, there would be little risk for the Predators with the potential for high reward.
One other potential UFA David Poile could consider is Thomas Vanek. Last year he notched 48 points in 68 games with Detroit and Florida. At the age of 33, Vanek has continued to prove that he can contribute offensively. If Poile feels more comfortable signing a younger player than Jagr at a reasonable cap hit, Vanek should be considered.
In the end, it is evident that the Nashville Predators roster is continuing to trend in the right direction. With the additions of Emelin and Bonino, the team will definitely be competitive again next season, and with a couple more additions, could be considered Stanley Cup favourites. Not only should Nashville fans be happy with their current situation but should also be hopeful for the future. The future of their organization looks bright with many talented roster players and prospects.