Photo: Doug Brumley
Mikko Lehtonen will be under the watchful eyes of the Nashville coaches in Saturday's final preseason game.
The final Predators lineup is coming into sharper focus with each player reassignment, and Saturday night's exhibition game against the Atlanta Thrashers offers head coach Barry Trotz one last chance to evaluate talent before settling on a 23-man opening night roster.
"Obviously we're trying to get as many people as we can from our lineup in," Trotz said after Saturday's morning skate. "There's still some evaulation going on. For the most part the process is pretty well done. But we still want to look at a couple more guys."
Saturday's contest, which wraps up Nashville's preseason schedule, is a rematch of Friday night's 4-3 Predators shootout loss in Atlanta. The back-to-back, home-and-home series shifts to Nashville and the Gaylord Entertainment Center for a 7:00 p.m. face-off. Tickets are still available and can be purchased online or by calling 615-770-PUCK, visiting any Ticketmaster outlet or stopping by the GEC box office. The game, which will not be televised locally, will be broadcast on WNSR 560-AM.
The focus of Trotz's evaluation is the defense, where Kevin Klein
, Greg Zanon and Mikko Lehtonen are all vying for one or two available spots among the top six blueliners. D-man Alex Henry is in the mix as well, but may go to injured reserve if his foot injury prevents him from skating soon.
Lehtonen, who is slated to be in the lineup Saturday, will receive quite a bit of attention from the Nashville coaching staff. At 28, the 6'1", 194-pound Finnish defenseman has years of experience in his homeland's elite hockey league and is no newcomer to playing hockey at a high level.
"We're looking at Mikko," Trotz said. "We want him to adjust his game a little bit and play a certain way. He's adjusting to a North American game. It's a lot more north-south than an east-west game. So he's adjusting and we're trying to get a good read on him."
While Lehtonen has demonstrated offensive upside and a tremendous shot during camp, he has had a few defensive hiccups that have troubled Trotz.
"I think he's trying to impress and sometimes you just have to relax and play a real simple game," Trotz said. "He's got a very good skill set and he's obviously an older player who has played at a pretty high level in the Finnish Elite League. We're looking for good things from him. We're trying to give him every opportunity to succeed and get a longer look at him."
Center David Legwand will make his preseason debut tonight after spending the off-season rehabbing from knee surgery. Offensive catalysts Jason Arnott, Steve Sullivan, Josef Vasicek and Alexander Radulov are also expected to be in the lineup. Paul Kariya, who is suffering from a "couple bumps and bruises," according to Trotz, will sit for the game. "We've got lots of healthy people who can go in," Trotz said. Tomas Vokoun will get the start in goal.