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31 in 31

Inside look at Nashville Predators

Counting on returning core to provide enough offense to contend for Cup

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

31 in 31: Nashville Predators

31 in 31: Nashville Predators 2020-21 season preview

NHL.com's Dan Rosen and NHL Network's E.J. Hradek discuss the biggest questions facing the Nashville Predators for the 2020-21 season

  • 06:30 •

NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams from Nov. 16-Dec. 16. Today, the Nashville Predators.

The Nashville Predators made changes to their supporting cast to reinforce their core group with hopes of contending for the Stanley Cup.

Forwards Ryan Johansen, Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg, defensemen Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis, and goalie Pekka Rinne remain key to Nashville's fortunes. 

Among those leaving were forwards Craig Smith (18 goals), Nick Bonino (18) and Mikael Granlund (17), who were next in goal-scoring behind Forsberg (21) on the Predators last season.

"The biggest question mark I would probably have is, are we going to have enough goals?" general manager David Poile said. "We're going to probably need goal scoring all through our lineup."

 

[Predators 31 IN 31: 3 Questions | Top prospects | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the numbers]

 

Some of that has to come from the top, which means improvement is needed from Johansen and Duchene, Nashville's top two centers, each of whom struggled last season. 

Johansen scored 36 points (14 goals, 22 assists) in 68 games, his fewest since becoming a full-time NHL player in 2013-14. Duchene, in his first season with the Predators after signing a seven-year contract July 1, 2019, scored 13 goals, his fewest in 11 NHL seasons, and his 42 points were his fewest since 2016-17 (41).

"Up and down," Duchene said of his season. "We went through a lot of adversity this year, myself included. I think every adverse situation you get put in is a chance to grow and a chance to learn and move forward. ... I love this team, I love this group and I believe in this group. Better days are ahead for sure."

Also expected to add to the offense will be some of the Predators' top forward prospects, among them Eeli Tolvanen, a 21-year-old who scored 36 points (21 goals, 15 assists) in 63 games with Milwaukee of the American Hockey League last season.

Tolvanen played seven NHL games the previous two seasons and was close to getting another promotion when the season was paused March 12. He continued to impress during his time with the Predators in the postseason and so far this season with Jokerit in the Kontinental Hockey League.

"Watching the video, it looks like he's a more complete player," Poile said. "Seems like his conditioning is really good, his play without the puck has really improved, and really looking forward to how he's going to look this year at training camp. Hoping that he can give us another younger offensive player that's on the rise."

Video: Top 5 Roman Josi plays from 2019-20

The Predators also count on offense from their defensemen, led by Josi, who was second among NHL defensemen in goals (16) and points (65) and was voted winner of the Norris Trophy, given to the League's top defenseman.

They added defensemen Mark Borowiecki and Matt Benning, each on a two-year contract, expecting them to take on some of the tough defensive-zone ice time and penalty-killing duties.

"I think we have a very good top four with players like Josi, Ellis, [Mattias] Ekholm, [Dante] Fabbro," Poile said. "They're good all-around players, I think they have some really good offensive strengths. And if Borowiecki and Benning can be first out on the penalty killing and do a good job there, that should really help free up the better minutes for those guys to be fresher in offensive situations."

The roster refresh might have been needed to reverse a downward trend since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2017. The Predators have won one playoff series since then, and last season lost to the Arizona Coyotes in four games in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers.

But Poile said he is confident the core group, supported by the additions, can get the Predators back pointed in the right direction.

"I think our team is going to be a harder team to play against with the type of guys that we've brought in," he said. "I feel that we have probably more depth than we've had the last couple of years, which might have been a little bit of a problem for us. ... I feel good from a defensive standpoint. I feel good about the physicality of our team, and our team will be a hard team to play against."

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