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Year Two of Laviolette and Forsberg Begins

by Pete Weber / Nashville Predators

About a year ago at this time, there was so much doubt surrounding the Nashville Predators. The team had missed the playoffs each of the previous two seasons, though they were somehow six games above .500 the season before.

There was someone other than Barry Trotz behind the bench for the first time in team history. The Central Division was shaping up as the most difficult in all of the NHL (the maximum five teams made the playoffs in 2014-15: St. Louis, Nashville, Chicago, Minnesota and Winnipeg).

Again, a year ago at this time there were so many questions surrounding the Predators. Peter Laviolette was taking over behind the bench, bringing his long-time assistant, Kevin McCarthy with him, joining up with holdover Phil Housley. How would the team react to the change behind the bench?

After not being available for 51 games in 2013-14, would Pekka Rinne be able to bounce back? Was he healthy enough to carry the team again? Another question of health regarded Mike Fisher, who ruptured an Achilles tendon during summer workouts. Would he be able to bounce back – and if so, when?

Every team has questions heading into training camp. A year ago, there was a great deal of concern about them.

With the Predators opening the Ford Ice Center in September and hosting a prospects tournament with the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers participating, thing began to look better very quickly.

New Head Coach Peter Laviolette found a key answer to the team’s need for increased scoring in Filip Forsberg, who made the all-tournament team and took that into a spectacular first full season. Forsberg played in the 2015 NHL All-Star Game in Columbus and finished with a team-high 26 goals and 63 points.

Forsberg spent much of the season on a line with Mike Ribeiro (signed to a one-year “show me” contract during the summer) and James Neal (acquired in a trade with Pittsburgh) to give the team a legitimate first line. As it turned out, Fisher was able to return in late November and helped provide a solid second line and lead Colin Wilson to his first 20-goal season.

Pekka Rinne bounced back splendidly, playing 64 games and winning 41 of them, two shy of his career best in 2011-12, when he played in nine more games.

Who can be the answers to this season’s questions? Will Barrett Jackman add an edge to the defense? How will Seth Jones perform in his third season?

There are so many youngsters to watch as this camp begins – one caught the eye of many in the recent prospects tournament in Florida: center Yakov Trenin, an 18-year old Russian who played in the Quebec League last winter in Gatineau.

Kevin Fiala got into a bit of action with the Predators last season, and he has vowed to make the team in this camp. Free-agent signee Steve Moses, out of the University of New Hampshire, came over from the KHL where he was a dominant scorer. Cody Hodgson is getting another NHL shot after signing as a free agent from Buffalo.

Those are just some of the candidates to be “answers.” Have fun watching!

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