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Predators seeking top-six forward, says GM David Poile

Trades, free agency being explored after Nashville lost James Neal in NHL Expansion Draft

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

CHICAGO -- In the 2 1/2 days Nashville Predators general manager David Poile spent at the 2017 NHL Draft presented by adidas, he talked to just about all of his counterparts around the League. He had nothing to announce when he left Saturday, but that could change soon.

The Western Conference champions have a hole to fill after losing left wing James Neal to the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Expansion Draft. They could have another if Mike Fisher, their captain and second-line center, retires.

"If we could get a top-six forward, that would probably be my first choice," Poile said.

The question is how. Trade? Free agency?

 

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Poile said he would speak to Fisher about his future in the coming days. Fisher's decision is a key variable, impacting the roster and the Predators' salary-cap space at a time when they have to sign restricted free agents Pontus Aberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Frederick Gaudreau, Ryan Johansen and Austin Watson.

"There might be the ability to generate some form of a trade," Poile said. "There's some good players out there, names that have been mentioned, that could be available in a trade. I want to make sure we put our best foot forward if we think it can improve our hockey club."

Poile acquired Neal via trade, not to mention Johansen, Filip Forsberg, Calle Jarnkrok and P.K. Subban, but you have to wonder: He left Neal exposed in the expansion draft and was unwilling to pay the Golden Knights' price to keep him. What would he be willing to pay to replace him?

The free-agent interview period begins Sunday, and the free-agent market opens July 1. Poile said he probably would reach out to the agents of five or six players to "see if we can have a phone conversation, if that gives us any traction."

"It's not maybe as plentiful as past years," Poile said. "Depending on what you need. I mean, if you're looking for a checker, if you're looking for a fourth-line player, something specific, you might be able to find exactly what you want. If you're looking for somebody who scores 30, 40 goals, that may not be there."

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One intriguing name: Washington Capitals right wing Justin Williams. He played for Predators coach Peter Laviolette with the Carolina Hurricanes, and they won the Stanley Cup together in 2006.

The Predators should be in the best position to recruit free agents since they entered the NHL in 1998, after making their first run to the Stanley Cup Final and energizing the city. Everyone saw the tens of thousands of fans flooding Lower Broadway before, during and after games.

"There's no question if you look at our relatively short history," Poile said. "I don't think we were ever quite a destination -- smaller market, maybe some different issues. But [the Predators' success] probably does make Nashville a very attractive team to come to. I'll let you know soon if that's the case."

The good news for the Predators is that they could fill holes internally.

Left wing Kevin Fiala sustained a broken femur in the Stanley Cup Playoffs but is already back on the ice again. He had 11 goals in 54 regular-season games and two in five playoff games in 2016-17. He was the No. 11 pick of the 2014 NHL Draft and turns 21 on July 22.

Aberg has one goal in 15 regular-season games in his NHL career. But he had 25 in 74 games for Milwaukee of the American Hockey League in 2015-16, 31 in 56 games for Milwaukee in 2016-17 and two in 16 playoff games for Nashville this year. He was a second-round pick (No. 37) in 2012 and turns 24 on Sept. 23.

"At the end of the day, we might be replacing James Neal with Kevin Fiala or Pontus Aberg or something like that, somebody gets moved up the depth chart," Poile said. "There's lots of different ways to do it. ...

"I think with the depth that we had last year, right now what I'm looking at, we probably have 13 or 14 forwards on our team that I think have a really good chance to make our squad, so I'm not desperate to say we've got to go out and do something specific. But obviously I want to weigh all the different possibilities."

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