Is there any proof that the Predators actually made the playoffs last season? The record books say so, but we can’t be so sure. With Juuse Saros injured, Nashville acted like a tune-up for the Avalanche to get ready for their deep run. No team wants that on their record. The Predators finally had offensive contributions, something that they have lacked throughout their short history. The offseason was headlined by the huge accomplishment of signing Filip Forsberg long-term. But can they be a legitimate contender while he is still in his prime?
Offseason additions: F Nino Niederreiter, D Ryan McDonagh, G Kevin Lankinen, F John Leonard, F Markus Nurmi, F Zach Sanford.
Offseason subtractions: F Luke Kunin, F Nick Cousins, D Philippe Myers, F Mathieu Olivier, G David Rittich, D Matt Benning, F Matt Luff.
The big problem with signing Forsberg is that he has missed games in each of the past five seasons. He played in 69 games in 2021-22 while setting career-highs in goals and assists with 42 of each. He led the team in goals for and expected goals for, while also having a solid xGA/60. The most important breakthrough for the team last year was Matt Duchene, who scored 43 goals with 43 assists after disappointing in his first two seasons with the club. While he only scored 11 goals, Mikael Granlund quietly had his best season since 2017-18 while acting as the playmaker for Forsberg and Duchene. Granlund set a new career-high with 53 assists, hitting the 60-point mark for the third time in his career.
Just as much as Duchene did, Ryan Johansen had to prove that he still had some game left after a terrible 2020-21. While he wasn’t a point-per-game player, Johansen scored 26 goals with 63 points. The former is tied for the second-highest in his career, while he missed his most points as a Predator by one. It felt like Eeli Tolvanen was on the verge of becoming a regular for years by the time he had 22 points in 40 games in 2020-21. However, the encouraging step for the now-23-year-old was canceled out by a lack of progress last year. In 75 games, he scored 11 goals with 12 assists, for just one extra point in 25 more games. Nashville got a pretty solid middle-six upgrade when they sent Luke Kunin to San Jose and signed Nino Niederreiter. The Swiss veteran was a key contributor to the Hurricanes last season, scoring 24 goals with 20 assists on the third line. Niederreiter was second on his team, who dominated opponents, in xGF%.
While he might not have been the oldest rookie to have a great season in 2021-22, Tanner Jeannot finished seventh in Calder voting after scoring 24 goals with 17 assists. He was always a physical presence, leading all forwards with 318 hits, and was third in the league with 130 penalty minutes. Jeannot played primarily with Yakov Trenin and Colton Sissons, the latter of which was nominated for the Selke. Sissons had 28 points, his most since 2018-19, while winning 55.7 percent of draws. Trenin scored 17 goals despite low expected goals numbers. The trio combined for almost 700 hits.
The only real lock for the fourth line right now is Philip Tomasino, the 24th-overall pick in the 2019 draft. While he didn’t blow anyone away, Tomasino had a solid rookie season, scoring 11 goals with 32 points in 76 games. He finished fifth among the regular forwards in goals for per 60, behind only the top line and Johansen, who also spent time on the first line. The time is now for Cody Glass, drafted sixth-overall in 2017. He had just one assist in eight games last season, but succeeded in the AHL. For the Milwaukee Admirals, Glass scored 14 goals with 62 points in 66 games. Former Canadien Michael McCarron took a ton of draws after mostly playing wing in the NHL. McCarron was an effective penalty killer in the 51 games that he played in, and scored seven goals (one short-handed). New Jersey native John Leonard came back from San Jose for Kunin after having two points in 14 games for the Sharks last year. The former UMass-Amherst star scored 17 goals with 32 points in 45 games for the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda. A more experienced option is Zach Sanford, who scored nine goals with 21 points in 80 games between the Senators and Jets last season. Sanford, most known for his goal in game seven of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, had a career-high 169 hits last season. Finnish import Markus Nurmi, a former sixth-round pick by Ottawa, is also in the fight for a role. He played in 56 games for TPS Turku in Finland, scoring 20 goals with 19 assists. In 18 playoff games, he had 19 points.
While he didn’t win the Norris Trophy because of the two-way game that Cale Makar brings, Roman Josi had an incredible 2021-22 season. The Nashville captain scored 23 goals with 73 assists for 96 points in 80 games. He led all defenders in points by 10, while also leading with 37 power play points. Only Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, JT Miller, and Jonathan Huberdeau had more points on the man advantage than Josi. He was a workhorse, averaging over six more minutes of ice time on average than his partner, Dante Fabbro. The 24-year-old had his best season yet, scoring 24 points in 66 games while also leading the d-core with a 53.05 xGF%.
At age 32, Mattias Ekholm isn’t the defensive stalwart that he used to be, but still is trusted by the Nashville coaching staff. He had 31 points with 96 blocked shots. It was his first full season without 100 or more blocks since 2013-14, his rookie year. A good case study for the effects of PDO would be Alex Carrier, who rode a 103.4 PDO to a 63.01 GF%. While the expected numbers don’t believe that it was legitimate, Carrier had 30 points with a 1.55 GA/60, which is a great rookie season.
While Nashville will likely be hurt down the line for taking on the last four years on Ryan McDonagh’s contract, they still will get a very solid defender. McDonagh was the backbone of a strong Tampa Bay defense, blocking 137 shots and was nominated for the Lady Byng Trophy. Many criticized the Predators for trading a second-rounder at the deadline for Jeremy Lauzon. Nashville apparently disagreed with them, extending the young defender for four seasons. Lauzon had 224 hits with seven points in 66 games split between the Predators and Kraken. If they want to crank up the physicality even more, they have Mark Borowiecki. The veteran had the most penalty minutes in the league with 151 in 57 games. Borowiecki added 196 hits and four assists.
The Predators definitely don’t make the playoffs last season if not for Juuse Saros. He finished third in Vezina voting with a .918 save percentage and a 2.64 GAA while playing in the most games. He finished ninth in GSAx and had a GSAA of 23.0. The depth chart behind him looks shaky, with Kevin Lankinen set to be the backup. Lankinen had a .891 save percentage and a 3.50 GAA in 32 games for Chicago last season. Only Philipp Grubauer had a worse GSAx.
Matt Duchene – Mikael Granlund – Filip Forsberg
Nino Niederreiter – Ryan Johansen – Eeli Tolvanen
Tanner Jeannot – Colton Sissons – Yakov Trenin
John Leonard – Cody Glass – Philip Tomasino
Scratched: Zach Sanford, Michael McCarron
Roman Josi – Dante Fabbro
Mattias Ekholm – Alex Carrier
Ryan McDonagh – Jeremy Lauzon
Scratched: Mark Borowiecki