Predators training camp preview

By Russell Luna

The Nashville Predators may have found the final piece of the puzzle to go deeper into playoffs in 2006-07 with the acquisition of free agents of big time stars Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont. However, the team lost a couple of players (Scott Walker and Greg Johnson) who were essential to the team’s progress over the past couple of years. The losses of several veterans will give the opportunity for the franchise’s prospects to make the team’s opening day roster on Oct. 5.

Stepping it up

It’s just a matter of time before forward Alexander Radulov gets the call to the NHL. Radulov could make an immediate impact with the team’s lack of depth in the right wing position. Radulov scored 61 goals in 62 games while also adding 92 assists last season for Quebec in the QMJHL.

Right wing Scottie Upshall will look to fight for a spot on the Predators roster. Last season, Upshall played in 48 games with the team, while scoring eight goals. One thing the organization will be keeping an eye one will be Upshall’s ability to maintain his maturity. If Upshall can calm his emotions and step up the intensity on ice, he has a good shot of making the opening day roster.

Defenseman Shea Weber, who played in 28 games with the team last season, is expected to get more extensive playing time during the preseason stretch and most likely will be in a Predators uniform come opening night versus Chicago.

Although the Predators have two of the best goaltenders in the league with Tomas Vokoun and Chris Mason, Barry Trotz can rest easy knowing he has a solid option coming up in young Finnish star Pekka Rinne. Rinne will miss the beginning of the season, however, due to shoulder surgery.

When he returns, the Predators will keep a close eye on the 24-year-old prospect who finished the season last year in Milwaukee with a .904 saving percentage.

Offseason moves

The Predators signed 2005 Entry Draft selection Cody Franson to a multi-year contract. The 19-year-old right defenseman finished third in points last season in the WHL with 55 for the league-champion Vancouver Giants.

The acquisitions of forwards Pat Leahy and Shane Endicott are signs that the organization is looking to challenge incumbents Vernon Fiddler, Jerred Smithson, Darcy Hordichuck, and Martin Erat. Despite playing with experience, Fiddler had several severe cold slumps during the season. Not to mention the visible disappearance of the offense during the Predators fall in the playoffs to San Jose last season. The addition of these prospects should increase the depth in the forward position.

Nashville has brought in experienced defensemen Alex Henry and Nolan Yonkman to challenge a Dan Hamhuis and Mark Zidlicky. While both Hamhuis and Zidlicky had shining moments last season, their breakdowns in defense and shots allowed on goal were big concerns for the Predators midway through the season. The loss of Danny Markov and the ongoing contract dispute with Hamhuis could result in possible playing time for Henry, who spent the entire 2005-06 season in Minnesota. Yonkman may also get a shot after splitting time between Washington and Hershey (AHL).

Preseason schedule

SundaySept. 17at Columbus Blue Jackets Nationwide Arena5:00 PM
ThursdaySept. 21vs Columbus Blue Jackets(Memphis, Tenn.) 7:00 PM
FridaySept. 22at Carolina HurricanesRBC Center6:00 PM
SaturdaySept. 23vs Carolina HurricanesGEC7:00 PM
FridaySept. 29at Atlanta ThrashersPhilips Arena6:00 PM
SaturdaySept. 30vs Atlanta ThrashersGEC7:00 PM

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