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More offense, healthy Rinne keys for Predators

by Brian Compton / NHL.com

NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.

After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a second straight season, the Nashville Predators underwent several changes this summer.

The biggest is that Barry Trotz is out after being the only coach in the history of the franchise. Peter Laviolette is in, with the expectation that he can help the team find more ways to score goals.

Patric Hornqvist, who spent his first six professional seasons in Nashville and scored more than 100 goals, was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins for James Neal.

Predators general manager David Poile, who has been working in that capacity since the franchise's inception in 1998, is confident the changes he made during the offseason will lead to hockey in Nashville well into the spring.

Here are three things that must happen for the Predators to have success this season:

1. More offense -- With Laviolette now behind the bench and the acquisition of Neal, the Predators are hoping they'll be able to generate more offense. They're going to have to if they plan on getting back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Nashville averaged 2.84 goals per game last season, which ranked 23rd in the League. Given the amount of talent in the Western Conference, that's a statistic that needs to improve. Neal, who scored 88 goals during the past three seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins, will be relied on heavily in this department.

Can he sustain such success without skating alongside superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin? He's going to have to if the Predators hope to reach the postseason.

"I'm just excited for a new challenge," Neal told the Predators website. "I couldn't be in a better spot with all the changes coming in here. We're going to be more of an offensive team and that's the way I love to play. It's a perfect fit."

2. Filip Forsberg takes the next step -- He celebrated his 20th birthday Aug. 13, but it isn't farfetched to think the talented forward can be a major contributor to the Predators lineup this season.

Forsberg, who was acquired in the 2013 trade that sent Martin Erat to the Washington Capitals, had 34 points (15 goals, 19 assists) in 47 games with the Milwaukee Admirals in the American Hockey League last season and 12 points in seven games for Sweden at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship. He's No. 12 on the NHL.com Top 60 prospect ranking.

"I'm just trying to get stronger and overall and trying to use that to put a little more strength to my game and a little more speed," Forsberg said. "That's something that I really can use this season."

3. The return of Pekka Rinne -- A strong case can be made that Rinne is one of the top goalies in the NHL when healthy and on his game. That wasn't the case last season, and the Predators couldn't overcome his absence.

Pekka Rinne
Goalie - NSH
RECORD: 10-10-3
GAA: 2.77 | SVP: .902
An infection in Rinne's hip forced Nashville to play without its No. 1 goaltender for 51 games. Carter Hutton and Marek Mazanec played admirably in Rinne's place, but combined with the lack of offense, it was too difficult for Nashville to find a way into the playoffs.

The Predators went 17-11-3 last season when Rinne was on the active roster.

"We've talked to [Pekka] recently, and he feels 100 percent with no hip issues," Poile said. "All I can tell you is that with Pekka in goal, we've got a chance to win every game. He makes everybody a little bit better."

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