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Five Things We've Learned About the Preds

Subban Trade Worked, Preds Youth is Strength and Finnish Goaltending Leads the Way

by John Glennon @glennonsports / glennonsports@gmail.com

The Predators' run to within two wins of claiming the Stanley Cup this year was many things: surprising, inspiring and highly entertaining.

In looking back over the entire campaign - the regular season and the postseason - here are five things we learned about the history-making Predators:

The Subban Trade Worked: In the aftermath of the blockbuster P.K. Subban-Shea Weber trade last summer, Predators General Manager David Poile figured it might take a season for Subban to fully acclimate himself to a new coach, team, system and city.

Sure enough, there were some struggles in the early going.

But after returning from a mid-season injury, Subban started making big strides, producing 23 points and a +3 rating in his final 37 regular-season contests. In the playoffs, Subban was a force, collecting 12 points (including six power-play assists) in 22 contests. His Corsi rating - a stat that reflects puck possession when a particular player is on the ice - in the postseason was 56.16 percent, the highest among all of Nashville's blueliners.

Just as important, Subban and defensive partner Mattias Ekholm turned into a tremendous shutdown pairing, effectively neutralizing some of the most talented forwards in the game throughout the postseason.

"His offense is something I think everybody knows about, and probably one of the reasons we got him," Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "What I learned more than anything is I think he's a brilliant defensive player.

"I think he and Mattias Ekholm as a pair were unbelievable with their size, their strength and their reads, their ability to stop opposition's top lines, their ability to get out of our end, to shield pucks, to make a quick move and and an outlet pass and to get out of our defensive zone as quick as possible."

This is Quite a Core Group: The Predators' playoff run might have been surprising in some respects, but it wouldn't be shocking in the least to see this Nashville team make repeated forays deep into the postseason.

The combination of talent, youth and players under contract is impressive.

On defense, the Preds' top four blueliners - arguably the best in the NHL - are all under contract through the 2019-20 season. Subban is the oldest of the bunch at 28, followed by Ekholm and Roman Josi at 27, and Ryan Ellis at 26.

At forward, the only unrestricted free agent who played a big role this season is Mike Fisher, who's yet to decide whether he will return next year.

The Preds will also have to re-sign restricted free agents such as Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson and Austin Watson. Nashville may well lose a forward in the expansion draft as well.

But the role call of talent under the age of 30 is impressive: Kevin Fiala (20 years old), Filip Forsberg (22), Pontus Aberg (23), Colton Sissons (23), Arvidsson (24), Johansen (24), Miikka Salomaki (24), Calle Jarnkrok (25), Watson (25), Craig Smith (27), Colin Wilson (27), James Neal (29).

"With the group we have, the guys that have been here for a while and will hopefully be here for a while, we're confident going forward," Ellis said. "It's encouraging to see how hungry everyone was, how dedicated everyone was and I expect even bigger things next year."

Video: CHI@NSH, Gm3: Fiala beats Crawford for OT winner

Kevin Fiala Might be the Next Break-Out Player: One of the most disappointing playoff moments for the Predators occurred when Fiala suffered a broken leg in Nashville's Game One victory over St. Louis.

But that shouldn't dim the anticipation of what we might see next season from the 2014 first-round pick, who seemed to be coming into his own before the brutal injury.

Fiala scored four of his 11 goals in the final 14 games of the regular season, adding a pair of assists. He took things up a notch in the playoffs, scoring twice in four games against Chicago. One of the goals was a monster, an overtime winner against the Blackhawks that thrilled the home fans and gave the Preds a 3-0 lead in the series.

His soft hands and slick skill set could mean Fiala will be the Preds' next break-out player, along the lines of what Arvidsson did this year.

"We're starting to see Kevin play with confidence and believe in his abilities out there," Johansen said. "Watching him and his growth at times, he's going to be a heck of a player. He reminds me of a lot of myself as a young guy, the inconsistencies of being young and learning how to be your best each and every night."

Sometimes It's Best Not to Swing for the Fences: In a number of previous years, Poile has made some bold moves at the NHL trading deadline, picking up the likes of Steve Sullivan, Brendan Witt, Peter Forsberg, Fisher, Hal Gill and Andrei Kostitsyn among others.

But despite all the speculation surrounding Colorado center Matt Duchene, Poile played it relatively cool at the deadline this year, adding depth forwards Vernon Fiddler and PA Parenteau from New Jersey, as well as Cody McLeod from Colorado earlier in the season.

The Preds lost four straight games immediately after the deadline, but rebounded by winning seven of their next eight contests and showing signs of the chemistry that would carry them through the playoffs. In their run to the Stanley Cup Final, the Predators relied primarily on the same names that guided them through the regular season.  

"It can work in your favor or work against you," Ellis said of deadline trades. "You look at some teams that may have regretted making trades. Then you look at teams that didn't make [big] trades like us. Each year presents different challenges for coaches and management to bring the group of players together - whether you bring guys in or not."

The Team's Goaltending Future Looks Bright: Preds starting goalie Pekka Rinne served as the team's backbone for much of the postseason, finishing with a 14-8 record, a .930 save percentage and a 1.96 goals-against average.

It was for the most part an encouraging playoff performance for the 34-year-old Rinne, who said Tuesday he feels younger than his age.

But the play of rookie goalie Juuse Saros during the 2016-17 season has to make the Predators feel secure about the team's long-term future in goal as well. The 22-year-old Finland native became a regular part of the goalie rotation, playing in important games down the stretch and giving Rinne a good amount of rest during the second half of the season.

Saros showed exceptional quickness and anticipation in the net, finishing with a 10-8-3 record, .923 save percentage and 2.35 goals-against average.

"Hopefully he's going to be here a long time and you guys get to see him a lot," Rinne said. "He's another one of those guys that you can't help but be happy for him. He works hard. He comes to the rink with a smile on his face. He's willing to put in the work, which is the biggest thing. I think the future is bright for him."

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