The Nashville Predators effectively stood pat with their lineup last season – and ended up further from winning a title than they’d been in some time. In the wake of a first-round playoff loss to the Dallas Stars – the first time in four years Nashville failed to win a round – GM David Poile returned to what made his team a competitor in the first place. He made a deal.
Poile’s decision to trade P.K. Subban was different than other big moves in recent years because he did not get a proven player in return – not immediately, at least – such as when he shipped off Patric Hornqvist (James Neal), Shea Weber (Subban) and Seth Jones (Ryan Johansen). Sending Subban to New Jersey in exchange for two second-round draft picks and two defense prospects did, however, achieve its purpose: freeing up the necessary cap space to sign dynamic offensive center Matt Duchene, in a move designed to juice the offense. Duchene’s 70 points last season would’ve led the Preds.
The Predators have a bona fide first line with Johansen between Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg. Among players who appeared in at least 50 games last season, Arvidsson ranked third with an average of 0.59 goals per game. Johansen had a career-high 50 assists.
Duchene will be the second-line center with the idea he can revive Craig Smith and Mikael Granlund, two players whose offensive numbers dipped in 2018-19.
It’s unclear where Kyle Turris fits into the picture and what he can deliver after a forgettable season (23 points in 55 games) and two straight disappointing playoff performances. He was supposed to have solved the second-line center issue two years ago, but now he’s firmly behind Johansen and Duchene.
After three seasons together, the top-four defense group of Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm has been broken up. The remaining three can all move the puck, but none offer an intimidating physical presence or the ability to lock up opposing forwards during puck battles in the defensive end.
Josi has finished in the top seven in Norris Trophy voting four times in the past five seasons, yet somehow remains underappreciated. He has been the team’s most consistent blueliner with an average of 55 points over the past five seasons and 12 to 15 goals in six straight years.
Based on 10 NHL games (six in the playoffs) after his college season ended, Dante Fabbro, a first-round pick in 2016, will step into Subban’s spot.
Pekka Rinne starts a two-year contract that he expects will be his last. At 36, he shows few signs of slowing, as the coaching staff continues to manage his workload. His starts have decreased in each of the past four seasons. Backup Juuse Saros also has two years remaining on his deal and is a more than adequate backup for Rinne, despite a dip in his save percentage last season.
The Preds’ power play last year was the franchise’s worst since 1998-99 – their expansion season. Management was not willing to dismiss the dismal performance as a statistical outlier after three straight seasons in which the PP converted at least 19 percent of the time. Dan Lambert was hired as a third assistant coach (a first for the franchise) and his primary role is to provide a fresh perspective for the power play. Duchene’s creativity will be a fixture.
Despite appearing in a career-low 63 contests and scoring a career-low 31 points last season, the Preds lose more than production from Subban’s departure – his presence and personality factor into any dressing room he enters. Duchene’s star status and affable demeanor will make him a magnet in the room.
Fabbro quickly earned the trust of coaches and teammates with his brief stint immediately after he turned pro, and he’ll play a significant role as a rookie. Eeli Tolvanen (30th overall in 2017) has not done the same in seven NHL appearances over the past two seasons, which means he’ll likely start – and possibly finish – another season in the AHL.
Nashville has to learn to win when it is the team to beat. The Preds finished first in the Central Division the past two seasons (the first to do so since Detroit in 2007-08 and ’08-09), yet have won just two of their past seven home playoff games.
Before the Predators, coach Peter Laviolette had never spent five full seasons in charge of a team. This will be his sixth year in Nashville. The consistency of his stylistic approach is a plus for the group.
– David Boclair
Stanley Cup Odds: 18/1
Prediction: 1st in Central
The future is knocking in Nashville, where winger Eeli Tolvanen and defenseman Dante Fabbro will get the chance to make an impact on the reworked roster. The Preds have a lot of prospects developing in the NCAA, though their first pick in 2019 comes from the OHL. Philip Tomasino really has a chance to shine in Niagara this year. Fast, smart and determined, Tomasino ended his draft campaign strongly by putting up nearly a point per game for Canada at the world under-18s.
1. Eeli Tolvanen, RW
Age 20 Team Milwaukee (AHL)
Production didn’t match the talent last year, but he still found ways to contribute without the puck.
Acquired 30th overall, 2017 NHL ’19-20
2. Dante Fabbro, D
Age 21 Team Boston University (HE)
Adept puck-mover can really shoot. Captained his team as a junior and played tough minutes.
Acquired 17th overall, 2016 NHL ’19-20
3. Philip Tomasino, C
Age 18 Team Niagara (OHL)
Elusive and crafty with the puck. He has good smarts, speed and hockey sense. Needs bulk.
Acquired 24th overall, 2019 NHL ’21-22
4. Rem Pitlick, C
Age 22 Team Minnesota (Big Ten)
Left NCAA after breakthrough junior year. Loves to shoot and is a feisty competitor.
Acquired 76th overall, 2016 NHL ’20-21
5. Alexandre Carrier, D
Age 22 Team Milwaukee (AHL)
Skating and Preds’ deep NHL blueline are holding back all-around D-man from next step.
Acquired 115th overall, 2015 NHL ’20-21
6. Frederic Allard, D
Age 21 Team Milwaukee (AHL)
Has a good offensive mind and picks his spots when to jump into the rush well.
Acquired 78th overall, 2016 NHL ’21-22
7. Egor Afanasyev, RW
Age 18 Team Muskegon (USHL)
Big body with a big personality. He uses his strong frame well. Bound for OHL Windsor.
Acquired 45th overall, 2019 NHL ’22-23
8. Connor Ingram, G
Age 22 Team Syracuse (AHL)
Productive year as a pro, and he’s determined to improve. Good movement and positioning.
Acquired From TB, June, 2019 NHL ’21-22
9. Anthony Richard, LW
Age 22 Team Milwaukee (AHL)
Size and speed not quite there yet, but his ability to score is always going to be useful.
Acquired 100th overall, 2015 NHL ’21-22
10. Jachym Kondelik, C
Age 19 Team Connecticut (HE)
Huge, all-around sophomore has displayed soft hands. Still needs to work on his skating.
Acquired 111th overall, 2018 NHL ’22-23