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Training Camp: Six Newcomers Prepared to Earn Place on Preds' Roster

by Thomas Willis & Brooks Bratten / Nashville Predators

Two teenagers and a 12-year NHL veteran will be among the newer faces that will be seen at Nashville Predators Training Camp, which opens on Thursday. Free agent acquisitions Barret Jackman, Cody Hodgson and Steve Moses will join Preds prospects such as Kevin Fiala and Viktor Arvidsson on the ice at Centennial Sportsplex on Friday as the group begins year two of the Peter Laviolette era in Nashville.

Here’s a closer look at some of the newcomers to the Predators who will be trying to find their place on the team’s Opening Night roster:

Barret Jackman

Defenseman, No. 5

6’ 0” and 203 lbs.

Acquired: Signed as a free agent to a two-year, $4 million contract

After spending more than 800 games with the St. Louis Blues since 2002, Jackman is on the move for the first time in the NHL career. The veteran blueliner, known for his gritty, hard-nosed style, will add a necessary presence on the backend in Nashville, specializing in shot blocking and penalty killing.

It’s a style Preds General Manager David Poile, and Jackman himself for that matter, welcome and embrace.

“This is a perfect fit for our defense,” Poile said of Jackman on July 1. “He brings veteran leadership, physicality and his biggest asset to us is that he kills penalties. In theory, he should be the first one out to kill penalties, and I can’t tell you how important that will be in terms of the total balance in resting a Shea Weber or Roman Josi in those critical areas… It’s just a super add to our blue line.”

“If I ever have a player that says, ‘I hate playing against you,’ I’m definitely doing my job,” Jackman said. “That’s the style of game that I’m going to bring. I’m not going to be flashy, but I’m going to make it tough for the opposition every night, and hopefully gain the respect of my teammates, coaches and the fans.”

Weber and Josi have solidified themselves as Nashville’s top defensive pairing, and defensemen Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm also saw significant time together last season, potentially opening a spot for Jackman alongside Seth Jones. The ultimate decision will be left to Head Coach Peter Laviolette and staff, but the bench boss looks forward to utilizing Jackman’s capabilities.

“I definitely think Barret brings a different style of play,” Laviolette said. “If you look at our other five defenseman, they’re all really talented, two-way defenseman. They can all play the power play, they are good defending defenseman, they can all skate, they can move the puck really well and they’re able to contribute offensively. I think Barret brings a little bit of a different element. The fact that he could be a guy that goes over the boards for the penalty kill first, shot blocking, little bit of grit, little bit of sandpaper; he brings some experience and some veteran leadership to the team, so lots of positives for filling that position.”

Cody Hodgson

Center, No. 11

6’0” and 192 lbs.

Acquired: Signed as a free agent to a one-year, $1.05 million deal

The comparisons of Predators forward Mike Ribeiro and Cody Hodgson came up naturally this summer after Hodgson inked a contract identical to the one Ribeiro signed a year prior. Also like Ribeiro, Hodgson, the 10th overall selection in the 2008 Entry Draft, was bought out of his contract with Buffalo after putting up 13 points (6g-7a) in 76 games last season. At 25 years of age, the native of Toronto will be trying to hit offensive numbers closer to the 44 points (20g-24a) he notched in 2013-14 that made him the Sabres leading scorer.

“Cody’s had a few good years and this is an opportunity for him to come back to a situation where he can try to find success in his game and help our team be successful as well,” Laviolette said. “We’re eager to find out… In talking with him, he was pretty honest about last year. He knows he’s played better in the past and knows he is capable of playing at a higher level and we’re going to provide him that opportunity to see if he can get back there and help us.”

“I think it’s a great opportunity for me to come in and play the way I know I can play,” Hodgson said after signing with the Preds in July. “My biggest feeling toward the deal is I want to be a part of something that’s a success and contribute to that.”

Poile mentioned this offseason that he sees Hodgson starting as the Predators third line center on Opening Night with Calle Jarnkrok sliding to the wing. Both Laviolette and Poile are hoping with the combination of Jarnkrok, Steve Moses, or even a Colin Wilson or Craig Smith sliding down to the third line, that the club will have its deepest offensive attack in years.

If Hodgson seizes the second chance afforded him by Nashville, as Ribeiro did in 2014-15, the Predators will have another elite scorer in their hands; and in Hodgson’s case, he’ll just be starting the prime of his career. Nashville d-man Ryan Ellis has skated alongside Hodgson in the past, and says the forward has all the necessary skills to be a valuable asset to the Preds in the 2015-16 season.

“We’ve played on a few teams together and had some success together as well, so I think he’s going to be a huge acquisition to our team going forward,” Ellis said. “He works hard, skates well and shoot the puck well, and I think, most importantly has great vision on the ice.”

Steve Moses

Right Wing, No. 21

5’9” and 170 lbs.

Acquired: Signed as a free agent to a one-year, $1 million deal

Forward Steve Moses likely represents the most unknown commodity of the more than 50 players on the Predators Training Camp roster. Passed over in each of his draft-eligible years, the native of Leominster, Massachusetts, spent four years at the University of New Hampshire from 2008 to 2012, then Jokerit of first the Finnish Elite League (2012-14) and then the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) last season. The speedy forward then caught the attention of several NHL teams when he lit the lamp 36 times during the 2014-15 campaign and set a new single-season, KHL record with the total.

Moses chose Nashville in April of 2015 by inking a one-year contract and taking a step closer to realizing his dream of playing amongst hockey’s highest level of competition.

“It’s always been my goal to play in the NHL,” Moses said in April. “I wanted to come to a place that has a chance to win. [Nashville is] a great organization and a great team. There probably won’t be a whole lot of pieces [changing in the summer], so if they feel they can add one piece and help the team, that’s pretty exciting for me.

