Following the 2006-07 season, which featured an untimely playoff departure in the first round, the complexion of the Predators roster changed significantly.
Veteran goaltender Tomas Vokoun is gone, as is forward Paul Kariya. Expensive rental Peter Forsberg has also departed. Defenseman Kimo Timmonen and forward Scott Hartnell were traded. Although the club signed a handful of free agents, there are up-and-comers in the organization who are certain to get a long look this fall.
Chris Mason takes over the starting reins, with Pekka Rinne as the likely backup. Behind Rinne are 27-year-old Dan Ellis, prospects Maxime Daigneault, who played in Hershey (AHL) last season and Dov Grumet-Morris who began last season in Cincinnati (ECHL) and the bounced around with three teams in the AHL. Jeremy Smith, drafted in the second round last June, will attend his first professional training camp.
The Predators stable of young defensemen has arguably been the envy of the entire NHL over the past few years. The club has drafted and developed blue-chipper Dan Hamuis, while last season saw the emergence of both Ryan Suter and Shea Weber on the backend.
With Kevin Klein about ready for prime time and Cody Franson signed, the future continues to look bright. Klein played last season in Milwaukee and saw some NHL playing time as well. He is likely the best bet to stay in Nashville to start the season. Franson, who is probably destined to begin with Milwaukee, has been to the last two Memorial Cups as a member of the Vancouver Giants. If there is credence to the notion that your best defense is a good offense, Franson has to be considered defensively responsible.
Jonathon Blum, the Predators first-round pick at the entry draft in July, will get his first taste of NHL training camp. Blum, a California native, played alongside Franson on occasion in Vancouver last year.
Up front, there should be room for an emerging rookie or two. Exactly who that might be could be one of the Preds most pleasant training camp surprises.
Down the middle, Cal O’Reilly is an efficient playmaker who spent his first pro season in Milwaukee. The Preds have five centers at camp with extensive NHL experience, so the Toronto-born O’Reilly may find himself playing the waiting game while continuing to develop in Milwaukee.
With Steve Sullivan expected to miss the first half of the season, somebody among the other 11 left wingers in camp has an opportunity to distinguish himself. John Vigilante and Kelsey Wilson both spent last season with the Admirals and will get a good look, along with Rich Peverley. Vigilante overcame a nasty hand injury during his final year in the OHL and earned a job in the AHL last year. The Dearborn, Michigan native is a steady, offensive-minded forward. Wilson needs time to develop and will continue to benefit from a patient Predators’ organization.
Antii Philstrom (Sweden) and Oliver Setzinger (Austria) will be in camp. Setzinger’s presence may be as much relief as anticipation as the Preds have waited patiently for the 6′, 190-pounder to cross the ocean. Victor Sjodin (Sweden) of the Portland Winter Hawks and Mark Santorelli of the Chillliwack Bruins are WHL forwards the Preds will look at this month, although both are likely to play at the junior level this season. Santorelli was drafted in the fourth round last June.
On the right wing, the Preds perhaps lack depth behind Alexander Radulov, J.P. Dumont and Jordin Tootoo. There is hope that Patric Hornqvist (Sweden) will make an impression offensively at camp although he will return to Sweden for at least one more year with Djurgarden. Another Swede, Andreas Thuresson will be in camp. The Preds can only hope for a breakout performance at training camp by American Ryan Maki, who saw some ice time in Milwaukee after his days at Harvard.
With the off-season uncertainty regarding the location of the franchise perhaps overshadowing the outstanding regular season play of the Predators, all involved are likely pleased to get back to playing hockey. The Predators will sport a new look this season with the addition of free-agent veterans Martin Gelinas, Radek Bonk and Greg deVries in the lineup.
All tolled, there are likely three or four spots on the roster up for grabs. Look for Klein on the blue line to have an impact along with Stehlik. Up front, where it is most likely a new recruit or two will emerge, a few of last year’s Admirals will battle for third and fourth line spots.
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