Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2018-19, where Last Word On Hockey 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. Make 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 2018-19 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the Nashville Predators.
Puck Drop Preview: 2018-19 Nashville Predators
It was a successful 2017-18 regular season for the Nashville Predators. They edged out the Winnipeg Jets for the top spot in the Central Division and won their first Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history. They finished the season with a record of 53-18-11, good for 117 points, another franchise record for most points in a season.
Throughout the season, the Predators were at the top of most statistical categories in the NHL. They posted the best road record out of any team in the league (25-9-7), had the second-fewest goals allowed in the NHL (204), and they had the second-best face-off percentage in the league at 53.3 percent.
Nashville’s special teams unit was also very effective this season. The Predators power-play ranked 12th in the league, running at a 21.2 percent efficiency, while the penalty killing ranked 6th in the league, at 81.9 percent efficiency.
Individually, it was a strong season for many Nashville Predators players. Pekka Rinne had a solid season in nets, posting a record of 42-13-4, with a goals-against-average of 2.31, and a save percentage of 0.927. He also earned his fourth-career nomination for the Vezina Trophy.
For the first time since being traded to Nashville, P.K. Subban played in all 82 games last season. He was a force on the Predators blue line, recording a career-high 16 goals, and leading the team in power-play points with 25. He was also nominated for the Norris trophy for his efforts last season.
Driving the offence was the top line of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson. As a line, they combined for 179 points, ranking at the top of the NHL as one of the most productive lines in the league. The biggest surprise upfront was the emergence of Kevin Fiala. In his first full season as a Predator, he recorded 23 goals, 25 assists, for 48 points and had good chemistry with Kyle Turris and Craig Smith.
It was a disappointing end to what was a great regular season for the Predators. They struggled throughout the playoffs at home than on the road, the secondary scoring was non-existent, and Pekka Rinne was a shell of himself in the playoffs. Rinne struggled with a 3.07 goals-against-average, and a save percentage of 0.904.
They ran into a very hot Winnipeg Jets team in the second round of the playoffs. They survived elimination in Game 6 with an impressive 4-0 road win, but came back home with a pathetic performance, losing 5-1, ending what would have been another trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
It was a relatively quiet off-season for the Nashville Predators. It started off with the NHL Awards ceremony where Pekka Rinne and P.K. Subban were nominated for their efforts in the regular season. Rinne picked up his first Vezina trophy award, edging out Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck for the honours.
P.K. Subban was nominated for the Norris trophy and the King Clancy trophy awarded to the player who exemplifies leadership and humanitarianism on and off the ice. Subban lost out to Victor Hedman for the Norris, while the Sedin twins picked up their second Clancy trophy.
It was an uneventful 2018 NHL Draft for the Nashville Predators. Their first selection came in the fourth-round, after they traded their first-round pick to the Chicago Blackhawks for Ryan Hartman, their second-round pick as part of the three-way trade which included Kyle Turris and Matt Duchene, and their third-round pick to Florida, for their third-round pick in 2019.
They drafted centre Jachym Kondelik from the USHL in the fourth round, defencemen Spencer Stastney and Vladislav Yeryomenko in the fifth round, and capped off with goaltender Milan Klouchek in the seventh round from the Czech Republic.
The Predators made some depth signings in free agency, adding forwards Zac Rinaldo, Connor Brickley, and Rocco Grimaldi, as well as defenceman Jarred Tinordi to one-year contracts. The most significant free agent signing came on July 25th when they agreed to a two-year contract with defenceman Dan Hamhuis, worth $2.5 million.
Taking Care of Business
The Predators took care of in-house contracts, signing forwards Ryan Hartman and Miika Salomaki to one-year contract extensions. The Predators also agreed to terms with backup goaltender Juuse Saros, which will keep him a Predator for the next three years, at $1.5 million a season. The biggest announcement of the off-season came on August 14th, in which the Predators re-signed defenceman Ryan Ellis to an eight-year contract extension worth $50 million.
2018-19 Projected Lineup
Filip Forsberg–Ryan Johansen–Viktor Arvidsson
Kevin Fiala–Kyle Turris–Craig Smith
Miika Salomaki–Frederik Gaudreau–Zac Rinaldo
The Predators are entering the season with practically the same forward group that we saw in the playoffs last season. The only change is Mike Fisher, who returned late last season, has officially retired for the second time. This is a strong forward group that has goal scoring power on every line. It will be interesting to see how Eeli Tolvanen and Ryan Hartman perform during a whole season for the Predators.
Roman Josi–Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm–P.K. Subban
Dan Hamhuis–Anthony Bitetto
Can you name me a better top-four defence core in the NHL other than the Nashville Predators? They have elite level talent with Josi, Subban, and Ellis, who can all be number one defenceman for any team in the league. The only subtraction on the blue line is Alexei Emelin, who agreed to a three-year contract with Avangard Omsk of the KHL. With the addition of Hamhuis, it will be interesting to see what head coach Peter Laviolette does throughout the season with his bottom pairing, as he has options if poor performances or the injury bug hit the team this season.
The goaltending will be the biggest question mark heading into the season. Which version of Pekka Rinne will the Predators get, the Vezina-winning regular season goalie, who was lights out, or the playoff version, where he looked like a below-average goalie. At the age of 35, it will be fascinating to see if Rinne regresses or not. Juuse Saros can provide Nashville will some stability during the season if they decide to lessen Rinne’s work load.
Players to Watch
Coming over late last season after a solid KHL campaign, Eeli Tolvanen will be a focal point this season as he will play his first full NHL season. The coaching staff and fans alike, are hoping that Tolvanen can transfer his successful season for Jokerit, where he recorded 36 points in 49 games, into a productive season playing alongside Bonino and Hartman. It might be a lot to ask for a 19-year-old to drive the secondary production, however, he has the abilities to make an impact right away for the Predators.
After coming over at the trade deadline from the Chicago Blackhawks, Ryan Hartman struggled to find his footing when he came over to Nashville. In 57 games for Chicago, Hartman recorded 8 goals and 17 assists, for 25 points. In his final 21 games for Nashville, he recorded only 3 goals and 3 assists for 6 points. Hopefully with a training camp under his belt, he could find some chemistry with Tolvanen and Nick Bonino.
It’s safe to say that the way this team is built right now, it is Stanley Cup or bust for the Predators. Nashville will once again be at the top of the division, battling it out with the Winnipeg Jets. However, they have to worry about having enough fire power to compete against the Jets in a seven-game series once the playoffs begin.
If Tolvanen can provide some solid offensive production, and if Kevin Fiala continues where he left off from last season, then it will put less pressure on General Manager David Poile to pull off any trade deadline acquisitions for a top-six forward.
The biggest question mark heading into the season is which version of Pekka Rinne will the Predators get. If Rinne is anything close to his numbers he posted in the regular season last year, then it will be smooth sailing for the Predators.
The Predators have enough talent offensively and defensively to be one of the top teams in the NHL next season. The question is, will this finally be the season where they win their first Stanley Cup? Only time will tell.
Main Photo: NASHVILLE, TN – NOVEMBER 22: P.K. Subban #76 of the Nashville Predators congratulates teammate goalie Pekka Rinne #35 after a 3-2 shootout win over the Montreal Canadiens at Bridgestone Arena on November 22, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)