NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The confident Predators are back at work feeling they’ve proven Nashville isn’t a one and done franchise anymore.
“You have to be happy, you can’t be satisfied, but you can be happy knowing that we can win,” defenceman Ryan Suter said Friday. “Hopefully this year is another step in the right direction.”
The Predators opened training camp Friday with hopes of building on that success and advancing even further. They had physicals and testing Friday and take the ice for their first official on-ice practice Saturday.
They have qualified for the playoffs six of the last seven seasons and finally broke through to the Western Conference semifinals last spring. The Predators ousted the Anaheim Ducks before falling to eventual Western champion Vancouver in six games.
Nashville overhauled its roster during the off-season and several jobs are available for the taking.
The Predators said farewell to several players that have called Nashville home for several years. Up front, Steve Sullivan, J.P. Dumont, Joel Ward, and Marcel Goc left while defencemen Shane O’Brien and Cody Franson will be in Colorado and Toronto respectively this season.
Despite all of the departures, Nashville still has its top three with captain Shea Weber and Suter along with goaltender Pekka Rinne. Weber finished a close second to Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom in the voting for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenceman. Rinne was second to Boston’s Tim Thomas for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender. The six-foot-five Finn came in fourth in the voting for the Hart Trophy as well.
Nashville was fairly quiet in the free agent market this summer, signing forward Niclas Bergfors as well as defencemen Jack Hillen and Tyler Sloan. Hillen and Sloan will compete for jobs at the NHL level with several top defensive prospects from Nashville’s system. Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm all will challenge to make the Nashville roster out of training camp.
“There are really some good battles that I look at,” coach Barry Trotz said. “On defence, there are six or seven guys that can play for us with three spots open.
“Up front is probably the most difficult task. There are a lot of players that can play on our hockey team. There is a lot more competition for jobs than there has been in the past.”
Rookie forward Craig Smith is off to a fast start to his professional career and could find a spot on the opening night roster. Smith, who left the University of Wisconsin after his sophomore year, scored six goals and added one assist in two rookie games played against the Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning earlier this week.
The Predators play the first of eight pre-season games Monday in Florida with a pair of games against the Panthers. The rare doubleheader is the first in Nashville franchise history.