David Poile should know this team better than anyone. After all, the Nashville Predators general manager, entering his 19th season with the club, is the only GM the franchise has ever known and has spent the past few seasons constructing a team he believes will be a contender.
But he's also been around long enough to know that the only thing that's certain in training camp is the uncertainty that comes with it.
"If I've learned anything over the years, we're very optimistic, but you just don't know what you have until you start playing," Poile said. "We made some significant changes last year. The team is going to be different, how we play is going to be different, our chemistry, our culture, our identity; we have to start figuring that out and getting that in training camp."
It's up to Poile, Head Coach Peter Laviolette and the rest of their staff to find the answers to their questions, and the next two weeks, they hope, will provide at least most of what they're looking for.
Some of those questions exist with depth positions at both forward and defense. While Poile says there are likely "just one or two" spots to be won at camp, it's who could fill those spots that is still much up in the air.
"We could use a little bit of a surprise at forward to come in and play better than somebody else," Poile said. "We had a look at the rookie camp there with [Vladislav] Kamenev and [Kevin] Fiala. Fiala was probably our best forward down there, but we've got some other guys we'd like to give a shot to. On defense, we've got pretty good depth, but on our third pairing, I think that is wide open actually, who gets to play and who would be the extra guy. I do think we will have some good competition at training camp."
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Those contending for the spots on the backend could get some extra work in at least the first few days of camp. Defensemen Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm are both participating in the World Cup of Hockey, and blueliner Ryan Ellis has an upper-body injury and will be re-evaluated after Nashville's doubleheader on Sept. 27 against Florida.
Those absences will open the door for defensemen like Yannick Weber, Matt Carle, Anthony Bitetto, Petter Granberg and Matt Irwin to make an impression.
"There you have three defensemen that aren't even going to start off with us, so all those guys playing in the first three preseason games will probably all be at a high level," Poile said. "Our staff will sort it out and make decisions based on how they play."
So the Opening Night roster is far from solidified, and Poile knows there will be at least one element to arise in the coming that he isn't necessarily expecting. And there isn't anyone who has more experience to handle it than the man with 34 years at the helm of an NHL franchise.
"At every training camp I have ever been to, regardless of what we have on paper or what our thoughts are going to be in terms of how our team is going to be, there are always disappointments at training camp and there are always surprises at training camp," Poile said. "So whatever we think we have today, I guarantee you something will happen at training camp to make it different."