And then there were 28.
After beginning training camp with 57 players on the roster, the Nashville Predators assigned 22 of them to Milwaukee of the American Hockey League on Saturday evening and took to the ice for practice Monday at Centennial Sportsplex with a much smaller group of skaters.
The Preds will host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night at Bridgestone Arena, the fifth of six preseason contests on the schedule for Nashville before the regular season commences Oct. 8.
There are still spots to be won on the Opening Night roster, but the Predators have now reached the stage where most of the current participants will remain with the big club this season, allowing for greater implementation and emphasis on all facets of the game.
“It’s basically the team we’re going to start the season with,” defenseman Roman Josi said. “We have a couple days of practice now and we’ve been working on the special teams and all the systems.
“The first couple of preseason games, you’re pretty much getting back into that game shape and now you really want to work on the system things and get your game in order. Hopefully then you have your game at the peak when the season starts.”
Tomorrow against the Blue Jackets, not only will that practice be put into play, but the chance to make one last impression also exists.
“There are a lot of guys in the lineup tomorrow night that really are battling,” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “Our eyes are wide open to the play that goes on tomorrow night, and we’ve still got decisions that need to be made.”
Injury Update and Notes:
Forward Cody Hodgson, who had missed the majority of training camp with an upper-body injury, skated with the club during practice on Monday and will play Tuesday night against the Blue Jackets, according to Laviolette.
Forward James Neal also skated with the team Monday after leaving last Wednesday’s game and missing Friday’s practice with a lower-body injury.
After Off-ice Study, Hodgson Ready to Prove It:
A lot will be going through Cody Hodgson’s mind during his first preseason action with the Nashville Predators on Tuesday. The forward, who signed a one-year deal with Nashville earlier in the summer, is on pace to suit up for the first time with his new team after missing the first four exhibition contests with an upper-body injury.
Hodgson explained after Monday’s training camp practice at Centennial Sportsplex that he’ll be thinking through elements of the Predators on-ice system he’s been studying the past few weeks, while also squelching the usual, first-game jitters.
“There are always nerves [in the first game], and that’s a good thing; it means you’re playing for something,” Hodgson said. “I’m excited, it feels like it’s been a long time that I’ve been out, but it really hasn’t been that long, it’s just been a few games.”
The former first-round pick is in a similar place as another new Predators skater, defenseman Barret Jackman, who logged his first minutes at Saturday’s scrimmage after also missing time due to injury.
“I’m kind of getting evaluated as well, making sure I’m ready to play and you work on positioning, work within the system and the guys are going hard, they’re looking to make a spot,” Jackman said following Saturday’s scrimmage at Ford Ice Center. “It was a good pace out there, and I really wanted to make plays and get the head back in the game.”
As far as playing catch-up, Jackman and Hodgson have benefited from the chance to study the Predators system through video and other instructional meetings from the coaching staff. Both players want to get to a place where on-ice plays and zone coverage become second nature and their off-ice study has helped them stay proactive in recent days.
“There’s no way to really immerse yourself in a game situation, but you can do as much as you can off the ice by studying the system,” Hodgson said. “They did a great job here, they gave us the system ahead of time so you can study it at home and really get to know it. I feel like I’m comfortable with it and ready to be able to step into a game with it.”
After a strong showing during Monday’s practice session, the true test awaits Hodgson versus the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday (at 7 p.m. CT) at Bridgestone Arena.
“He looked good out there today, he looked strong, so we’ll give a real good look at him tomorrow,” Laviolette said.
Fiala Following Forsberg’s Path?
One of those assignments to Milwaukee on Saturday was Kevin Fiala. The Swiss forward had high hopes of making the club out of training camp, but beginning the season with the Admirals isn’t a bad thing for the 19-year-old. In fact, Laviolette, who believes gaining experience on the smaller North American ice can only help Fiala’s development, compared the situation to that of a current Preds forward.
“It’s really a similar path that Filip Forsberg took,” Laviolette said of Fiala’s development. “[Fiala’s] path should be pretty close to [Forsberg’s] and that’s a good path. Filip developed, he learned a lot when he got here and he was ready to make a difference. I think the biggest thing for Kevin right now is that he just plays games and really starts to learn the North American game.”
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