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Predators expect to build on success of last season

by Robby Stanley continues its preview of the 2015-16 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout August.

NASHVILLE -- The Nashville Predators are prepared to stay the course that helped them reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs after a two-season hiatus.

Nashville re-signed center Mike Ribeiro to a two-year, $7 million contract July 1. Keeping Ribeiro was the Predators' No. 1 priority because it ensured their top six forwards would remain intact.

"Mike had a strong season for us last year," Predators general manager David Poile said. "I'm very confident that he'll be an integral part of our organization going forward."

Ribeiro had 62 points in 82 games in his first season with the Predators. He spent the majority of time on a line with Filip Forsberg, who led Nashville in goals (26) and points (63) as a rookie. They likely will play together again this season.

The Predators defense looks to be their strength. Shea Weber and Roman Josi each finished in the top five of Norris Trophy voting last season and form one of the top defense pairs in the NHL.

Young defensemen Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis and Seth Jones each had a career season in 2014-15, Nashville's first under coach Peter Laviolette, and stepped into larger roles during the playoffs when Weber sustained a dislocated kneecap. The defense is very active offensively, making it one of the most dangerous units in the League.

The Predators signed veteran defenseman Barret Jackman to add some toughness and provide another left-handed shot from the point.

"I think this is a perfect fit for our defense," Poile said. "He brings veteran leadership, physicality, and his biggest asset to us is that he kills penalties. In theory, he should be the first one to go out and kill penalties, and I can't tell you how important that will be in terms of the total balance for resting a Shea Weber, a Josi in those critical areas."

Perhaps the biggest reason for Nashville's jump back into the playoffs last season was the availability of goaltender Pekka Rinne, who missed 51 games because of a hip injury in 2013-14, when Nashville finished four points out. Rinne played in 64 games last season (41-17-6, 2.18 goals-against average, .923 save percentage), was second in Vezina Trophy voting, and helped the Predators to a second-place finish in the Central Division.

Rinne's health is vital to the Predators' success. His play dropped off toward the end of last season and in the playoffs, but his track record suggests he will again be one of the top goaltenders in the League if he can stay healthy.

Nashville added center Cody Hodgson and forward Steve Moses, whose 36 goals led the Kontinental Hockey League last season. Hodgson and Moses likely will start the season on the third line, which did not produce much offense last season. Young forwards Kevin Fiala and Austin Watson will have a chance to make the roster and compete for spots on the third or fourth lines.

Nashville's core remains the same. Weber and Josi will eat up a lot of minutes on defense; Forsberg and James Neal (23 goals in 67 games) will be the two main scoring options; and Rinne should play 60-65 games.

Secondary scoring will be key; forwards Colin Wilson (20 goals, 22 assists) and Craig Smith (23 goals, 21 assists) were productive on the second line. Each signed a long-term contract in July (Wilson, four years, $15.75 million; Smith, five years, $21.25 million).

"We improved the team, first of all, by keeping the team together," Poile said. "There has been so many changes in the last couple years, including leading into last year. I think we needed a little bit more stability than we've had the previous years. The previous years, we didn't win, we didn't make the playoffs, [and] we needed to make some changes."

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