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What's Next for the Predators?

John Glennon Says Nashville's Foundation Indicates Deep Postseason Runs May Become the Norm

by John Glennon @glennonsports / glennonsports@gmail.com

One thing to keep in mind about the Predators' future is that it will be here before you know it.

That's a side benefit for Preds fans following the team's longest playoff run, one that didn't end until June 11 in the Stanley Cup Final. The 2017 NHL Draft is this weekend, the start of training camp is less than three months away, and the first game of the 2017-18 season is not long after that.

But just what should we expect from the Predators next season?

We'll start with the comforting thought that there are really only two big question marks - the outcome of Wednesday's Expansion Draft and the status of Captain Mike Fisher.

The most tempting Predators name made available to the Vegas Golden Knights is forward James Neal, 29, who's coming off his third-straight season with at least 23 goals for Nashville. Then there's the situation involving Fisher, 37, who is contemplating retirement after 17 NHL seasons.

The Preds would love to keep both players - Neal because he's a highly dependable goal-scorer, Fisher because he's the team's leader and still a productive two-way player.

But even in the scenario that neither player returns, the Predators have much to look forward to when running down the roster.

Assuming the likelihood of the Predators re-signing their key restricted free agents - Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson, Pontus Aberg and Austin Watson - 11 of the Preds' top 12 forwards next year are currently age 27 or younger.

In other words, the best is yet to come for many of these players.

Video: ANA@NSH, Gm4: Forsberg ties game in final minute

Start with what appears to be one of the NHL's best lines in the making, the threesome of 22-year-old Filip Forsberg, 24-year-old Johansen and 24-year-old Arvidsson. Forsberg's averaged 30 goals over the past three seasons, Johansen produced a career-best 47 assists last year and Arvidsson exploded onto the NHL scene with 61 points in 2016-17.

Mixing and matching potential second- and third-line players is intriguing as well.

Is your second-line center of the moment Calle Jarnkrok, who has scored a combined 31 goals over the past two seasons? Or has Colton Sissons earned a shot at that spot, after stepping up his role in the postseason and finishing with 12 points in 22 playoff contests?

Both players will have plenty of good options on their wings, including the likes of Kevin Fiala (who appeared to be blossoming before our eyes prior to his playoff injury), the swift-skating Aberg (56 goals over the past two years in the minors), and proven veterans Colin Wilson and Craig Smith.

A tentative fourth line might feature bruisers Cody McLeod and Austin Watson flanking Stanley Cup Final surprise Frederick Gaudreau.

It's worth keeping in mind, of course, that promising prospects like Aberg and Gaudreau shouldn't take roster spots for granted next season.

"They are young players that are going to do their best to come to training camp and make our team," Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "I don't want to say that a young player coming in is a shoo-in. They're going to have to work hard this summer and come in and earn their spot. But I do think they opened eyes."

Video: STL@NSH, Gm4: Ellis cleans up rebound for PPG

It's easy to get excited about what's happening on the blueline as well.

Start here with the fact that all seven of the team's top defensemen - Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, P.K. Subban, Matt Irwin, Yannick Weber and Anthony Bitetto - are under contract for next season and all under the age of 30.

Keep in mind that this group piled up 181 points last season, more than the defensemen of any other team in the League.

It's reasonable to expect another banner blueliner season as well, given Laviolette's emphasis on defensemen joining the attack, the relative youth of the top four, and the fact that Subban now has a full year under his belt here.

We all know what the Preds are bringing back in goal, where Pekka Rinne guided his team through much of the playoffs and backup Juuse Saros flashed potential during the regular season.

Just for kicks, we'll also mention the Preds have some top prospects marching toward the NHL.

One to keep an eye for the near future is 6-foot-2, 196-pound center Vladislav Kamenev, a 2014 second-rounder who scored 21 goals in Milwaukee last season. One for down the line is defenseman Dante Fabbro, a 2016 first-rounder who Preds Chief Amateur Scout Jeff Kealty has compared to a right-handed Ryan Suter. He'll be a sophomore at Boston University in the fall.

Video: NSH@ANA, Gm5: Aberg lays out to net go-ahead goal

Are we offering up too much Preds optimism too early? Are we guilty of cranking the hype machine into overdrive?

If so, let's give Laviolette another opportunity to settle things down.

"I always work under the assumption we should never assume anything," Laviolette said. "We should put our head down, come to training camp, work hard, do the right things, work to become a good team and work to win hockey games. If you can do those things, you can find yourself competing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But there's always work that goes with that."

Solid advice indeed.

Still, the future is a bright one for the Predators, and it's not too far away.

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