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Training Camp Preview: Five Things to Watch

Heightened Expectations, Leadership Additions and Scott Hartnell's Impact Among Five Items to Watch in Training Camp

by Brooks Bratten @brooksbratten / Communications & Content Coordinator

It's difficult to forget the overtime goals, the otherworldly saves, the massive crowds on Broadway and beyond - all indelible images of the Nashville Predators magical run to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.

And while these moments will never be forgotten, it's just about time to make room for something new.

We're now just days away from the first pucks hitting the ice at Predators training camp following veterans reporting on Sept. 14 for team meetings. As is always the case, Head Coach Peter Laviolette and his staff will make plenty of decisions over the coming days and weeks - some more difficult than others - all in preparation for what will be Nashville's 20th NHL season, with the highest expectations in franchise history. No pressure, right?

As the Preds start their push toward their first game of the 2017-18 season on Oct. 5 in Boston, here are five storylines to keep an eye on with another training camp set to commence on Thursday.

Click here: Training Camp Schedule

Click here: Training Camp 55-man Roster

Heightened Expectations:

As they have been in every season of the Laviolette era, expectations for the 2017-18 Nashville Predators are high. That'll happen when you're the defending Western Conference champions.

Laviolette wasn't shy when speaking about last season's tremendous success, and the disappointment that followed of coming so close to the ultimate prize. The bench boss has been around long enough to know every opponent gets up to play just a little bit more when facing one of the League's top teams, and no night will be an easy one for the Preds.

It can be daunting at this point to look at the big picture and try to forecast a path back to the Stanley Cup Final. That's why Laviolette and his staff don't operate that way, instead focusing on what they can control in the present. And if some of Laviolette's players are in search of advice on how to handle what's to come, all they have to do is look in the radio booth.

Former Preds defenseman, and current radio color commentator Hal Gill was in this exact situation at the start of the 2008-09 season with Pittsburgh. The team had lost in Game 6 of the Final - at home - to Detroit, and the sting was unimaginable. But Gill and his teammates got back to the Final against those same Wings in 2009 and flipped the script, and he believes this season's Preds have the ability to do just that.

"All that you want is that experience again," Gill said. "I know what these guys are going though in the summer. People look at it as maybe they expect it to happen again, but I look at it the other way and say you work even harder to make sure it happens again. I'm hoping that's what the guys have taken from that experience is that they want to get there again, to not let it slip again. That should make for an exciting year."

Leading The Way:

The departure of Mike Fisher has not only left the Preds with a vacancy at the center position, but also without a captain.

Poile spoke on the subject last week, stating that he and the coaching staff will look to add to the team's leadership group - which already consists of Pekka Rinne, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis - throughout training camp. The GM believes a number of younger players have rapidly matured over the past couple of seasons and may be ready to step in to help lead the team.

Josi and Ellis, who have served as alternate captains in the past, are virtual locks to do at least that once more, but who else will Poile and Laviolette turn to? Players like Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Mattias Ekholm are coming into their own as professionals and may be ready for their first chance at a leadership position. Then there are veterans like Scott Hartnell, Nick Bonino and P.K. Subban who have loads of experience to offer the group.

"Peter and I are going to talk to a number of players throughout training camp, and we're going to more or less interview a lot of guys and form the leadership group from which the alternate captains and captain will come from," Poile said. "There is no set timetable on this. It might be by the beginning of the season; we're happy with the group that we have, but we're going to take the time to get this right."

Defensive Depth:

The Preds were dealt a blow on the blue line when it was revealed last week that defenseman Ryan Ellis will need time to recover from offseason knee surgery and is not expected back until late December.

That, in turn, will open up a spot on the blue line for at least the first few months of the season, with a number of candidates vying to fill it. Poile revealed that the offseason acquisition of physical defenseman Alexei Emelin was partially done with the knowledge that Ellis would miss time with injury, but also because a club can simply never have enough quality defensemen.

Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber are both back with the Preds this season, and Anthony Bitetto is another name who will try for a regular spot in the Nashville lineup. Prospects Alexandre Carrier, Samuel Girard and Jack Dougherty will also figure to get long looks during training camp to determine what the next step will be in their fresh careers.

Even without Ellis to start, the trio of Roman Josi, P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm will help to make up what should still be one of the League's top d-corps night after night.

"You can go down the ladder, and it's an opportunity for a lot of people," Laviolette said of the defense. "These are all guys and names that we've been waiting to see at camp, and I think they're going to get those opportunities at camp to show what they can do."

Center Drive:

Signed to a four-year deal on July 1, Nick Bonino was Nashville's top acquisition at the center position during the offseason. It's a role that needs filling with the retirement of Mike Fisher, and for the time being, another opening will give more centermen a chance to show what they've got.

Bonino, who is recovering from offseason surgery, continues to skate but is not expected to play in any preseason games. Poile is hopeful Bonino will be ready for Nashville's first regular-season contest on Oct. 5, but in the meantime, it's an opportunity for some to build on last season and for others to get their start.

Ryan Johansen is undoubtedly Nashville's No. 1 when it comes to the middle of the ice, but Calle Jarnkrok, Colton Sissons, Frederick Gaudreau, and even Vladislav Kamenev, are likely to get their chance in the tune-up contests.

"That's one of the areas we worked hard on the last couple years, and I think we got to see that a bit more in the playoffs when Johansen got hurt with both Jarnkrok and Sissons moving up into higher roles, and Gaudreau," Poile said. "We also have some pretty high hopes for Kamenev. He's had a good offseason, he's worked really hard, and I know Peter, in his ghost lineups, is looking to give him a real chance.

"We don't view [Bonino] as a very long injury, but I guess the silver lining might be that our organization might get to find out about our center depth here at training camp."

Hartnell Effect:

When word got out that the Columbus Blue Jackets would be buying out the remaining two years of winger Scott Hartnell's contract, ears perked up in Nashville's front office.

Both Predators General Manager David Poile and Head Coach Peter Laviolette were plenty familiar with the 35-year-old's body of work. Poile and his club originally selected Hartnell with the sixth overall pick in the 2000 NHL Draft, giving the 6-foot-2, 215-pound forward his start in the League in a Predators jersey where he spent his first six seasons.

Later, Laviolette coached Hartnell when the two were with the Philadelphia Flyers, and the head coach came away more than impressed with Hartnell's abilities on and off the ice as the power forward enjoyed the best statistical seasons of his career.

So, when free agency opened on July 1 and Hartnell inked a one-year, $1 million deal to return to the city where it all began, all parties were intrigued and excited to think about what the veteran forward could bring to the Nashville lineup with what could be a low-risk, potentially high-reward deal.

"He provides physicality, he's a terrific net-front presence, he could be looked at on any one of the top three lines and I think he could help any one of the top three lines," Laviolette said of Hartnell. "Just in my time with Scott, there's more to him than what you see on the ice. I think he's one of the best teammates inside that room, and he's one of the guys for me that really cares about all of his teammates and goes out of the way to help young players. Everyone likes Scott, so it's a really welcome addition, not only on the ice, but in the room."

Where exactly Hartnell will find himself among the forward group remains to be seen, of course, but enlisting him to cause chaos in front of the net on the power play could be one of a number of duties he may ultimately perform.

Video: GM and coach discuss leadership team and injuries

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