“I wanted to go to a place where I could play right away and contribute, and I think, hopefully, that’s kind of what their plan is. We’ll see what happens next season, but like I said, it was important to me to go to a place that I think has a chance to be a winning team. This team is already that way, and if they feel that I can come in and help and make the team better, then it’s really exciting for me and something that I definitely will embrace.”

Moses’ main goal in training camp will be showing that his high goal total in the KHL last year was no fluke by fighting his way into the Predators lineup, even as a smaller forward. Some parallels can be drawn between Moses and Tampa Bay Lightning forward Tyler Johnson, who was also undrafted, but has been able to become a prolific scorer in the NHL (as evidenced by his 13 goals in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs). If Moses can even come close to Johnson’s level of productivity, the Predators will receive a welcome offensive boost in 2015-16.

“I’m definitely not going to shy away from anything as a smaller guy,” Moses said. “I like to shoot the puck; I like to create offense, and I’ve been a goal scorer for the majority of my career...The way Nashville plays, pushing the pace and forechecking and trying to create offense, I think that’s a big part of why I chose to come here, and that’s the game I like to play.”

Viktor Arvidsson

Left Wing, No. 38

5’9” and 172 lbs.

Acquired: Selected in the fourth round (112 overall) in the 2014 Entry Draft

The only player chosen outside of the first round of the 2014 Entry Draft to play in the NHL last season, Arvidsson impressed with Milwaukee of the AHL before getting the call to Nashville on March 20. Arvidsson skated in six games for the Preds in late March.

The Swede also turned heads in Nashville’s recent rookie tournament appearance in Estero, Florida, posting four points (1g-3a) in three games, tied for the second highest total in the tournament.

“We saw what we always see from him in terms of his speed and tenacity,” Predators Chief Amateur Scout Jeff Kealty said of Arvidsson’s showing in the tournament. “He wants the puck, makes plays, creates scoring chances; he’s one of the more experienced guys on the team, you expect that out of him and he showed well.”

Arvidsson was named to the 2015 AHL All-Rookie team in his first season with the Admirals after leading the team in points with 55 (22g-33a) to his name. He was also named the AHL Rookie of the Month in January, amassing 13 points in just 12 contests.

After getting a chance at the NHL level last season, Arvidsson could challenge for a bottom-six forward role during training camp. If he doesn’t make the team, he figures to be a top recall option from AHL Milwaukee if needed.

Austin Watson

Forward, No. 51

6’4’’ and 193 lbs.

Acquired: Selected in the first round (18th overall) in the 2010 Entry Draft

Watson has received a vote of confidence from General Manager David Poile heading into the 2015-16 season, and the 6-4 forward intends on making the most of his opportunity. After spending much of the summer in Nashville preparing for training camp, Watson is likely to get a good look from the coaching staff before the Opening Night roster is named.

“I think Watson will make it this year,” Poile said earlier this summer. “I’m very confident of that. He is here all summer long, he’s moved down to Nashville, and I think he’s ready to go. I just don’t think we had the room to give him that chance last year, and I think he’ll make the team right from the outset; that’s my opinion.”

Watson has spent the past three seasons with the Predators AHL affiliate in Milwaukee and has scored 20, 22 and 26 goals, respectively, for the Admirals over those campaigns.

“He’s just been a very consistent player for us,” Admirals Head Coach Dean Evason said. “What you see in Austin is just his compete level. He’ll do anything; shot blocking, he can play wing, he can play center and he’s versatile. Again, he needed to put on some size. He’s a big guy, and just seeing him already here in Nashville, his body makeup has matured, which will help him. He’s got a clear and legitimate shot of making the Nashville Predators.”

Kevin Fiala

Left Wing, No. 56

5’ 10” and 180

Acquired: Selected in the first round (11th overall) in the 2014 Entry Draft

The two-game taste of the NHL Kevin Fiala experienced last season was enough to motivate the teenage winger to work in Nashville all summer on adding strength and size in an effort claim a spot in the Predators Opening Night lineup.

“I want to be bigger, stronger and come to the NHL this year,” Fiala said. “I think I’m an offensive guy; I can score and make some passes. I am happy if I can just be on the team, so I’ll just take any spot they give me. I am going to work hard, go 100 percent and try to show them I want to play here.”

Nashville’s most recent first-round selection showed some flashes of brilliance during both of his contests in Predators Gold, including skating in Game Four of Nashville’s Western Conference Quarterfinals Series, and the Swiss forward believes his work this offseason has earned him a full-time place in Nashville. Similar to Hodgson or Moses, if Fiala is able to crack the Preds roster and then contribute offensively on the team’s second or third line, the 2015-16 version of the Predators will possess an even more dynamic attack.

“He’s matured, and he’s a real good teammate in Milwaukee. I think that’s going to give him an opportunity - a real good opportunity - to play here in Nashville,” Evason said of Fiala. “When he first came over to North America, you certainly wouldn’t have thought, ‘Here’s a guy that’s going to play NHL games,’ but then he did last year.

“His skill level is second to none. You see it every time he’s on the ice, and he can do some amazing things.”

Playing on his entry-level contract and therefore a two-way deal, Fiala faces quite the challenge to beat out some of the other veterans vying for roster spots in camp, but if the dedication of his offseason workouts are any indication, the forward doesn’t care to hear his odds right now.

“You want to have a little bit of swagger, but you still want to be very respectful, and he is that,” Preds Director of Player Development Scott Nichol said. “It’s been one year from him coming here last year to where he is now. He opened his eyes up to what pro hockey in North America is like. He’s got a great attitude and treats people right and that’s what we like to see.”

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