Last Word On Hockey’s Puck Drop Previews are back for the 2022-23 season! As the regular season approaches, Last Word will preview each team’s current outlook and stories to watch for the upcoming year. We’ll also do our best to project how things will go for each team over the course of the campaign. Today, we’re previewing the 2022-23 Nashville Predators.
2022-23 Nashville Predators
Some (us included) thought the Nashville Predators would struggle in the 2021-22 campaign. However, the Predators surprised many people and made it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Juuse Saros solidified his position as one of the better goalies in the league with a season that got him a Vezina Trophy nomination. Both Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg got over 40 goals while Roman Josi came close to 100 points as a defenceman. Ryan Johansen and Tanner Jeannot also made key contributions to the offence.
Nashville and head coach John Hynes defied expectations and made the post-season. However, a late-season injury to Saros doomed the Predators. The Colorado Avalanche quickly swept the Predators aside in four straight, but making the Stanley Cup Playoffs was a huge deal.
General manager David Poile didn’t rest on his laurels and made some moves this offseason. One of the bigger moves was getting Stanley Cup-winner Ryan McDonagh from the Tampa Bay Lightning. McDonagh was pretty much a cap casualty and Poile swooped in to get the veteran. Making the move also shores up a Predators’ defence that struggled in the bottom pair.
Poile also made a smart, low-cost deal for Swiss scorer Nino Niederreiter. The 30-year-old is coming off a 24-goal campaign with the Carolina Hurricanes and will hopefully add some secondary scoring. He could help shore up the top-six forward group.
There were some key departures for the club as Nick Cousins and Luke Kunin left. The latter scored double-digit goals in both seasons in the Music City. Philippe Meyers was sent to Tampa Bay as part of the McDonagh trade. Other players that left the club include Mathieu Olivier, David Rittich and Matt Benning.
2022-23 Nashville Predators Lineup Projections
The Predators’ top six look to be pretty solid and flexible. These lineups are projections, but one may see Johansen bump back to the top line to see a run with his old buddy Forsberg. Duchene finally lives up to that monster contract he signed a couple of seasons ago and wants to prove it’s no fluke.
Niederreiter might be one of the best value signings if he can replicate previous 20-goal seasons. The Swiss sniper brings veteran leadership to the second line and can do multiple things. Tolvanen has scored 11 goals in each of the past two seasons, but wants to prove he was worth the first-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. An injury to one of the wings could see Tomasino leap up to the top six and see him get sustained minutes. He got 11 goals in his rookie campaign despite getting bottom-six minutes.
The Pain Line of Jeannot, Sissons and Trenin keys the bottom part of the forward group. These players can hit, fight and also score goals if needed. Jeannot might be hard-pressed to repeat his spectacular first full-time season of 24 goals. However, he’ll do other things that can still make him a valuable member of the team. Sissons is the veteran of the group and can chip in when needed with goals. Trenin has a mean streak and is a big body that can throw down if needed.
Sanford comes in to also add a bit of sandpaper to the group. He could move up to the third line if needed and would probably fit in nicely. Glass is looking to find the form that made him the sixth overall choice in 2017. He’ll get a shot based of his 21-goal season in AHL Milwaukee. Tomasino is more than just a placeholder on the fourth line and may get chances if injuries arise.
Jankowski and McCarron provide a veteran edge and McCarron can also fight if called upon. The pair will slide into the bottom line should injuries pop up.
Extra: Mark Borowiecki
These defensive projections can also change because Josi, Ekholm and McDonagh have all been top-pair defenders. Hynes may try splitting his pairings so they can have a quality blueliner on the ice at all times.
No one was going to beat Colorado’s Cale Makar for the Norris Trophy, but Josi had a heck of season. The Swiss star nearly turned back the clock to an era where defencemen got 100 points. Josi will be charged with helping his partner, Fabbro, take the next step. The Coquitlam, British Columbia native could get shifted around the lineup, but having a partner like Josi may help.
Ekholm has been steady for years and is a great veteran leader. Carrier showed promise in his first full season as an NHL defenceman. He and Eklholm could form a solid pairing.
Having McDonagh has a bottom pair blueliner isn’t the worst thing in the world. The former New York Rangers captain could get shifted through the lineup as well to find the right fit. Lauzon will likely stay on the bottom pair for most of the season. Borowiecki can slide in to add some physical bite if injuries do creep into the lineup.
Extra: Connor Ingram
The job will be Saros’ for as long as he wants it or until Iaroslav Askarov is ready to challenge for it. However, that will take a few seasons until he’s properly seasoned in the AHL. Saros has continued the Finnish tradition of great netminding after taking over for Pekka Rinne. Saros won 38 games and logged a goals-against-average of 2.64 last season with four shutouts.
Lankinen will try to shore up the backup role after Rittich looked shaky at times last season. The former Chicago Blackhawks goalie won’t be handed the No. 2 role as Ingram will make things interesting. Ingram did his best in the playoff sweep to Colorado and wants to be the backup.
Players to Watch
Some thought the Swede was going to be traded at different points, but Forsberg stayed put and inked an eight-year deal with the club. Forsberg is already the club’s all-time leading goal-scorer with 220, but wants the points mark held by David Legwand. He’s one of four Predators players that make over $8 million per season and he’ll want another 40-goal season. Another great season from him would put Nashville comfortably in playoff position.
The former 17th overall pick from 2016 has struggled at times and hasn’t added the offensive pop that he had coming out of Boston University. His possession numbers haven’t been the best with a 48.4 Corsi for and -1.2 relative Corsi. However, he can still pick his game up with talented players around him. Hynes could move Fabbro around the lineup to get the 24-year-old going.
The young Finn is another player that wants to prove himself this season. There were some hoping he’d provide some more offensive firepower, but he’s still only 23. He’s signed until the end of the 2023-24 season but wants to take that next step. The youngster wants to solidify his spot in the top six and a strong season will do that.
Prediction for the 2022-23 season
The Predators managed to make some upgrades on defence and with the forward group. McDonagh should prove to be a strong pickup if he stays healthy. Niederreiter is signed through the end of the next season and wants to set up one last big contract. One worries if the Predators can sustain last season’s strong offence from Duchene, Jeannot and others. However, some of the new acquisitions were designed to take the pressure off the main forwards.
Nashville also needs to find its backup goalie sooner rather than later. Hynes doesn’t want to have to lean on Saros so much this season. If either Lankinen or Ingram can eat up some games, it’ll help Nashville down the stretch. The Predators should be a playoff team once again if things continue the right way, which would give Hynes his first post-season series victory. However, getting past the Avalanche may prove to be a bridge too far for this Predators group.