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Hodgson, Arvidsson among Predators' X-factors

by Robby Stanley

NASHVILLE -- The Nashville Predators didn't get much offensive production from their third line last season, but they're hoping some new additions will change that in 2015-16.

The forwards are the biggest question mark in Nashville, but they performed well in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs and should get plenty of scoring chances playing in coach Peter Laviolette's up-tempo system.

Here are three X-factors that will impact whether the Predators can build on last season and make a run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs:

Bounce-back season from Cody Hodgson: Hodgson is looking for a fresh start in Nashville after struggling with the Buffalo Sabres in 2014-15, when he had six goals and seven assists in 78 games in what was by far his least productive NHL season (0.17 points per game).

"I was pretty excited," Hodgson said of signing with the Predators. "It's a pretty good match [with] the way this team plays. We've got probably the best goalie and best [defensemen] in the League, so if we can score some goals, I think we'll be all right."

Hodgson missed a large chunk of training camp with an upper-body injury, but Nashville's system would seem to be an ideal fit for him. He's shown in the past that he has the potential to produce and be an effective player at the NHL level. Hodgson, who was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks with the 10th pick of the 2008 NHL Draft, had 20 goals and 24 assists with the Sabres in 2013-14.

Hodgson likely will begin the season centering Nashville's third line, which will need to be much more productive than it was last season. If Hodgson can match his production from two seasons ago, the Predators will have three dangerous lines that can cause matchup problems for opposing teams.

Viktor Arvidsson's adjustment to the NHL: Arvidsson's 55 points led Milwaukee of the American Hockey League last season, his first in North America. He did not have any points in six games with the Predators, but his effort made a positive impact, one that he's carried forward into training camp and the preseason.

Arvidsson, 22, likely will start the season on Nashville's third line, which struggled to produce in 2014-15. In somewhat of a surprise, he made the roster over 26-year-old forward Steve Moses, who scored 36 goals to lead the Kontinental Hockey League last season but was sent down to Milwaukee on Sept. 30.

"Any line that he's been on has been a good line," coach Peter Laviolette said of Arvidsson. "He's used his speed and his quickness and his ability to generate offense. He's done a good job so far in camp, so right now, Viktor stays."

The Predators would like a more balanced attack this season, and Arvidsson could have a big role in that playing on a line with center Cody Hodgson and wing Calle Jarnkrok.

"He's played great," forward Filip Forsberg said of Arvidsson. "Obviously, he's a smaller guy (5-foot-9, 180 pounds) that works really hard with great skating and a great shot, and he brings a new level to the team coming in with the work attitude that he has. He can shoot the puck and score goals. That's what he did in Milwaukee last year, proving that he can play in North America, so it's going to be interesting to see what he can bring to the table for the boys this year."

Arvidsson's 272 shots on goal led the AHL last season, showing that his good speed and quick release can make up for his lack of size.

Improvement on the power play: The Predators power play was 25th in the NHL last season (16.2 percent). It has to be much more productive this season if they're going to challenge for the Central Division title.

The weapons are there for Nashville to be better with the man-advantage. Defenseman Shea Weber has one of the hardest shots in the League, defenseman Roman Josi has the ability to be an effective quarterback, and Filip Forsberg's playmaking skill creates space and opportunities for shots.

The Predators are going to place more of an emphasis on putting more pucks toward the net on the power play to try and generate more goals.

"Maybe we got a little too cute last year," Forsberg said. "It's always tough to get shots through. Penalty kills are doing a really good job these days with boxing out and blocking shots, and I think that's the biggest key. Just get guys in front and get some dirty goals there."

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