The 2016-2017 NHL season was the franchises most successful since joining the league in 1998. After sweeping the number one-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs, the team went on to make it to the Finals before losing to Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. This is a team that last season had a lot of drive and a lot of heart. In our Nashville Predators 2017-2018 Season Preview the team will be examined to see if they can take the final step and etch their names on the Cup.
The Predators are arguably one the teams that got hit the hardest by the expansion draft this summer. The Vegas Golden Knights took the team’s sixth leading scorer in James Neal. Neal had the third most goals on the team last season but many young players look ready to take the leap to the NHL and help replace him. Pontus Aberg and Frederick Gaudreau both contributed for the Preds in the teams’ Cup run. Gaureau led the Preds in goals with three during their series against the Penguins. Aberg, Nashville’s second round pick in 2012, contributed five points during the playoff run, and both look ready to take on expanded roles with the team. Also look for Kevin Fiala to improve upon his 11 goals and 16 point totals from last season.
The main offense is likely to come from a combination of Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson, and Filip Forsberg. Arvidsson and Forsberg finished the season tied for the team lead in goals with 31 apiece, while Johansen tied Arvidsson for the most points. Johansen’s goal totals could also look be increased this season. The playmaking center tallied 14 last season, while in his prior two full-seasons (not counting the 2015-2016 where he was injured), he scored 26 and 33 goals respectively.
Also in the forward department, Mike Fisher decided to hang up the skates after a 17-year NHL career. The fill the second line center position that Fisher left vacated, the team signed two-time Stanley Cup Champion Nick Bonino. Bonino spent the last two season helping the Penguins win a couple of Cups, while putting up 37 points last year and should fill this role nicely.
The Predators might have the best group of defensemen in the entire league. The team has five blueliners who averaged more than 20 minutes of ice time per game in 2016-2017. Both Roman Josi and PK Subban are all-star caliber players and among the best in the game at their position. Josi led the team’s D-corps in points with 49 last season while the dynamic Subban finished second among Nashville defensemen with 40 points despite only playing 66 games due to an upper body injury.
They are joined by Ryan Ellis and Matias Ekholm, both of who played over 23 minutes per game last season. The newly acquired Alexi Emelin is the fifth D-man on the Preds team that played in a top 4 role last season. Emelin was traded to Nashville after being taken by Vegas in the expansion draft and he should bring a physical presence to line up. Last season the Russian finish ninth in the league for hits with 241 in 76 games played.
Nashville’s crease is manned by the Finnish Pekka Rinne. Rinne had a stellar first three rounds of the playoffs last season, but was streaky in the Cup Final. Rinne has the talent of an elite goaltender, and has shown that for much of his career. He tends to be one of the streakier netminders in the league. Last season Rinne finished the regular season with a .918 save percentage, although when broken down monthly between November and March, the streakiness becomes very apparent. Between this period this stat went from .949 in November, to .875 in December. It then rebounded to .933 in January, but fell again to .888 in February. It then rose again to .920 in March. Depending on how his hot and cold streaks play out in the 2017-2018 season he could look like a Vezina caliber goaltender, or could let games slip away that he should win.
The backup role is likely to be filled by Jusse Saros. Saros had a great rookie season backing up Rinne in 2016-2017. The Finn recorded a .923 save percentage and 2.35 GAA in 21 games played. He could see more action this year based on Rinne’s play.
Nashville Predators 2017-2018 Season Preview: Overall Outlook
The Predators look ready to continue on the success they saw last season. Despite the losses of Neal and Fisher, the organization has young players who are ready to make an impact in the NHL full time. The Preds also have one of the best, if not the best, groups of defensemen in the league. Josi, Subban, Ellis, Ekholm, and Emelin all look to be key contributors. In net Rinne has the talent of an elite level netminder. If/when he has some cold streaks this year, the team has a very capable backup in Jusse Saros. Look for Nashville to have another great season in 2017-2018.
- Nashville might have the best group of defensemen in the NHL. They have a pair of potential all-stars on the blue line in Josi and Subban, as well as three great top four players in Ellis, Ekholm, and Emelin
- The offense will look to replace the production the James Neal will take with him after being selected by Vegas in the Expansion draft. Nashville has some prospects in Fiala, Aberg, and Gaudreau who may fill this void
- In net the team has an elite goaltender in Pekka Rinne. Back up Jusse Saros looks ready to hold down the fort if the starter has any cold streaks