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Developing Depth Keeps Pressure On Preds NHLers

by Bryan Mullen / Nashville Predators
The Nashville Predators’ roster is technically set for the start of the 2011-12 regular season.

Realistically, fans should expect it be fluid and ever-changing in the coming weeks.

The Predators open the season with back-to-back road games, beginning in Columbus on Friday and ending at St. Louis on Saturday. As it stands, Nashville’s current roster is unlikely to change until Sunday at the earliest.

“We have a lot of depth on a very young roster,” Predators General Manager/President of Hockey Operations David Poile said. “We have 30 guys who can play for us.”

That means the younger, less experienced players who made the roster out of camp this year cannot rest on their laurels. With so much talent in Milwaukee, there will always be "hungry" prospects in the AHL jockying for a shot with the big club.

“There is still that thing in the back of your head where you know you can get sent back down just as fast as being sent up,” said Nashville rookie forward Craig Smith, who made the opening day roster. “I’m glad I made it through camp, but from here on out, you have to play and you have to produce. You have to show up every day.”

Having to take a peek over your shoulder isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the younger players; it eliminates the risk of complacency.

“There are a lot of good players who can fill any spot,” Smith said. “There’s going to be a lot of urgency throughout the entire year. Every time you touch the ice, it has to be ‘go time.’ You have to make sure you’re doing the right things and let it play out.”

Predators Coach Barry Trotz used defenseman Teemu Laakso as an example. Laakso made the roster out of training camp in the '09-10 season, but when Cody Franson came up to replace him, Laakso never made it back to Nashville that season. He appeared in one game with the Preds last year. Laakso is on this year’s opening day roster, however.

A Year Ago...
Last season 10 different Preds prospects who missed out on the Opening Night roster were recalled to Nashville and contributed to the NHL squad, including four skaters who opened the season in the AHL but were regulars in Nashville during the playoffs – defenseman Jonathon Blum and forwards Blake Geoffrion, Matt Halischuk and Nick Spaling. Both Blum and Geoffrion made their NHL debuts late in the regular season and went on play big roles with the club during the stretch drive and through the post-season. Blum had the game-winning goal in the March 19 win over Detroit which pushed the Preds up into the No. 8 seed at the time and then Geoffrion’s hat trick the next day in the Preds come-from-behind win at Buffalo was a turning point in the team’s race to lock down a playoff seed. Who do you think can be this year's Blum, Geoffrion, Halischuk, or Spaling? Click here to voice your opinion.
--Jay Levin,
“Things can change in a moment,” Trotz said. “I think most players understand that the decisions that are made for today are the right decisions. But that might not be the decisions for the year.”

Decisions are sometimes out of a player’s control. For example, when forward Mike Fisher returns from IR, a player will have to be sent to Milwaukee. And if Ryan Ellis, a highly-talented defenseman, tears it up in the first few games in Milwaukee, room could be made for him in Nashville. Also, if an overly tough style of play is not needed after the first two games, forward Zack Stortini could be sent down.

“Players actually sort themselves out based on good play, bad play, indifferent play,” Trotz said. “It becomes a pecking order in terms of who is the better player down there. They’re already being put in an order and that’s what training camp sort of does. You go from there.”

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