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Roster Shakeout: 3 Bubble Players To Watch

by Bryan Mullen / Nashville Predators
The time is now.

Coming off a stirring shootout win at Winnipeg on Friday, the Nashville Predators end the preseason tonight when they host Carolina at 7 p.m. at Bridgestone Arena. This will be the final opportunity for players on the bubble to make one last push and earn a spot on the roster. For those who don’t make it, there is some solace. Predators Coach Barry Trotz said those who are currently playing will almost certainly be utilized at some point in Nashville this season.

Still, making the roster out of camp is a confidence builder and the goal for the bubble guys.

Here are three to keep an eye on …

Mattias Ekholm, D: Ekholm has been playing more mature than his age (21). He’s been steady on defense, despite one rough sequence against Washington on Wednesday when he lost his footing and allowed the Capitals’ Mathieu Perreault to score. On Friday, he had an assist on David Legwand’s power play goal while manning the point. There is not much flash to his game, and that’s fine with Nashville’s management. Being steady, solid and reliable are keys for defensemen to make the Predators’ roster.

Chris Mueller, F: Started the preseason with a three-game and has played everything from the top line to the fourth line during the exhibition campaign. He was a perfect 10 for 10 on faceoffs Friday night in Winnipeg. This time last year, he didn’t even have an NHL contract. Nashville signed him on Dec. 28 and he made his NHL debut one night later. Mueller has already played in a team-high five games this preseason, so he may sit out tonight, but he's built up a strong body of work already.

Craig Smith, F: He erupted three weeks ago when he had six goals and one assist in two rookie games at Florida. Smith just turned 22, but you’d never know from his poise and confidence playing against some of the best players in the NHL. He isn’t afraid to take a shot, evidenced by his game-high five shots against Washington (a game he had two assists in). It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if he makes the roster, but it would go against Nashville’s style of having a prospect spend time in Milwaukee, no matter the talent level.

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