Friday, August 17, 2018

Inside look at Nashville Predators

The Nashville Predators didn't make many offseason changes because they believe they already have the roster to compete for the Stanley Cup.
Nashville last season had 117 points and won its first Presidents' Trophy. After being eliminated by the Winnipeg Jets in the Western Conference Second Round, following a loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, the Predators believe they're on the cusp of winning the Cup for the first time.
"A lot of the players expressed to us in the team meeting that they really believed in our team," general manager David Poile said. "They loved our team. They thought our chemistry, our culture, was really good. 
"If I was trying to frame it correctly, basically I think what they were saying to the general manager and to the coach is they didn't want to see a lot of changes."
The Predators added defenseman Dan Hamhuis as a free agent to go along with arguably the best top-four defensmen in the NHL: P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm. Nashville helped solidify that group by signing Ellis to an eight-year, $50 million contract extension (average annual value $6.25 million) on Aug. 14.
Pekka Rinne, who won the Vezina Trophy as the top goaltender in the NHL last season, has one year remaining on his contract. He will turn 36 years old Nov. 3, but Nashville should be able to lighten his workload this season with backup Juuse Saros, who was 11-5-7 with a 2.45 goals-against average and .925 save percentage in 26 games (23 starts) last season.
Nashville's forward group is young and full of potential, led by the top line of Filip Forsberg, 24, Ryan Johansen, 26, and Viktor Arvidsson, 25. 
"We've got such a special group here, and we're so close and everyone is pretty similar in age," Johansen said. "Man, the contracts are all set up very well where we're together for a few years. There's no better time to be in Nashville right now as a player. 
"It's very exciting to be a part of this group and just the people that we're lucky enough to be surrounded with every day going on the ice and off the ice in all areas of a game and a season and playoffs. We've got a special thing going on here, and we've got to keep believing that and keep our focus on the big picture and do our best to bring a Stanley Cup to Nashville."
Most of the forwards will be the same as last season, but highly touted prospect Eeli Tolvanen, 19, could challenge for a roster spot out of training camp. Tolvanen, the No. 30 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, had 36 points (19 goals, 17 points) in 49 games for Jokerit of the Kontinental Hockey League last season, setting KHL records for a player 19 and younger.
If Tolvanen makes the Predators, it could push either Kevin Fiala or Craig Smith off the second line with center Kyle Turris, and down to the third line with center Nick Bonino. 
Most of the Predators roster has the experience of a Cup Final and winning the Presidents' Trophy. Their goal this season will be reaching the pinnacle of the NHL.
"There are times in a season, and we've seen good teams do it, when we have to know when we need to, individually and as a team, elevate our games and be better," Subban said. "And understand that even if there is a tomorrow, there is no tomorrow in the playoffs. It's today, and it's now. Because just like that, it's over. That's how it works. That's how it is. I think we also have young players and a young team and we're learning, including myself. I'm still learning."
Nashville should be among the favorites to win the Central Division but will need a boost from some of its younger players.
"Our core is still pretty young," Josi said. "We have the team to win, and obviously it's a long ride, but I feel really a lot of confidence about our team going forward."

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