The Nashville Predators begin their season tonight at Bridgestone Arena, hosting the expansion team Seattle Kraken at 7 p.m. to kick off a full 82-game season for the first time in two years.
And it’s been a LONG two years.
In that time, the Predators and their fans have had to deal with a coronavirus pandemic (that is still ongoing), a head coaching change, quality players being traded away, first round playoff exits, the retirement of the most popular player of all time, and countless other headaches.
The idea of normalcy– or at least a few months without major catastrophe– is probably reason enough to be optimistic about this upcoming Preds season.
But a lot of people are doubting this year will be much fun. Predictions and prognostications about this season by many major media outlets have the Predators finishing with their worst point total in nearly 20 years.
It’s true, there are a number of reasons to assume this Preds team will not be very good. As I mentioned, Pekka Rinne is no longer in town. Neither are Ryan Ellis, Viktor Arvidsson, or Calle Jarnkrok. The team has a pending contract showdown with their best offensive player, Filip Forsberg, though they were able to avoid one with Mattias Ekholm, signing him yesterday to a four year extension. Forsberg could be traded by the deadline, which would be a proverbial white flag on the season.
There are plenty of unproven young players who’ve seemingly earned starting spots on the roster. There is doubt about the depth of the defense, and maybe even a little about whether Juuse Saros can shoulder a full season of starting duties.
But with all that said, here’s why I am optimistic about the 2021-22 Nashville Predators season.
The Preds’ top line could be really good
Matt Duchene, Ryan Johansen, and Filip Forsberg were assembled as a line in earnest at the end of the regular season last year. Then they stayed together in the playoffs. They were excellent in the series, putting up four goals in six games against Carolina.
When you combine the total regular season and playoff minutes these three have spent together at 5-on-5 (roughly 87 minutes), you get magic:
- 52.0% shot attempt share
- 57.9% expected goals share
- 58.1% high danger attempt share
John Hynes kept these three together in the preseason, and they’ve put up the same numbers you see above (or even better). It stands to reason they will be together for the foreseeable future.
If that happens, that line will be fun to watch. Pretty soon, you’ll be saying “JOFA who?”
Stalwart pair in Josi, Saros
Did everyone just forget that the Preds have a Norris Trophy winner on their team? And one of the best young goalies in the game behind him?
Roman Josi didn’t just stumble into success in 2019-20. He’s been one of the best blueliners in the league for a while now. Since 2017, Roman Josi is 4th in scoring among all defensemen with 207 points, and he’s 5th in scoring since 2013.
Josi is an incredible talent to have, and he’s still in his prime at 31 years old. He will likely be the most consistent Preds skater on the ice every night, so that’s something to look forward to.
Then there’s Juuse Saros, the guy who finished with top three in both save percentage (.927) and goals saved above average (20.9) last year. Somehow he finished outside of the top three in Vezina Trophy voting, but he was the MVP of the Preds’ season and the only reason they made it into the playoffs.
Speaking of the Vezina Trophy…
Did you know that five of the last ten Vezina Trophy winners were between the ages of 26 and 28 when they won it? And did you know that Juuse Saros is 26 years old, turning 27 in April?
And did you know that Juuse Saros has the 5th best save percentage among all goalies with at least 100 games over the last three seasons? And the 5th most shutouts over that span as well, despite playing in much fewer games than the names ahead of him on the list?
Folks, it’s not unreasonable to assume Juuse Saros is a favorite to finish as a Vezina Trophy finalist. And watching him in preseason, he’s looked great.
So the Preds have potential Vezina Trophy and Norris Trophy finalists on their team. That’s reason to be optimistic.
A real Preds youth movement!
Fans have been shouting for a youth movement and it looks like they are getting some form of it. Their best forward prospect in years, Philip Tomasino, has made the opening night roster, and will likely make his debut on Thursday. The team also traded for 22-year old playmaking center Cody Glass, who will make his debut as well.
The return of Eeli Tolvanen, who finished with 11 goals and 11 assists in 40 games last year, will make fans happy. His presence on the power play is electric, and now he’s becoming a more well rounded player. I could see him scoring somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 goals this year, which would effectively replace Viktor Arvidsson’s production.
Then there’s everyone’s favorite fourth line tandem: Tanner Jeannot and Yakov Trenin.
— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) October 9, 2021
If you watched the Preds late last year, you noticed these two. They were the most consistently exciting forward pair on the team for weeks.
Now they are back and ready to roll. I anticipate they will be more like a traditional 3rd line, at times grabbing the minutes of whichever forward line is less effective ahead of them.
The NHL is a young man’s game right now. Though the Preds have recently been an older, more veteran team, (they were the 4th oldest team last year) the Preds have turned that around in one season:
Via the NHL, the #Preds start the 2021-22 season as the 6th youngest team in the League with an average age of 26.85.
— Brooks Bratten (@brooksbratten) October 12, 2021
The Nashville Predators are younger and faster. They’ve committed to “playing the kids” as people have been asking for (with some exceptions… the presence of Nick Cousins belies the point, which is fair) and they seem ready to develop a new “core” on the fly.
Considering the energized nature of this team, having turned over so much of the roster and ready to become “a tough team to play against” again, what’s not to be optimistic about?
— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —