When the Nashville Predators open training camp on Thursday for the 19th time in franchise history, they'll do so with perhaps more expectation than any Preds team that has come before them.
After coming just one win from advancing to the Western Conference Final for the first time, plus the summertime acquisition of All-Star defenseman P.K. Subban, there's reason to believe the team could be headed for something special.
But long before there's even a thought of the opportunity that awaits, General Manager David Poile, Head Coach Peter Laviolette and the rest of the Preds management and coaching staff must reduce their roster from 57, as it stands now, to 23 before Opening Night on Oct. 14. And while there will be plenty to take in over the next three weeks, here are a few things to make note of as preparations for the 2016-17 season officially get underway.
The P.K. Effect:
It's the most obvious storyline of this season's training camp, but it's also impossible to ignore. So how will the arrival of Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban alter not just the Preds defensive corps, but the team as a whole?
For one, speed. When Subban was acquired at the end of June, Poile and Laviolette commented on how Subban's skill set will complement exactly how the club wants to play the game - with an up-tempo style that leads to offense, something Subban excels in doing.
There is also the question of who Subban's defense partner will be. What complicates matters is Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm are both currently in Toronto, participating in the World Cup of Hockey. While playing Josi with Subban may be the first choice of many, Laviolette was quick to caution there are other options available.
"The thing about our defense, especially our top three, not including P.K., is that there are movable parts," Laviolette said in June. "They all can skate and move the puck. I think he will fit right in with them, and we'll have a very mobile top four defense. I think from there, we'll figure it out as we go. It could be a possibility to play [Josi and Subban] together; it could also be a possibility to split them up and play one with Ekholm. Either way, the top four remain very strong."
There's no question that No. 35 is Nashville's No. 1 netminder. As for who will replace former goaltender Carter Hutton - who signed with the St. Louis Blues last July - as Pekka Rinne's backup, Poile has already given some insight on the subject.
During the team's development camp last June, Poile mentioned he believes goaltender Marek Mazanec is likely the frontrunner to take over in the role. Mazanec, who has seen time at the NHL level before, including a NHL Rookie of the Month nod in November of 2013, has played a bulk of his minutes in AHL Milwaukee over the past three seasons, including 39 games started in 2015-16 for the Admirals.
Juuse Saros is also a candidate for the role, but could end up back in Milwaukee to receive more playing time and further his development before landing in the NHL full time.
Rounding Them Out:
Names like Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and James Neal are locks up front. So are the likes of Roman Josi and P.K. Subban on the backend. But as far as those who may find themselves in a fourth-line role or a seventh defenseman option, those spots could be up for contention.
In the forward ranks, players like Colton Sissons, Miikka Salomaki and Viktor Arvidsson found themselves in the NHL lineup more often than not last season. Forwards like Cody Bass, Austin Watson and newcomer Harry Zolnierczyk could also challenge for a regular spot in the lineup.
The same is also prevalent on the blue line; while the top-four defense is essentially locked up with Subban, Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis, there is less certainty on the third pair and beyond. It's a great problem for the Preds to have. Free-agent signees Yannick Weber, Matt Carle and Matt Irwin give Nashville experience in the group, while up-and-comers Anthony Bitetto and Petter Granberg are also likely to contend to skate on the bottom pairing.
The situations should make for some stiff competition as camp rolls along with those vying to hear their name called at Bridgestone Arena on Opening Night.
Of course, you can watch all of these instances play out during the coming weeks as training camp sessions are free and open to the public, with a schedule posted below, and a roster attached here.
Training Camp Schedule:
*All preseason games are played at the home club's NHL arena.
|Date: ||Event: ||TIME (CT): |
|Friday, Sept. 23 ||On-Ice Testing ||9:45 a.m. |
|Saturday, Sept. 24 ||Group A Goalies On Ice ||9:15 - 9:40 a.m. |
|Saturday, Sept. 24 ||Group A Team On Ice ||9:45 - 11:15 a.m. |
|Saturday, Sept. 24 ||Group B Goalies On Ice ||11:15 - 11:40 a.m. |
|Saturday, Sept. 24 ||Group B Team On Ice ||11:45 a.m. - 1:15 p.m. |
|Sunday, Sept. 25 ||Scrimmage at Ford Ice Center ||2:00 p.m. |
|Monday, Sept. 26 ||Group A Goalies On Ice ||9:15 - 9:40 a.m. |
|Monday, Sept. 26 ||Group A Team On Ice ||9:45 - 11:15 a.m. |
|Monday, Sept. 26 ||Group B Goalies On Ice ||11:15 - 11:40 a.m. |
|Monday, Sept. 26 ||Group B Team On Ice ||11:45 a.m. - 1:15 p.m. |
|Tuesday, Sept. 27 ||Games at Florida Panthers ||2:30 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. |
|Wednesday, Sept. 28 ||Group A Goalies On Ice ||10:15 - 10:40 a.m. |
|Wednesday, Sept. 28 ||Group A Team On Ice ||10:45 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. |
|Wednesday, Sept. 28 ||Group B Goalies On Ice ||12:15 - 12:40 p.m. |
|Wednesday, Sept. 28 ||Group B Team On Ice ||12:45 - 2:15 p.m. |
|Thursday, Sept. 29 ||Game at Columbus ||6:00 p.m. |
|Friday, Sept. 30 ||Group A Goalies On Ice ||10:15 - 10:40 a.m. |
|Friday, Sept. 30 ||Group A Team On Ice ||10:45 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. |
|Friday, Sept. 30 ||Group B Goalies On Ice ||12:15 - 12:40 p.m. |
|Friday, Sept. 30 ||Group B Team On Ice ||12:45 - 2:15 p.m. |
|Saturday, Oct. 1 ||Game vs. Tampa Bay ||7:00 p.m. |
|Monday, Oct. 3 ||Practice ||11:00 a.m. |
|Tuesday, Oct. 4 ||Game vs. Columbus ||7:00 p.m. |
|Wednesday, Oct. 5 ||Practice ||12:00 p.m. |
|Thursday, Oct. 6 ||Practice ||11:00 a.m. |
|Friday, Oct. 7 ||Practice ||11:00 a.m. |
|Saturday, Oct. 8 ||Game at Tampa Bay ||6:00 p.m. |
|Sunday, Oct. 9 ||Practice ||12:00 p.m. |