It’s a common and understandable view for veteran NHL players: The best part of preseason games is when the final one is played.
It’s completely different for those working to make the team. And tonight the urgency hits a high mark.
A prospect-packed Predators roster will be in Carolina to take on the Hurricanes at 6 p.m. CT. With Milwaukee’s training camp slated to start Monday, the time is now for the prospects to show their worth and remain in the Predators camp.
“They’re smart guys,” Predators coach Barry Trotz said about the prospects. “They know we want to get our team together in probably the last two of three preseason games. We want to have our group together, so if you look at how many preseason games are left, they aren’t many. They have to make an impression now. And some of them have.”
Only a handful of Predators veterans are on today’s roster for the Carolina game, meaning many of the veterans will be on the ice when Nashville holds its preseason home opener at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday against Winnipeg. So the opportunity is here today for the prospects to force the coaching staff into some tough decisions.
“It’s your last time to show the coaches what we bring to the table,” Predators forward Craig Smith
, 22, said. “There is definitely going to be a sense of urgency. We have a lot of rookies in the game tonight, so we’re just going to have fun with it and not put too much pressure on ourselves.”
A sampling of Predators prospects said they prefer being evaluated in games than during practices. But it’s not like there has been much choice. Training camp opened one week ago and this will be the Predators’ fourth preseason game.
“It’s better this way. I like to play games much more than practice,” forward Jani Lajenen said with a laugh. “It’s much more fun and it’s been great so far.”
At this point in the preseason, it’s not just the younger players who prefer playing games as opposed to practice. With Milwaukee’s camp opening in three days, and with a handful of preseason games already have been played, the Predators coaching staff sees this as a time when separation is most apparent.
“It’s one thing to play against your peer group, it’s another to play against National Hockey League players,” Trotz said. “It’s a little different level. I expect Carolina will be a little bit heavier with veterans. We’re a pretty young team (tonight), but there’s a good group of guys who are really fighting for some spots here.”