The Nashville Predators are gearing up to win the Central Division for a third straight season and there’s every reason to believe they can do it. They strengthened their forward core this off-season, adding Matt Duchene to condense things down the middle. The move meant the departure of defenceman P.K. Subban, who was traded to the New Jersey Devils.
“Let’s call it like it is: If we don’t make the Subban trade and get rid of his money, it’s going to be much more difficult to get into the Duchene sweepstakes, if you will,” Predators general manager David Poile said. “Maybe we could have, and we’d be over the [salary cap] today and we’d being having a player or players that we’d have to move. That really, I guess you would say, took the pressure off in terms of doing this.”
Duchene joins a centre group that also includes Ryan Johansen, Nick Bonino and Kyle Turris. Colton Sissons and Calle Jarnkrok can also play the position. That means there could be some give with Duchene on the wing, despite centre being his natural position. Poile has stated a desire to push Turris to a bounce-back season, which could lead to some shuffling among forwards.
If Duchene does play centre, it’s possible he could skate with Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson. The wingers traditionally skated with Johansen and created some serious offence, but balancing out the attack might make more sense.
Forsberg saw his production drop a little last season, with his points per game a 0.78 across 64 games. In 2017-2018, he produced 0.96 points in 67 games. Injuries were again a factor, but the Predators are hoping exposure to Duchene could rebound Forsberg’s scoring where it belongs. He’s counted at least 26 goals in each of his five full seasons.
Duchene knotted his career high point total, landing 70 points in 73 games last season with the Ottawa Senators and Columbus Blue Jackets. He had 58 points in 50 games with the Sens, but his power play production has skidded in every season since 2009-2010.
Arvidsson, like Forsberg, saw time limited due to injury. He had 48 points in 58 games, including 34 goals. The 26-year-old from Skellefteå had three power play goals and 195 shots on goal, thus achieving a 17.4 shooting percentage – his best to date. Arvidsson did stagger in the playoffs, recording exactly zero points in six games before Nashville’s first round exit.
Johansen topped the charts for the Predators in points, posting 64. The 27-year-old had 14 goals, plus 16 points on the power play – all assists. He hasn’t really achieved the offensive capacity he managed over two seasons in Columbus (2013-2014 and 2014-2015), but his game has transitioned well and he still gets his points.
Nashville was the second-stingiest team in the Western Conference last season, allowing just 214 goals against. That gave them the fourth-best goal differential in the West, which is due in large part to having one of the deepest defensive groups in the National Hockey League.
With the exodus of Subban, the Predators may slip a little in the gap. Subban’s track record with Nashville is stellar, with the club going to the Final in 2016-2017 and winning both the Presidents’ Trophy and division title in the following two seasons respectively. But life goes on and Nashville has designs on sticking Dante Fabbro somewhere in the top four.
Fabbro will play with either Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm, which certainly makes a smooth pair. Throw Ryan Ellis in the mix and you’ve still got one of the most daunting defence assemblies in the league. Josi can drive offence. He posted a career-high 15 goals last season, plus he finished second to Brent Burns in shots on goal.
It was business as usual for Pekka Rinne, who posted 30 wins in 55 starts and a 2.42 goals against average. He accomplished a .918 save percentage and four shutouts. It wasn’t a career-best season by any means, but his numbers were about par for the course over his career.
Maybe the real story in Nashville will be how backup goalie Juuse Saros will emerge. The 24-year-old started a career-high 27 games and won 17 games last season. He managed a 2.62 goals against average with a .915 save percentage, so it looks like he’s responding well to the amplified workload.
The Predators are store for a slight shift in design, with Duchene effectively swapped for Subban. That might not mean much in terms of where Nashville lands in the standings, but there should be some delicate variations in the breakout. Look for more vigour up the middle, which should lead to more goal-scoring overall.
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