After the NHL Draft, free agency and other offseason moves, NHL.com is taking a look at where each team stands. Today, the Nashville Predators:
The Nashville Predators enter the season with something they haven't had much experience with: High expectations.
After coming within one win of their first Western Conference Final, the Predators are hoping for another deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Their forward core remains intact thanks to Filip Forsberg's new six-year contract; goaltender Pekka Rinne remains among the best at his position despite a dip in his performance last season; and their defense got an upgrade after the biggest trade of the summer.
On June 29, Nashville acquired defenseman P.K. Subban from the Montreal Canadiens for defenseman Shea Weber, the Predators' longtime captain. Weber was the leader and foundation of Nashville's defense, but with Subban, the Predators will have plenty of offensive firepower from the blue line, along with a superstar presence.
If top forwards Forsberg, James Neal and Ryan Johansen perform the way they did last season, some young players reach their potential, and Rinne returns to an elite level, Nashville could be a Stanley Cup contender.
Here's what the Predators look like today:
KEY ARRIVALS: P.K. Subban, D: The 27-year-old brings a big personality and flashy style to the ice. His up-tempo, attacking form should work well in coach Peter Laviolette's system, and he would pair nicely with defenseman Roman Josi on the power play. At even strength, Subban could play with Mattias Ekholm. A Subban-Josi pair would be powerful on the offensive end, but a Subban-Ekholm pair would provide a little more defensive stability. … Yannick Weber, D: The free agent signed a one-year contract July 1. Weber fills the spot left by defenseman Barret Jackman, who was bought out in June. Weber should compete for a spot on the third pair next to Anthony Bitetto. Weber's stay-at-home ability complements Bitetto's speedy, offensive play. … Matt Irwin, D: The 28-year-old signed a one-year, two-way contract July 1. He could compete for a spot on the third pair or as the seventh defenseman, or provide depth with Milwaukee of the American Hockey League.
Video: P.K. Subban introduced in Nashville
KEY DEPARTURES: Shea Weber, D: The captain brought a big-bodied, defensive presence. His aggressiveness and booming slap shot will be missed, but Subban should do an ample job of replacing him. … Carter Hutton, G: He signed a two-year contract with the St. Louis Blues on July 1. He was a solid backup to Rinne for three seasons and played an NHL career high 40 games in 2013-14 when Rinne recovered from a lower-body injury, but has played 35 games since. He'll likely be replaced by Marek Mazanec. … Paul Gaustad, C: He played on the Predators' fourth line last season, and was depended on for his size (6-foot-5, 227 pounds) and faceoff ability. Nashville will use a younger player to fill his spot, potentially Colton Sissons or Austin Watson. Gaustad is an unrestricted free agent. … Barret Jackman, D: The final season of his two-year contract was bought out in June, clearing a space for Weber to sign. Jackman's hard-nosed, defensive presence will be missed, as will his veteran leadership. He had five points in 73 regular-season games and was a plus-1 in 14 Stanley Cup Playoff games last season. … Eric Nystrom, LW: General manager David Poile said at the end of the season he would try to trade or buy out the last season of Nystrom's four-year contract. He opted for the latter in June. Nystrom had seven goals in 46 games last season. He missed two months because of a broken foot sustained Jan. 26 and is an unrestricted free agent.
ON THE CUSP: Kevin Fiala, LW: The 11th pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, the 19-year-old spent most of last season in the AHL and got into five games with the Predators. A year later and with more maturity, he's hoping for another chance. He had 50 points (18 goals, 32 assists) in 66 AHL games last season. … Marek Mazanec, G: The 24-year-old is expected to replace Hutton as Rinne's backup. He has 27 games of NHL experience but none since two games in 2014-15. In 39 AHL games last season, he was 19-15-5 with a 2.45 goals-against average and .912 save percentage. … Pontus Aberg, LW: There could be a spot available for the 22-year-old this season. He made his NHL debut with two games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, and had 40 points (25 goals, 15 assists) in 74 AHL games.
WHAT THEY STILL NEED: Scoring depth. The Predators have a solid top-six forward group, including Neal, Forsberg, Johansen and Craig Smith. Another high-skill player for that group would be nice, but the bigger focus should be on finding an offensive spark from the bottom six. With the departures of Nystrom and Gaustad, younger players Fiala, Aberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Calle Jarnkrok and Sissons could supply energy and offense from the third and fourth lines. The Predators also could use a defensive-minded defenseman. Shea Weber and Jackman were Nashville's most reliable defensive-zone defensemen. Without them, and with the additions of Subban and Yannick Weber, the Predators have a strong offensive-minded group but lack a physical defensive-minded presence. Yannick Weber likely will be used to play that role, but there could be room for another player of that style on the roster.
Video: NSH@DAL: Arvidsson scores PPG with one-timer
PETE JENSEN'S FANTASY FOCUS: With Subban playing on the first power-play unit, what does this mean for Josi, who combined with Shea Weber to form the best power-play defenseman duo in the League last season? Subban and Josi are elite puck-moving defensemen with strong skating ability who can enter the zone at will with the man-advantage. But will the Predators be equipped enough defensively at even strength to use them on the power play together? With the potential to be the first defensemen teammates to each have 60 points in a season since Bryan McCabe (68) and Tomas Kaberle (67) of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2005-06, Subban is worthy of a first-round pick in fantasy, and Josi warrants selection in the first three or four rounds.
James Neal - Ryan Johansen - Craig Smith
Filip Forsberg - Mike Ribeiro - Calle Jarnkrok
Colin Wilson - Mike Fisher - Viktor Arvidsson
Kevin Fiala - Colton Sissons - Miikka Salomaki
P.K. Subban - Mattias Ekholm
Ryan Ellis - Roman Josi
Anthony Bitetto - Yannick Weber