The Nashville Predators kicked off training camp today–this time with everyone in person– for the first time in two years.

In what will be John Hynes’ first full training camp since the COVID-19 pandemic began, every returning veteran player (plus some new faces) was on site at Centennial Sportsplex to prepare for the first “normal” training camp in two years.

“It’s been a while since we’ve [done this],” Roman Josi told the media after the morning session. “I was actually telling our conditioning coach, we’ve done this for so many years and now we haven’t done it for two years. It’s fun for everyone, it’s great for everyone to have a little more normalcy.”

But normalcy is all relative.

While it may have felt normal to have players back in the building for on ice conditioning testing, and it feels normal to have a full slate of preseason games ahead of the team’s preparation for the 2021-22 season, there was plenty of “not normal” in the air at the first official day of Nashville Predators training camp.

The biggest of which was the absence of veterans Pekka Rinne, Ryan Ellis, Viktor Arvidsson, and Calle Jankrok.

“Yeah, it’s different,” Josi said. “All those guys. Peks, Elly, Calle, Viktor, they’ve been here for so many years. For me personally, since I’ve been here, I’ve always played with those guys. It’s definitely a little different not seeing them around. Like I said before, it’s part of the business. And it happens almost every year. But you definitely miss seeing those guys.”

Matt Duchene added that the personal relationships of having close teammates makes it even harder, even without considering the players’ abilities on the ice. However, like Josi, he knows it’s just a part of the business.

“Losing [Jarnkrok] and [Arvidsson], those were two of my closest friends on the team. But you get used to it. Over the course of your career, you get used to losing friends and teammates. It’s just part of what it is. But we are really happy to have the guys we have here now and we’re gonna move forward. There’s nothing but excitement for the season.”

No doubt the biggest loss, in terms of veteran presence, is the retirement of Pekka Rinne. It is impossible to replace such an important figure in the locker room, not to mention the quality of play Rinne brought to the team for 15 years.

‘”Yeah it’s tough,” Matt Duchene said after conditioning. “[Pekka] was probably the greatest Nashville Predator of all time. I was lucky to get a couple of years with him, but I know for the guys that have been here for longer, really feel that hole. But it’s a chance for other guys to step up.

As far as those “other guys”  Duchene is talking about, some candidates are more obvious than others. When it comes to the Nashville Predators starting goaltender for the 2021-22 season, there’s really only one option.

“A few of us had dinner with Peks last year and he kind of told us that he was gonna call it. He said it best, he said ‘It’s Juuse’s time.’ As much as I believe that Peks is probably retired still as a starting goaltender in the league, I think we all believe that, Juuse is a number one goalie in this league. Not just a number one, but one of the better number ones. There’s never a night that he’s in net that we aren’t completely confident in him. He looks great already, he’s made saves he shouldn’t make and he makes all the saves he should. He gives us a chance to win every night.”

Juuse Saros will enter the 2021-22 season the understood number one goaltender on the Preds. He finished 4th place in Hart Trophy voting last season after putting up 21 wins in only 35 starts, plus he finished the season with the 4th highest save percentage (.927) among starters.

The other open roles are less defined at the moment.

Ryan Ellis, who was traded to Philadelphia, was among the team’s best defensemen last season. Will Philippe Myers take over his top four spot? Or will Alex Carrier or David Farrance claim that spot in training camp?

Calle Jarnkrok was a productive, reliable “middle six” forward who played a number of roles on the Preds for eight seasons. Will newcomer Cody Glass step into that role? Or one of the younger, recent draft picks like Philip Tomasino or Rem Pitlick?

Then there’s Viktor Arvidsson. He’s now in Los Angeles, where a change of scenery could help him return to 30-goal scorer form. But for the Preds to replace his output, we will have to see another leap forward in the development of players like Eeli Tolvanen and Rocco Grimaldi.

John Hynes and the coaching staff will have six preseason games to see who rises to the occasion, starting this Sunday in Florida. Here’s the full slate of preseason matchups:

  • Sunday, September 26th @ Florida Panthers (two games: 1 PM & 5 PM)
  • Thursday, September 30th @ Tampa Bay Lightning (6 PM)
  • Saturday, October 2nd vs Tampa Bay Lightning (7 PM)
  • Tuesday, October 5th @ Carolina Hurricanes (6 PM)
  • Saturday, October 9th vs Carolina Hurricanes (3 PM)