Are you ready? We’re back to the 82-game regular season format, which means more joy and also more pain. It’s a roller coaster of emotions every season because there are always surprises, and the good ones can make us feel like geniuses while the bad ones feel like belly flopping into an empty pool.
But we’re all gluttons for punishment, so we might as well stay as informed as we can to later rationalize why the fantasy hockey gods hate you. Yes, they specifically hate you.
2021-22 Fantasy Outlook: Nashville Predators
Last season: It’s been nearly a quarter of a century with David Poile as GM, and though they’ve been consistently competitive and reached the Finals in 2017, it’s about time we wonder if there needs to be a new voice in the room. After hemming and hawing over a few big trades to shake up their core leading up the deadline, the Preds ended up holding fast and narrowly made the playoffs thanks to Juuse Saros’ strong play down the stretch, only to suffer another first-round exit for the third straight season. Always known to be a strong defensive team, the Preds are now stuck in the same situation that has plagued them for most of their history: a lack of high-end offensive talent and an inability to score goals. Keeping his promise to shake up the roster, Poile made a few big trades this summer, but what was most surprising were the players he ended up parting with – well-respected veterans Ryan Ellis and Viktor Arvidsson – and it remains to be seen if the team has actually improved. Top forward Filip Forsberg is slated to be an UFA next summer, which means Poile may not be done re-working his squad.
Best option: Roman Josi, D
The Preds captain is an elite fantasy defenseman partly because he has been remarkably consistent despite some challenges. Josi led them in points (33), assists (25) and TOI/GP (24:21), and that was a down season for him, finishing with a minus-11 rating and placing only 14th in Norris voting, his lowest finish in seven seasons. He is one of the most valuable players not just on the Preds, but also at his position across the league; over the past five seasons, Josi ranks fourth in points (256), third in even-strength points (165), fifth in power-play goals (21), second in shots (1,145) and seventh in TOI/GP (25:00). It’s a little unfortunate that his supporting cast is rather weak, especially with the loss of his long-time partner Ellis, and only has one reliable top-six forward to play with in Forsberg. Still, considering Josi’s usage, he’s going to keep playing the same role – if not bigger – for the Preds, especially on offense where he’s given a lot of free reign. The drawback is his relatively weak supporting cast, and that may end up what makes him a top-10 fantasy defenseman rather than one firmly in the top five. His 57 points projected by THN’s Pool Guide is expected to lead the Preds in scoring for the third straight season.
Hidden gem: Eeli Tolvanen, LW/RW
For a team that’s called the Predators, their offense really lacks bite. Enter Tolvanen, the 22-year-old winger whom we’ve heard so much about after he was drafted 30th overall in 2017, a gold-medal winner at both the U-18 and U-20 World Juniors, and known for his accurate, powerful shot, leading Jokerit with 19 goals as an 18-year-old rookie in the KHL. His arrival in North America was going to be the hottest thing in Smashville outside the hot chicken sandwich, but Tolvanen couldn’t crack the lineup – the Preds were at their peak with 53 wins in 2017-18 and 47 wins in 2018-19 – and ended up toiling in the AHL for two seasons.
Flash forward to two seasons later, and Tolvanen has a fantastic opportunity to make a big leap forward in his development, who will likely play opposite Forsberg on the top line and on the top power-play unit, as he did for most of last season. His underlying numbers are pretty encouraging, even if the sample size is a little small, and should easily improve on his 11-goal rookie campaign last season. THN’s Pool Guide is projecting Tolvanen to score 40 points, third among forwards behind Forsberg and Mikael Granlund, but depending on linemates and usage could exceed that total.
Goalies: It was a tale of two seasons for Saros, who ranked 51st out of 75 goalies with a .898 Sv% in January and February, but sixth out of 95 goalies with a .939 Sv% for the remainder of the season. He ended up ranking first with 24.64 5v5 GSAA and sixth with a .868 Sv% in 5v5 high-danger areas, according to naturalstattrick.com, both of which indicate it was mostly his individual performance and not an improved defense. His poor start nearly sank the Preds’ playoff hopes, but after his turnaround, arguably no goalie was better than Saros and he looked ready to take over Pekka Rinne’s mantle.
Saros will face little competition for the starting job with David Rittich as his backup, though it should be mentioned that the Preds defense – which is counting on the 24-year-old Philippe Myers to replace a 10-year veteran in Ellis and hoping Dante Fabbro, Alexandre Carrier and David Farrance exceed expectations – seems weaker on paper. They had already struggled for most of last season, ranking 29th on the PK and allowing 31.3 shots per game, the eighth-most in the league. Goaltending is already a precarious position with very few gems, but in terms of ability, Saros is certainly among the handful of goalies in the tier below Andrei Vasilevskiy and Connor Hellebuyck.
Outlook: It’s going to be tough to rack up the wins but there’s always a chance the Preds could get hot as they did at the end of last season. Managers looking for scoring options are better off finding solutions elsewhere, and even in the best-case scenarios it’s difficult to envision Forsberg or any other forward scoring more than 60 points, especially considering their lack of reliable playmaking centers. When it comes to upside, though, Cody Glass will be interesting to watch, especially if Matt Duchene plays on the wing, leaving the No. 2 center spot up for grabs. But asides from Saros, the gems will be on defense as usual with Josi as the best option, and perhaps Mattias Ekholm, Fabbro and Carrier will carry some fantasy value, depending on their deployment and involvement on the power play.