Predators season preview

By Brian Roe

The Nashville Predators are entering the decisive “fourth” year of the three to
five year plan that GM David Poile set for the team. Expectations are
high and this should be the season the Preds finally break the top 8 in
the Western Conference.

This is the season for David Legwand. All the pieces are falling into
place, all the blurs are starting to become clear, and all of Nashville
is waiting on the 21-year old center to make his move. Legwand spent
the summer working with a personal hockey trainer, a man who has worked
with several high profile NHL players including Chris Progner, Martin
Lapointe, and others. Last season Legwand showed flashes of brilliance
with highlights including – the first overtime penalty shot goal in NHL
history, posted plus-or-even rating in 61 of the 81 games that he played
in, recorded another overtime game winning goal in March against
Phoenix, and posted 41 points (compared to the 28 from the season
before). Legwand is entering his third full season in the NHL and if
the Preds hope to make the playoffs this year, he is expected to carry a
large part of the load.

The 2001-02 Predators are a lot like the 2000-01 Predators, but
they are also a whole lot different as well. The Preds were fairly
quiet compared to other teams in the Western Conference, however, there
are some new faces on the Preds and there will be some different looks
from this team this year, as well.

The goaltenders: Mike Dunham had a career year last season posting
numbers such as – 2.28 GAA, 21 wins, 4 shutouts, and a .923 saving
percentage. Dunham is hoping this is the season that he plays injury
free; he missed 20 games last season due to injury. The task will not
come easily, though, for Dunham as he is slated as one of the
goaltenders to represent the U.S.A. in the 2002 Olympic games.

Luckily
for the Preds, Tomas Vokoun serves as one of the best backup goaltenders
in the NHL. Vokoun posted a 2.44 GAA, 13 wins, and 2 shutouts last
season in relief duty. Vokoun could become trade bait if Dunham stays
healthy and Mason, Lasak, or Finley can solidify a game worthy of being
an NHL backup goalie. Several teams would be interested if the Preds
put Vokoun up for grabs, and the Preds would consider trading Vokoun if
they got a goal-scoring winger in return.

The defense. The other strength of the Predators is the consistent
play of their defense. Nashville prides itself in low scoring, high
hitting games – and if the Preds want to make the playoffs this year,
the defense needs to come up huge.

Speaking of huge, the Nashville
defense has gotten suspiciously larger compared to the Bouchard,
Boughner, and Millar days of expansion. Cale Hulse and Pavel Skrebek
each stand at 6’3, Bill Houlder and Mark Eaton are both 6-2, and Marc
Moro, Karlis Skrastins, and Andy Delmore all stand at 6-1. With all of
this size around, the Preds are going to rely heavily on Kimo Timonen to
supply adequate offensive output. Timonen, though 5’10, is probably the
biggest part of the Predator blue line. Nashville is hoping he can
improve upon his 12 goals and 12 assists last season, and lead the
Predator power play.

Cale Hulse, Timonen’s defensive pair last season,
will be out at least the first six weeks of the season. Barry Trotz is
planning on using these defensive pairings: Skrastins/Timonen,
Eaton/Delmore, and Houlder with either Moro or Skrbek.

The offense: The glue of the Nashville offense is Cliff Ronning, but
the action will revolve around David Legwand and Scott Walker. The
Preds are hoping Walker can become a consistent 25-goals-a-year winger.
Captain Fitzgerald will be starting the season as the checking line
center, playing at his side are newly acquired Stu Grimson
(6-5, 227) and another new face Vladimir Orszagh.

Orszagh, 23, was
signed in July from the Swiss Elite League. He is expected to add some
spice to the usually dull Nashville offense. Legwand has been seen in
the pre-season centering the top offensive line with Cliff Ronning on
his left and Scott Walker or Patric Kjellberg on his right. Greg
Johnson and Denis Arkhipov are the other two center men for the Preds.
On their wings are the usual suspects Marian Cisar, Scott Hartnell, and
Vitali Yachmenev.

And joining the group of wingers is 20-year-old
Martin Erat. Erat has been the surprise of training camp in Nashville
and has a whole lot of people excited. He beat out several prospects
and veterans for a slot as a left winger in Nashville. Keep your eye on
this rookie as he develops at the pro level.