The Predators are looking to get back to the playoffs this season, and expected to join them are a number of prospects.
Among the things to look for entering camp is how the Predators plan to deal with the loss of talented winger Alexander Radulov, who is playing in Russia. Because the Predators made no moves this offseason to replace Radulov, there will be an intense competition from within the organization to fill his void.
The obvious strong point of the organization, the Predators blue line looks stronger than ever. By re-signing the defensive duo of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter to long-term deals, the Predators remain one of the more talented teams in the Western conference at that position.
Joining them could be young guns who either have little or no experience at the NHL level. Twenty-six-year-old Ville Koistinen, who saw 48 games with the team last season, looks to be the fifth defenseman and power play specialist. The final spot is where it could get really tricky. The initial thinking is that it will be 23-year-old Kevin Klein, who has paid his dues and is ready to make the final jump. But that will all depend on how the suddenly emerging Alexander Sulzer, 24, and talented Cody Franson, 21, do in camp. If either one can show they have what it takes, they could take the spot.
As mentioned, the biggest question going into this season is how the Predators are going to deal with the loss of Radulov. All signs point to the team having to move forward without him.
The candidate most likely to take his position is the 21-year-old Swedish winger Patric Hornqvist. In only 53 games last year in the Swedish Elite League, Hornqvist knocked in 18 goals and 12 assists. A very instinctive player with a good nose for the net, Hornqvist is someone who many scouts see as a 25-goal scorer in the NHL.
Another potential candidate is Winger Ryan Jones, who was acquired this past season from the Minnesota Wild. Jones recently finished up his fourth year at Miami of Ohio, and looks as polished as any player coming out of college. If he can prove to take the pounding at the next level, Jones will be a player to watch next year in Nashville.
The final candidate to possibly crack the Nashville roster is 23-year-old Antti Pihlstrom, who saw only one game with the Predators last year. Pihlstrom is a lightning fast skater who has a good toughness to his game. Judging by the strong performances of Jones and Hornqvist this past year, Pihlstrom could be the odd man out this year, but could always be one injury away from joining the team at any point.
Another position that looks to be set going into the season is goal. Incumbent starter Dan Ellis is coming off an impressive campaign last year, and goalie Pekka Rinne looks to be solidly in place as the No. 2. He posted a 36-24-3 record last season in Milwaukee. The prospects joining them in camp will include this past year’s first-round draft pick, Chet Pickard, who will most likely be sent back to his junior team. The call-up goalie for this year remains to be seen, but it looks as if 22-year-old rookie Mark Dekanich and 25-year-old Drew MacIntyre will battle it out for that spot. Expect both to start the season in Milwaukee.
The preseason opens up for the Predators this Friday, Sept. 19 at the Centennial Sportsplex in Nashville. They open up with two rookie games on the 22nd and 23rd versus the Atlanta Thrashers at home and wrap up the preseason with a visit to Raleigh, NC to take on the Carolina Hurricanes.
Predators Pre-season Schedule
Thu September 25th vs. Atlanta
Fri September 26th at Columbus
Sat September 27th vs. Columbus
Thu October 2nd vs. Carolina
Fri October 3rd at Atlanta
Sun October 5th at Carolina