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Preds Embracing High Expectations, Ready for New Journey in 2019-20

Nashville Knows Team is Capable of Great Things, Expects to Contend Once More

by Brooks Bratten @brooksbratten / Senior Communications & Content Coordinator

It felt as though they were just here, answering questions as to what went wrong, what needs to be fixed and what's next.

And then, they went on their respective ways for the summer, to destinations across the country and around the world to reflect on what was and envision what could be.

Yes, the memories may seem fresh, but in reality, it was the longest summer in these parts since 2015. Those playing the game and those cheering them on have all become accustomed to playing deep into the spring in recent memory.

So, when the Nashville Predators reported for training camp on Thursday to mark the official beginning of the 2019-20 journey, they did so in better moods than the last time they were all together, refreshed, refocused and recharged for what's to come.

It would be difficult to find a representative of any of the NHL's 31 member clubs who isn't full of optimism at the current juncture, believing their team has what it takes to go all the way.

But in Nashville, that anticipation is greater than most, and for good reason.

"Our expectations as a group are extremely high," Predators center Ryan Johansen said Thursday. "We all know that, and we all believe we're a team that can compete for a Stanley Cup. When you're not getting the results that you feel like you should, you try and make adjustments, try and find ways to become a better team, and ultimately, the best team in the League."

Video: Ryan Johansen talks expectations for Preds

Those tweaks didn't come fast and furious over the summer, but the few that did go down were monumental. All-Star centerman Matt Duchene is now a Nashville resident, while defenseman P.K. Subban has moved on. Assistant Coach Dan Lambert is a new face, too, brought in to deliver a fresh voice and a revitalized look as the group strives to find success on the power play once more.

A first-round exit in the playoffs to the Dallas Stars didn't sit well with anyone in the organization, nor should it. But don't forget, the Predators are back-to-back Central Division Champions. They won the Presidents' Trophy two seasons ago with the League's best record. The allure of that run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017 still lingers.

And yet, does any of it matter if the Predators don't capture the ultimate prize?

"That's the challenge of this," Preds defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. "We won the Central last year, it's a really tough division to win, and obviously we want more in the playoffs… Right now, we have to go through and see what really makes sense of changing and what really worked and maybe just stick with it, because I don't think we need to change a whole lot. I think there's some small adjustments that we can make and be better on and improve on, but in saying that, I think we do a lot of things well in this organization, and as a team."

Five consecutive playoff berths are no small feat in today's NHL, and with the current roster, there's no reason to believe that streak will end anytime soon.

But nothing is won by looking at a bunch of names on a piece of paper. The Predators know that they're going to have to perform on the ice, and they're embracing the challenge.

Video: Roman Josi ready to lead Preds again

"The expectations are high in the whole organization, and rightfully so," Nashville Captain Roman Josi said. "We have a really good team, a really deep team again this year, and I'm really excited about this team."

That enthusiasm is palpable around the club, and there's something else, too. Yes, professional hockey is a serious business. No one - players, coaches, management or otherwise - gets into the sport to simply receive a pat on the back at the end of the season. Everyone wants to win.

And yet, it's also important to remember that this journey is meant to be enjoyed. The highs and lows, the triumphs and defeats, they're all leading to something as this team writes its own story.

"It's a long, grueling [season], and it's a grind," Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne said. "It's a lot of games, it's a lot of travel, and I think at the same time, just being able to enjoy that whole process, and the whole journey, I think it's so important. [You take] the ups and downs and somehow find that happy medium in between, and I think it's really important for the team. There's no denying that last year at times it was a grind. It was emotionally tough at times, but I'm just really happy that it's a new season, a new start, a new opportunity and all the good things."

Video: Pekka Rinne ready for best season yet

Three weeks from tonight, the Predators will drop the puck on their 22nd season. It's impossible to tell how it will finish, but it's beginning with a sense of confidence, a slew of pride and the faith that this could be the team to do it.

There's only one way to find out.

"When we get down to our [final] roster, we're going to be looking around the room at each other and we need to understand that there's something special here," Johansen said. "We've seen that in the previous years where we feel like we can be a team competing for that Stanley Cup, and we've fallen a little bit short, but we're not far off. We believe that, and the team we're going to have in our room going into the first game of the season, we all need to be on the same page and know that when we chip away every day and become the best team we can, we can do some great things."

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