Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2019-20, where Last Word on Hockey 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 2019-20 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Our series continues with the 2019-20 Nashville Predators.
2019-20 Nashville Predators Preview
The Predators picked up their second straight Central Division title that came down to the final week. Nashville was trying to overcome the sting of losing a hard-fought Western Conference semifinal series against the Winnipeg Jets.
The defence and goaltending of Pekka Rinne were solid as always, but the team lacked offensive punch. The “JoFA” line of Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson were relied on heavily to score goals. However, secondary and depth scoring was missing.
There were also some offensive struggles with defencemen like Ryan Ellis. That lack of scoring cost them in the first-round series against the Dallas Stars, who eliminated the Predators in six games. Dallas’ defence showed up the Nashville blueliners en route to the series victory.
General manager David Poile decided to shake up his team once again, as he did after a few seasons ago. He dealt defenceman P.K. Subban to the New Jersey Devils in order to make room for another offensive player. It seemed like a risk, but Poile got his man in Matt Duchene.
He’ll immediately help on the power play and be a good second-line centre. Nashville also got Steve Santini and Jeremy Davies as part of the Subban deal.
1- 24 Philip Tomasino
2-45 Egor Afanasyev
3-65 Alexander Campbell
4- 109 Marc Del Gaizo
4-117 Semyon Chystyakov
5-148 Ethan Haider
6-179 Isak Walther
7-210 Juuso Parssinen
Filip Forsberg-Ryan Johansen-Viktor Arvidsson
Rocco Grimaldi-Colton Sissons-Austin Watson
The JoFA line was the standard for the Predators and provided most of the scoring for the team. Forsberg and Arvidsson did miss parts of the season with injuries. They faced the toughest matchups and still did a good job despite that.
There will be a temptation to move Duchene to the top line if Johansen struggles. Duchene would be a capable first-line pivot, but the Predators would love to keep the JoFA line together.
Duchene was picked up to be a good secondary centre, but Turris is also capable of playing centre. However, he struggled last season and there were talks of moving him. Turris did rebound with a solid IIHF World Championships for Team Canada. Head coach Peter Laviolette will give him a chance to see if he can still be a viable second-line option.
Granlund came over at the trade deadline from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Kevin Fiala. The Finn scored only once in 16 regular-season games and only once in the post-season. Hopefully, he can bounce back and be a regular middle-six winger.
Bonino anchors the third line in these projections as Turris will get a shot to develop chemistry with Duchene. The Hartford, Conn. Native scored 17 goals for the team and that would be very solid for a third-line pivot.
Smith comes into the final year of his contract looking to get himself another mid to long-term deal. He makes $4.25 million and netted 21 goals and 17 assists last season. There are players like Tolvanen trying to get a spot on the team. Smith will want to put together a great season to solidify his place on a new team.
Jarnkrok is a very underrated player that does a lot of little things right. He’s an excellent team player and is the perfect complimentary teammate.
This is one of the better fourth-liners in the league. Sissons may have a long-term deal and he’s more than earned it. He’s come in with very timely goals and is willing to go into the dirty areas to get pucks. The North Vancouver, British Columbia is an anchor in that bottom six.
Waston looks to be coming out the other side of a dark 2018-19 season. He was suspended and went through the league’s rehab program. The Ann Arbor, Mich. native was missed for defensive play and ability to chip in a goal or two when needed.
Grimaldi was the team’s leading goal-scorer in the playoffs with three. He worked his way up from the AHL and got a spot on the team. He’s a high-motor player that can what’s asked of him. The former University of North Dakota product wants a multi-year deal and a good season will help that.
Tolvanen is trying to justify all of that hype that had him burn an entry-level year two seasons ago. His career trajectory could be taking that of Forsberg, who put it together in his second and third season in North America.
Roman Josi-Ryan Ellis
Josi comes into the final year of a contract wanting a solidify a place as one of the league’s best defencemen. The Swiss blueliner has posted double-digit goals in every full season with the team and tied his career with 15 last season. Nashville’s captain will likely score that long-term deal, but wants a deep playoff run as well.
Ellis is trying to bounce back from a shaky last couple of seasons where he nine goals in 2017-18 and seven last season. He’s rounded into a better defensive player, but he needs to pick up his offence. The former Windsor Spitfire needs to step up this season.
Ekholm is another underrated defender that no one talks about. He’s one of the best-kept secrets in the league and a key player for the team. The Swede can pretty much play with anyone and adapt to his partner’s playing style. He’ll be the perfect tutor for his projected defence partner.
Fabbro comes in after a dynamite season at Boston University where he netted seven goals with the Terriers. He signed after the college season and he provided a goal in four regular-season games. His solid play may have made Poile readier to deal Subban. He’ll have some growing pains, but he does hold plenty of promise.
Hamhuis was Fabbro’s partner at the end of the season and during the playoffs. The veteran served as a solid mentor and a decent third-pair option. He won’t light up the scoreboard, but he’s a good depth player.
The last right-sided defender is harder to forecast as Santini, Weber and Irwin will try to earn that coveted spot. Irwin played a bit of forward last season when injuries hurt the team and can play with whoever he’s asked to. Weber is a veteran option and Santini spent parts of last season between AHL Binghamton and the big club. This battle will be one of the most watched in camp.
Rinne shook off a bad 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs and was solid. It wasn’t the Vezina Trophy winning year of 2018, but he kept the Predators in that opening round series against the Stars. He was one of the main reasons that Nashville hung around as long as they did.
Saros had a bit of a slump and yielded a 2.66 goals against average. He did manage a career-high 17 wins, but some would like him to take the next step. Many are counting on him to be the future in goal for the Predators. Rinne is locked up for a couple more seasons and the fans want Saros to be the unquestioned future in net.
Players to Watch
Poile manager to snag his coveted target for $8 million for the next seven seasons. There’ll be a world of expectations to be the answer on offence. Duchene has wanted to play in Nashville for a while and now he has a chance to make them a contender once again.
The former 2018 IIHF World Junior gold medalist has a lot of weight on him as he’s the man stepping in for Subban. He does have an exciting offensive game, but there may be that learning curve for him. Patience will be needed with him, but he will bear fruit.
Ellis is looking to bounce back after an injury-plagued 2017 and a lacklustre 2018. He does have plenty of offensive talent and won’t have to be the solution on defence. He is still an excellent power-play quarterback and will have plenty of chances to get back into the groove.
The Central Division will be a street fight with the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues, the improved Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks. Dallas and Winnipeg will also boast solid teams.
Nashville rounded depth scoring to the Cup final a few seasons ago and will need that again if it wants a return trip. The tools are there, but Duchene, Turris, Sissons and Smith will need to help the JoFA line out. Defence will also need to return to its point-scoring form to give hope to another deep run.
The Predators have a good shot at another Central crown and a deep playoff run. However, the Central is wide open.
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE – APRIL 20: Filip Forsberg #9 of the Nashville Predators congratulates teammate Ryan Johansen #92 on scoring a goal against the Dallas Stars during the second period of Game Five of the Western Conference First Round during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena on April 20, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)