Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2015-16, where our hockey department gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Makes sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our collective LWOS 2015-16 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today we continue with the Nashville Predators.
PUCK DROP PREVIEW: 2015-16 NASHVILLE PREDATORS
After a dissapointing 2013-14 that saw the Predators miss the playoffs for the second consecutive season, finishing 5th in the Central in the last year pre-realignment, Nashville rebounded in a big way, finishing 2nd in an immensely competitive new Central Division after an off-season that saw them go out and acquire former Penguins sniper James Neal and sign controversial center Mike Ribeiro.
The Predators finished with a record of 47-25-10, good for 104 points, as well as third in the Western Conference and 6th in overall league standings. In terms of team stats, the Predators ranked 14th overall in goals for and 9th in goals against, as well as boasting a 25th-ranked powerplay and a penalty kill with the 18th-highest efficiency rate.
The success of the Predators can largely be accredited to the play of star goaltender Pekka Rinne, who snagged a Vezina nomination on the strength of a 2.18 GAA and a .923 SV%, as well as the top defense pairing of Shea Weber and Roman Josi, and the top line made up of Calder nominee Filip Forbserg, Ribeiro, and Neal. Ribeiro’s season stands out especially impressive, due to a 15-point increase on his 47 points as a Coyote the season before, as well as the personal issues surrounding the 35-year-old throughout the previous off-season.
In the post-season, the Predators got knocked off in the first round by the eventual champion Chicago Blackhawks in six games, despite several close contests. While that end result may have been dissapointing, the 2014-15 season was an immensely successful one for the franchise, one of the best in their history in fact. There are undoubtedly promising signs for the organization going forward, and this past year may have seen the Predators just getting started.
While the Predators didn’t make any blockbuster signings, they were able to acquire a handful of respectable depth skaters, as well as making a key move in re-signing number-one center Ribeiro, who experienced a tremendous rebound campaign in 2014-15.
In terms of signings, the Predators signed former Buffalo Sabre and Vancouver Canuck Cody Hodgson, a skilled center who experienced a rough 2014-15 (six goals, 13 points), for one year at $1.05 million, as well as record-setting KHL scorer Steve Moses (36 goals in 60 games) and physical, veteran defenceman Barret Jackman, who had spent all his 803 career NHL games with the St. Louis Blues since 1999, was signed for two-years for $4 million.
At the draft, the Predators selected centre Iakov Trenin in the 2nd round (55th overall), forward Thomas Novak in the third round (85th overall), centerman Anthony Richard in the fourth (100th overall), defenseman Alexandre Carrier (115th overall), goaltender Karel Vejmelka in the fifth (145th overall), centre Tyler Moy in the sixth (175th overall), and netminder Evan Smith in the seventh round at 205th overall.
On the Rise
While Josi and Seth Jones steal the headlines as flashy Predators youngsters on the blue line, Ryan Ellis has quietly developed into a strong defenceman for the Predators. While on paper, his totals don’t jump out as anything particularly special, 27 points in both of the past two seasons, the major difference is in 2013-14, it was in 80 games. In 2014-15, it was in 58, a jump of roughly 0.3 points per game. Ellis also played on Canada’s World Championship team in 2014, amassing five points in eight games, which may have served as a spark for the 24-year-old defenceman taken 11th overall in the 2009 entry draft. Look for more steady gains in production, and in overall play throughout the year from Ellis, as he appears to be the latest in a long line of well-developed Nashville defenders.
On the Decline
Veteran forward Fisher, a two-way forward married to Country music superstar Carrie Underwood, experienced an extremely solid 2014-15 campaign, where he put up 39 points in 59 games, a career-best 54-point pace campaign. After a handful of seasons marred by injury, Fisher came back and played a big role in the rebound of the Predators, but it would be unrealistic to assume that the 35-year-old will be able to repeat what he accomplished this past season. The biggest indicator that Fisher’s 2014-15 was a bit of an anomaly is the fact that he posted a career-high 17.1% shooting percentage, 5.3% better than his career average, and 1.8% higher than his previous career-high of 15.3%. He’ll still be an effective middle-six centre, but a bit of a decline seems inevitable.
Players to Watch
After a disastrous 2014-15 campaign with the Buffalo Sabres that saw Hodgson score a mere 13 points in 78 games, the club bought him out of his contract, which had four years remaining with an AAV of $4.25 million. While it’s possible that Hodgson doesn’t rebound, at $1.05 million over one year, signing the 25-year-old centre was a no-risk move, and it’s also conceivable that he does bounce back and put up something that more closely resembles his 2013-14 campaign of 20 goals and 44 points in 72 games. 2015-16 could be a make-or-break year for Hodgson, and if he doesn’t find his 13-14 form, or even that of his 2011-12 rookie year, he may find it tough to find another NHL gig.
After garnering significant Norris Trophy chatter by the end of last season, Josi is establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with on the Preds blue line. Playing alongside Weber, Josi has emerged as one the NHL’s best all-round defencemen, with 55 points in 81 games (tied for 5th among d-men), as well as becoming a defensive stalwart. Barring any sort of significant drop-off next season, look for Josi to get some serious Norris trophy consideration, and continue his trek up NHL defenceman rankings.
2015-16 Opening Day Lineup
Filip Forbserg – Mike Ribeiro – James Neal
Colin Wilson – Mike Fisher – Craig Smith
Calle Jarnkrok – Cody Hodgson – Steve Moses
Eric Nystrom – Paul Gaustad – Gabriel Bourque
Shea Weber – Roman Josi
Mattias Ekholm – Ryan Ellis
Barret Jackman – Seth Jones
2015-16 Season Predictions
Despite a Western Conference that looks to be immensely competitive, it’s not unrealistic to expect the Predators to match last year’s regular season output. With a blossoming blueline, a kingpin between the pipes, and a forward group that despite high-end talent is still relatively deep and has sleeper potential, the Predators are not a team to pass over when considering Western powerhouses.
As usual, the club will rely heavily on the defense and goaltending to win hockey games, but the difference between this Preds club and those of the past, is that the upside is there for a nice supporting cast. Hodgson and Moses have the potential to be excellent bottom-six producers, while on the back end, Weber, Josi, Jones and Ellis could all put up 35-40 point campaigns.
What they’ll be able to accomplish in the post-season is still up in the air, but there’s a very good chance that the 2015-16 Nashville Predators could be a force to be reckoned with in the Western Conference and NHL this season.