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The Official Site of the Nashville Predators Predictions: Holiday Break Addition

by Jay Levin / Nashville Predators
In the spirit of the Holidays, looks at the top storylines around the Preds and Western Conference this season … and eye the second half of the season.

The Nice List (Most Surprising Storyline)
Preds Related: The power-play. The Preds have scored 27 power-play goals already this year are converting on 22.5% of their power-play chances this year, second best in the league and on a pace for 63 PPGs for the full season. And that doesn’t count the goals scored on delayed penalty calls – like the two delayed calls the Preds converted on against Columbus on Thursday. The four previous seasons the PP unit was a bit of an Achilles heel for the Preds as the team ranked 26th, 24th, 26th, and 27th respectively with conversion rates ranging from a high of 16.4% in ’09-12 to a low of 14.8% in ’07-08. And more than just the increased goal production, this season’s power-play unit is doing a good job of creating positive momentum for the Preds even when they don’t convert for a goal.
Honorable Mention: Craig Smith (yes, he had a lot of buzz heading into training camp, but….)

Non-Preds Conference Related: A month ago it would have been the Edmonton Oilers, but right now I have to go with the Minnesota Wild. This is a team that finished 11 points out of the playoffs last season and enters Christmas break challenging for the top spot in the Western Conference. The Wild made some very aggressive off-season moves and – judging from the first half results – the moves have paid strong early returns.

Santa’s Gift Under the Tree For Coach Trotz
More clarity to the defense. Ryan Suter and Shea Weber have been outstanding, but beyond them, the defensive group has been inconsistent. Getting Francis Bouillon back from injury was a huge help to the unit; Bouillon has been a steadying influence on the second pair and has helped share the burden with Suter/Weber to match-up against the top offensive talents. There’s a lot of young talent in the group, but – especially in the games when Bouillon or Kevin Klein have been out due to injury – the depth has been inconsistent. Klein and Jonathon Blum were key during the team’s playoff run last season, but struggled to match that same level when paired together earlier in the season. Klein seems to have rediscovered his confidence since being paired with Bouillon, but the Preds need to see more of the consistency he displayed during last year’s playoffs. Jack Hillen seems to be adjusting to the Preds system and looks to be a reasonable third pair option. Roman Josi hasn’t looked out of place in his first taste of NHL action, but the Preds need either Josi, Blum, or Teemu Laakso (who looked good in camp but struggled in the regular season and has since been reassigned to the AHL) to emerge as a more consistent option on the blue line.
Honorable Mention: Second-Half Sergei Kostitsyn (last season Kostitsyn had 7 goals and 16 points at the end of December and then scored 16 goals and 34 points from January 1 through the end of the season – he has 5 goals and 15 points heading into Christmas Break this season)

Most Shocking (Western Conference, non-Preds)
The Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks had home ice in the first round of the playoffs last season. This season they enter the Christmas Break eight points behind 13th place Edmonton (and 16 points out of a playoff spot). With the Getzlaf-Perry-Ryan trio, Selanne, Koivu, etc up front, All-Star goaltender Jonas Hiller back on the ice, the top contributors from the defensemen all back this season … it was a surprising downturn for the Ducks in the first half.

Second Half Breakout Player
Preds: Roman Josi. The past two seasons the Preds scouts, including Director of Player Development Martin Gelinas, have raved about Josi’s potential. After making his NHL debut earlier this month, it isn’t a stretch to think Josi can have the same impact down the stretch this season that Blum had on the defense last season. He’s started to show more of his offensive abilities, producing two goals and three points over the past seven games. And at 6-2, 200-pounds, as he adjusts to the nuances of the NHL game, Josi has the size to hold up against some of the more physical forwards in the league.
Honorable Mention: Earlier this week I would have said Colin Wilson, but with three points in the last two games, Wilson is now on pace to surpass 50 points for a full 82-game schedule. So he’s pretty much had a breakout first half. I think 25 goals and 50-55 points are well within reach for Wilson this season. At season's end Wilson could be a strong candidate for Preds breakout player of the year.

Non-Preds Conference Related: Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers look like a different team with him in the lineup. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Hall had an impressive rookie campaign. He’s averaging around a point per game this year when he’s been healthy, including four points in his first four games back from injury heading into the Christmas Break. With all the other young talent around him in Edmonton, I think Hall can become an All-Star caliber talent.

Prediction: Name a team currently outside of a playoff seed in the Western Conference is most likely to work its way into the playoffs?
The Los Angeles Kings. LA has so much individual talent. Two really talented goaltenders, a deep defensive group led by a pair of young Olympic defensemen (Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson), and a lot of gifted forwards. Anze Kopitar has been over 60 points in all five of his NHL seasons (and over 70 points the last two seasons). Mike Richards, Justin Williams, Dustin Brown, Simon Gagne, Dustin Penner. This is a deep, deep, team with a lot of top-end talent. They recently made a coaching change and are just a few points out of a playoff spot.

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