All of our questions are about to be answered - at least from a hockey standpoint.
Four months since they last took to the ice as a team, the Predators are back in town, and training camp has finally arrived with all 56 players on the roster set to report on Thursday morning.
Over the next three weeks, Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette and his staff will guide their club through six preseason games and a myriad of practices which will ultimately determine the final 23 names on the Opening Night roster. With plenty of players capable of filling a role in the NHL, there will undoubtedly be surprises along the way before the puck officially drops on Oct. 3 at Bridgestone Arena.
Nobody knows how things will ultimately play out over the coming days, but we do know there will be plenty of storylines to follow as the 2019-20 Predators begin the journey they hope won't conclude until mid-June.
Without further ado, here are five things to watch for at Preds Camp, 2019 edition:
Who Will Matt Duchene Play With?
Not only was the signing of Duchene easily the most impactful free-agent acquisition for the Predators this summer, the argument could be made it was the biggest July 1 signing in club history.
Coveted by the Preds for a number of years, Duchene was finally able to put ink to paper when he agreed to a seven-year, $56 million deal with the team, immediately giving the Predators a 1-2 center punch - along with Ryan Johansen - the likes of which have never been seen in these parts before.
We know Duchene will be a big-game player for the Preds, but who will he be dishing pucks to and receiving passes from on a consistent basis?
Predators General Manager David Poile has already stated he believes Nashville's usual top line of Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson will be kept together, and the GM has also alluded to winger Mikael Granlund as a likely candidate to start the season on one of Duchene's wings.
That leaves one more spot, and there are a few potential options for the third piece on the Duchene line. Veteran winger Craig Smith, who has established himself as a perennial 20-goal scorer in this League, could be a perfect fit. There is also the potential for a player like Kyle Turris - predominantly a centerman throughout his career - to move to the wing thanks to the sheer number of forwards capable of playing the middle of the ice for the Preds.
Dark horses such as reigning AHL MVP Daniel Carr and top prospect Eeli Tolvanen - who would have to beat out at least a couple of forwards on one-way NHL contracts to make the team out of training camp - should also at least be given consideration.
Who Will Dante Fabbro Play With?
Much like at least one of Duchene's wingers could be in question, there are also queries on the Nashville blueline, perhaps most notably, the anticipated full-time addition of Dante Fabbro.
After P.K. Subban was dealt to the New Jersey Devils in June, Poile said Fabbro's play late in the season and into the playoffs as a rookie gave him some added comfort that the young defenseman could go a long way in helping to fill a void left by Subban.
At this point, perhaps the logical step would be to simply replace Subban with Fabbro on the backend, meaning the rookie would skate on a pair with Mattias Ekholm. That would allow the duo of Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis to stay together and give the bottom pair some sort of combination between Dan Hamhuis, Yannick Weber, Matt Irwin and/or Steven Santini.
However, Laviolette has deployed the pair of Ekholm and Ellis on numerous occasions over the years, a combination he knows works well. Could Fabbro be given a chance with Josi from time to time? Absolutely. He could also see some minutes with Hamhuis again, a pair that worked well as Fabbro became acclimated to the NHL.
How Many Forwards Will the Preds Keep - And Who Will They Be?
In past years, questions at the forward position have involved prospective NHLers, and whether or not a rookie could find his way onto the roster. This time around, the predicament is a bit different.
Instead of trying to find that player ready to make the next step to the NHL, the Predators will be forced to part with at least one forward who has seen time in the League before. Nashville currently has 15 forwards on one-way NHL contracts, including AHL MVP Daniel Carr, who inked a one-year, one-way deal with the club on July 1.
Along with Carr, players like Miikka Salomaki and Frederick Gaudreau, mainstays in the organization over the past few seasons, will be among those fighting for spots on the 23-man list.
Another question to consider is how many forwards will the team ultimately keep - 13 or 14? In recent memory, the Preds have elected to keep eight defensemen (two extra) on the roster and 13 forwards (one extra). If they chose to flip that number this season, that would allow one more forward the opportunity to stay with the big club.
But, no matter how you shake things down, at least one name in this category - barring potential Injured Reserve additions - won't be on this list come Oct. 1.
Will Rookies Make a Serious Push to Secure a Spot?
As if the forward corps wasn't crowded enough, we could see some competition from the young guns as well.
Wingers Eeli Tolvanen and Rem Pitlick - both of whom played at least one game for the Preds last season - had excellent outings at the 2019 NHL Prospects Showcase. They're sure to get their chances in the preseason to show what they can do this time around in NHL game action, and they're likely to get considerable looks over the coming weeks.
One thing is certain, however - the Predators are going to do what's best for their development. If coaches and management don't believe players like Tolvanen and Pitlick are ready to play significant roles in the lineup, they will likely be sent to Milwaukee of the AHL. It's much more beneficial for highly-touted prospects like this to star at the minor-league level than to play in lower roles or serve as healthy scratches in the NHL.
Nonetheless, players like Tolvanen, Pitlick, Anthony Richard and Colin Blackwell will be worth watching in the weeks to come.
What Will the Power Play Look Like?
Most Predators fans would probably say the configuration doesn't matter to them - just as long as the unit converts a time or two.
Those in charge certainly shared that frustration with the man advantage last season, and resurrecting the power play is a top priority during training camp and beyond. Assistant Coach Dan Lambert, who led the WHL's Spokane Chiefs to that league's top power play, has been brought in for a fresh voice on the coaching staff, and the addition of Duchene certainly won't hurt matters.
The Predators have usually gone with three forwards and two defensemen on the power play in recent memory, but there is talk the team could add a fourth forward and only utilize one defenseman on at least one of the units this season. Nashville has more than enough skill up front to rationalize this line of thinking, with names like Forsberg, Arvidsson, Johansen, Duchene, Granlund, Turris and the like. Josi, Ellis, Ekholm and perhaps Fabbro are more than capable of serving as the single d-man in this scenario.
No matter the personnel, the Predators prefer not to think of their power play units as a first and second option, but rather 1 and 1A, meaning they have enough talent to spread it throughout the two groups. Will linemates be together on these units as well, or will chemistry click no matter who is quarterbacking the PP this time around?
There's only one way to find out the answer to this and plenty of other questions discussed above. One thing we do know? Predators hockey is back, and that's the best news of all.