Sept. 17, 2015, marks the opening day of the Nashville Predators Training Camp. Scant roster moves have been made over the summer, but that’s not to say that this year’s iteration of the Preds won’t look somewhat different. There appears to be little change at goaltending or at defense. However, there are three forwards who may change the dynamic up front. Below I highlight these three:
Nashville’s first pick from the 2014 Entry Draft, young Kevin Fiala is the one player who could make the biggest impact. He is a talented and confident playmaker who comes with above-average determination baked right into the recipe. He wasn’t required to, but Fiala spent the entire summer in Nashville so that he could train under the supervision of Predators Strength and Conditioning Coach David Good. In doing so, the young Swiss-born forward added 18 pounds of muscle mass, which at the end of the day, makes him quicker and sturdier, in spite of the fact he’s just 5-foot-10.
Watch out for Fiala; remember his first NHL game during a late-season call up last year? Things happen when the kid’s on the ice; the puck finds him.
Former Buffalo Sabres forward Cody Hodgson was one of the Predators’ few summer transactions. Presented with a challenging list of available free agents, General Manager David Poile took a modest risk on a player who is just two seasons removed from a year where he registered 44 points, including 20 goals. Hodgson knows he holds a golden opportunity to parlay this year into another strong, multi-year contract if he clicks in Nashville. Keep your eye on the athlete with the greatest motivation to perform! (See Mike Ribeiro, 2014-15).
Assuming Hodgson gets off on the right foot, this former first-round pick should slot in at third-line center. You can appreciate the impact a player like Hodgson could have to the club’s fortunes if he can contribute at or around 30 points. That’s nearly twice the output Nashville got from the “three hole” last year. Conservatively, that translates into another three to five wins for the Predators.
Jarnkrok may be under the most pressure to retain his spot for none other than the two reasons mentioned above. Should either Fiala or Hodgson – or both – have strong camps, Jarnkrok may get frozen out. Do the math. Hodgson is most likely earmarked for the third line center spot, meaning Jarnkrok could move to the wing to assist. However, if Fiala has his way and he makes the club, Jarnkrok is in a tough position. The one saving grace for the young Swede is coach Laviolette’s preference to carry five centers. Injuries dictate roster moves and you like to have the luxury as a team of being able to carry an extra forward who can play the middle.
To Jarnkrok’s further credit, he made the most of his offseason. He too appears to have returned to camp a bigger, stronger athlete, a trait that may allow him to better compete with opposing defenders and generate more in the offensive end. There’s everything to like about his game in the defensive end. It’s at the other end the Predators need him to step up and provide more offensive depth.
In any event, lots to watch for as these and other hopefuls battle over openings in this year’s lineup. See you at the rink.