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Five Things: What to Watch for in 2017

Breakout from Forsberg and Goaltending Duo in Net Should Lead to Playoff Push

by John Glennon @glennonsports /

It's been an up-and-down ride so far this season for the Predators and their fans, as the team has flashed the ability to beat any opponent but also come short of a consistent level of play.

Still, there are plenty of reasons to believe the best is yet to come for the 2016-17 Predators, who have earned at least a point in six of their last eight games.

Here are five of the biggest things Predators fans can look forward to in 2017:

Playoff Push: 

The Predators may not have been as consistent as they'd hoped to date, but they are still very much in the thick of the hunt for a Western Conference playoff berth. With more than half the season remaining, the Predators have 39 points, which - heading into Wednesday's games - left them just three points back of the final wildcard spot.

It's not so different from last year, when the Preds had 43 points at the same stage of the season. In fact, the 2015-16 Nashville team was just 20-18-8 as of Jan. 20, but put together a pair of solid win streaks - one of five games and another of four - down the stretch to help capture the seventh playoff seed.

"It wasn't until after the All-Star Game [last season] that we actually hit our stride and played our best hockey," Predators General Manager David Poile said Monday.

Once a team gets into the playoffs, anything can happen, as the Preds illustrated last year by knocking off second-seeded Anaheim in Round One. But the Predators must prove they can play at a high level consistently in order to start stringing some wins together.

The Emergence of a Star?

Video: NSH@STL: Arvidsson dances around Blues and scores

It would be hard to find many more entertaining players - on a nightly basis - than 23-year-old Predators forward Viktor Arvidsson. His goal against St. Louis on Dec. 30 -- in which Arvidsson tapped the puck through his own legs, skated around Blues defender Jay Bouwmeester, avoided goalie Jake Allen's pokecheck and tapped the puck into the net - will surely be a candidate for goal of the year.

After a promising rookie year in 2015-16, Arvidsson has taken off this year. Promoted early in the season to the first line, the 5-foot-9, 180-pound Arvidsson has responded with 24 points (10g-14a) in his first 37 games.

His blend of speed, skill and tenacity could signal an NHL star in the making for Arvidsson, who's already become a fan favorite at Bridgestone Arena.

"As a teammate, I'm a huge fan, but as a hockey fan, too, I think it's easy to relate to a guy like that," Predators goalie Pekka Rinne said earlier this season. "He's undersized, but he plays like a big man. That's something I imagine fans really love - `Wow, look at this guy. He's really something.'"

Swedish Sizzle:

Video: MIN@NSH: Forsberg's beautiful wrister from the slot

After 37 games of the 2015-16 season, Predators forward Filip Forsberg had produced 25 points - 10 goals and 15 assists. But he'd just begun heating up at that point. Forsberg would go on to collect 12 goals in January - including two hat tricks - and finished the year with 64 points (33g-31a) in 82 games.

Could Forsberg be on the same kind of path this season? Through 30 games, he'd collected only three goals. But he's collected five goals in the last seven games and now has 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) in 37 games, a point pace nearly identical to last year's.

Another torrid winter from Forsberg would be a big boost to a Predators team that has been seeking more consistent scoring this season.

"It's nice that Filip is finding the back of the net," Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette said during Forsberg's recent three-game goal streak. "It helps build confidence."

Return of a Healthy P.K. Subban:

Video: P.K. Subban talks about injury, trade and transition

Subban acknowledged Tuesday that his upper-body injury had been bothering him for a handful of games before he actually left the lineup. It's probably no coincidence that Subban had just one point in those last five contests after recording 16 points (6g-10a) in his first 24 games.

Predators General Manager David Poile said Monday that Subban would likely return to the lineup in two to three weeks. If Subban returns in two weeks, the Preds would still have 40 games left in the season. That would give a healthy Subban - second among the team's defensemen in points and average ice time (25:03) - plenty of time to make an impact.

"Being out of the lineup now [is tough]," Subban said. "I can't wait to get back in there, so I can continue to help the team… For me now, it's just about building every day and continuing to get used to this team and seeing our team progress."

Dynamic Duo:

Video: NSH@STL: Saros records first NHL shutout in 4-0 win

Pekka Rinne and rookie Juuse Saros have shown over the last two games just how much they mean to the team.

In Tuesday's 2-1 overtime loss to Montreal, Rinne was spectacular, stopping 41 of the 43 shots he faced and almost single-handedly gaining the Preds a point. One game earlier, Saros was flawless against St. Louis, turning away all 25 Blues shots to record his first NHL shutout.

Rinne is still the main man going forward in the Nashville net, as he should be given his extensive track record. The arrival of a prospect as talented as Saros, though, will mean Rinne doesn't have to carry the kind of load he has the previous two seasons, when Rinne played 64 and 66 games. The system should allow Rinne to stay fresh while also giving Saros opportunities to showcase his talents.

"Our goalies always give us a chance," Predators defenseman Roman Josi said after the loss to Montreal. "It's definitely not the goalies's fault if we lose. We just have to help them out and get some wins."

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