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Preds Stress Desire to Get Younger at Forward, Defense

GM Poile, Coach Hynes Evaluate Tolvanen, Pitlick, Tomasino, Davies and Carrier, Say All Could Make Preds' 2020-21 Lineup

by Thomas Willis @TomAWillis / Director of Digital & Radio Content

Put simply, changes are coming to the Nashville Predators' roster for the 2020-21 season. 

General Manager David Poile and head coach John Hynes said as much on Thursday when the duo reflected on the 2019-20 season. The top two members of the team's management resolutely separated good from bad, as they evaluated a season of inconsistency which ended in a series loss to the Arizona Coyotes. 

Pick virtually any 30-second clip amongst the 53 minutes of remarks from Poile and Hynes and you'll hear slight variations of one theme: adding youth.

Poile said he'll be looking to improve his roster by any means necessary prior to Opening Night of the 2020-21 season and for the GM, who often speaks openly to the media, it's wise to bet new, younger players are the No. 1 option he'll be using to reverse course from the last two seasons. 

But first, let's also consider what the Predators consider to be the core strengths of their team - the group they'll build from.

Video: GM Poile and Coach Hynes discuss the 2019-20 season

"If you just start from, I say a basic depth chart: goaltenders, your top-four defensemen, your top line, that is your core," Poile said. "That core has - at least in the play-in series - played very well and very consistently. If we can get that core to play at the level that they did against Arizona, I think everybody's going to be happy.

"I look for great goaltending, and I think we have that. I'm excited about the fact that John [Hynes] reunited our top line of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson. I'm excited for how they all played. I think you can point to them having some of the ups and downs that I referred to and their inconsistencies, but Filip Forsberg played like a star; Johansen played like a No. 1 center; a healthy Viktor Arvidsson was scoring again. This gives me great confidence going forward.

"We've got lots of good pieces, lots of good players, but do we need better results from certain players? Absolutely. Do we need to make some changes? Absolutely. I think we're going to see and do all of those things."

Poile was encouraged to see the Preds' top offensive line carry the play in the series for the vast majority of it. He also mentioned the continued development of Dante Fabbro, just 22 years of age himself, as a step that will round Nashville's top four on defense into the formidable unit it's been the past five seasons or so. Finally, Juuse Saros has emerged as the club's starter in net, with he and Pekka Rinne forming a "1-A and 1-B" situation in goaltending.  

But outside of the quality foundation, the club is seeking change. 

(Episode 98 of the Preds Official Podcast: Click here to listen on mobile)

On defense, Poile and Hynes mentioned two players who spent the 2019-20 season with the Milwaukee Admirals in the AHL. 

"We have a couple of young defensemen who are going to vie for positions on our team next year: Alexandre Carrier, who you got to see a little bit of in the past couple of years; Jeremy Davies, who we got in the P.K. Subban trade." Poile said. "These guys are getting close to being able to play."

"They both are talented players, smart players," Hynes said of Davies and Carrier. "They can skate and move the puck, and it's just going to come down to who's the readiest. And I think one of the big things is when you have some new players coming into your lineup, you need to have internal competition; you need to have players come into training camp if there's a spot or two open." 

Defensemen Yannick Weber and Korbinian Holzer are unrestricted free agents, while Dan Hamhuis retired last week. Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, Fabbro and Jarred Tinordi are all under contract for the 2020-21 season. 

Video: GM David Poile and Coach Hynes reflect on season

Next, at forward, Poile focused on the play of the second line. While Matt Duchene turned in stretches as the dominant center Nashville signed to a seven-year contract in 2019, the forward and Preds management agree he can and will be better. Nashville's GM says he believes it's more about building around Duchene. 

"We have to find him some guys to play with, so that we can develop that really good second line," Poile said. "Bottom line with me, that's the missing link... He said in an exit interview 'that's not good enough. That's not the season I'm capable of and what I can do.' So just one name, just to throw out to you, and he hasn't played much in the NHL, but... there's a guy that might have chemistry with Matt: Eeli Tolvanen. Matt really likes to pass, and Tolvanen is a goal-scorer… that's something that I can see somewhere down the road that could be a possibility." 

Tolvanen, the Predators' first-round pick in 2017, was not the only forward in his early 20s, who spent the majority of the 2019-20 season with the Admirals, to be mentioned as an option for the Predators this coming season. Yakov Trenin, a restricted free agent, and Rem Pitlick were both praised during the end-of-season press conference. 

Video: CHI@NSH: Tolvanen nets Smith's feed for first goal

"Eeli Tolvanen, our former first-round pick, certainly is going to get a great opportunity to play on our team on a regular basis based on his progress, maturity," Poile said. "John got a chance to see him at training camp during the pause. [We have] a couple of other young players like Trenin, who played up here a little bit this year, but certainly should be more of a full-time player. A couple of younger guys like him coming into the lineup - bigger, stronger, little bit of physicality. Rem Pitlick is another guy who's got some talent. We're certainly going to be giving these guys opportunities at training camp. Probably our best player is in junior, Philip Tomasino, who was also in our training camp. Not to be repetitive, but he's only 19 years of age, but I think he's got an excellent chance of vying for a shot on our team this year. There's going to be some changes made."

Tomasino represents the extreme example of infusing youth into the Predators' roster next season, but according to Poile, he may also have the most talent, so he can't be dismissed out of hand. Quietly, the Predators had the second oldest roster in the NHL's 24-team Return To Play group at an average age of 29. Could Tomasino, a 2019 first-round pick, be ready for NHL duty already? 

"They're not just on the team because they're young players - they have to help you win," Hynes said. "Phil Tomasino, he's a guy that's a highly talented player, very driven, very mature for his age, which is important. I had the opportunity in New Jersey to work with some young players, some more mature, and ready to play right away. I think Tomasino is a guy who's got a high motor, loves the game, lots of things that surround the game, which is important for a young player if you're going to play the National Hockey League." 

Video: Behind-the-scenes footage from the 2019 NHL Draft

Forwards Mikael Granlund, Craig Smith and Colin Blackwell are UFAs. For Tolvanen and Pitlick: 

"Tolvanen is right on that cusp, and we're going to give him a good opportunity," Hynes said. "We're going to try to spend some time with him this summer or during the pause here before he comes back to training camp and see if we can help him get to a good spot. Rem Pitlick was another guy I thought was pretty impressive in this training camp just to get good hockey sense, good speed, good offensive instincts. He's another player that has some pretty high-end talent, and it's going to be up to Rem to make the decision if he is ready or is he not ready, because we want to put the players on the team when they're going to be ready to make an impact." 

Changes are coming to Predators for the 2020-21 season. We already know the theme, and it shouldn't be long before we also find out who will make up the new group.

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