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Predators add Franson, Santorelli for playoff push

by Robby Stanley

NASHVILLE -- The Nashville Predators have never gotten past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They want to change that this year.

The Predators, who lead the overall NHL standings entering the final third of the season, acquired defenseman Cody Franson and forward Mike Santorelli from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday for forward Olli Jokinen, forward prospect Brendan Leipsic and a first-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.

It's a return to Nashville for both players. Franson was drafted by the Predators in the third round (No. 78) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Santorelli was selected by the Predators in the sixth round (No. 178) a year earlier.

The Predators hope the newcomers will make them make a run for the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history.

"The trade that we've made today with Toronto, I think, represents my feeling and our feeling as an organization, and I'm clear on this that I represent the players, the coaches, the ownership if you will, is that we feel we have one of the best teams we've ever had here," Predators general manager David Poile said. "We think we have a really good chance to do well in the playoffs."

Franson was tops among Toronto defensemen this season with 32 points in 55 games. He played with Nashville from 2009-11 before being traded to Toronto. Poile feels Franson is a better player now than he was before he went to Toronto.

"Cody Franson, I think, has turned into one of the better defensemen in all of the National Hockey League," Poile said. "His game has improved tremendously. Six-foot five, got one of the best shots in the League. He's playing in all situations now. He's one of the top hitters in the League. He's just got a much more all-around game than he had before he went to Toronto.

Santorelli has 11 goals and 18 assists and is a versatile player who can play in almost any situation. His speed is one of the main reasons he was targeted by the Predators.

"Mike Santorelli has what I think the game really makes a difference in right now, and that's speed," Poile said. "He's one of the fastest skaters in the League. I think he can be a dynamic type of player. I think he can change things. I think he gives our coaching staff a lot of options. He can play all three forward positions, he can take faceoffs, kill penalties, he's one of the better shootout guys."

Predators coach Peter Laviolette indicated that Santorelli will likely start out playing on the wing instead of in the middle, but feels his ability to play both positions could be useful in the postseason.

"I think when you go through the playoffs, just my experience, you know that it's hard," Laviolette said. "You know that it's physical, it's demanding on your players. To have depth, I think, to go in different directions with players, he's a guy to me that really could play on three different lines at three different positions. That's a useful player."

Nashville has four right-handed defensemen on its roster with the addition of Franson. Poile said it's possible that Ryan Ellis or Seth Jones could play on the left side; each has played that position earlier in his career.

"What we've talked about is Ryan Ellis and Seth Jones playing [on the left side]," Poile said. "Maybe both of them; maybe one of them. We don't know how it's going to work. I think we all saw it last year when Roman Josi got hurt at the beginning of the season and Seth was thrown right in there with Shea Weber on the left side, it looked like he was going to be not only the Calder Trophy winner, it looked like he was going to be the MVP. He played great over there."

Weber, Nashville's captain, has played with Franson and Santorelli before and is ready to see how they fit into the lineup under Laviolette.

"It's exciting," he said. "Obviously, two guys that were here [what] seems like forever ago now, but I know both of them. We're excited to have them. We talked about it, guys were excited. We're looking forward to getting the stretch run going here."

It is unclear whether or not Franson and Santorelli will be in the lineup Tuesday against the San Jose Sharks. There is still some immigration paperwork the two players have to go through before they reach Nashville.

The NHL Trade Deadline on March 2 at 3 p.m. ET is still more than two weeks away, but Poile said he doesn't expect to make any more moves if things go according to plan.

"I like what our team looks like now," Poile said. "It feels like the right depth, it feels like the right number of players. We've still got 2 1/2 weeks to pay strong attention to anything that might happen, Good play, poor play, any injuries, what have you. But if things go well, I really like where we are right now."

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