About mid-way through the season, the Predators sat at a disappointing 17-16-7—which ranked 12th in the Western Conference at that time. After a sluggish start, Nashville finished the season 24-13-5 (53 points) which was third in the conference down the stretch and they entered the playoffs playing well, but as the second Wild Card team.
After upsetting the Chicago Blackhawks in the first-round, the Predators continued their run all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. Nashville was unable to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins to win the Cup, but enter 2017-18 as one of the favourites to get back there. Unlike some other teams in the Western Conference, the Predators championship window is only just opening.
This summer the Predators made a few low-key moves that should improve their chances of getting back to the finals this season. The most important signing was Nick Bonino, who was inked to a four-year deal to replace former captain Mike Fisher, who stepped away from hockey. They also signed Scott Hartnell, who could start the year on the top line with Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg. Lastly, they traded a 2019 third-round pick to the Vegas Golden Knights for Alexei Emeilin, who will immediately step into a big role because Ryan Ellis is expected to miss the first three months of the season after undergoing offseason knee surgery.
Ellis’ injury will affect the Predators’ blueline, but if last season was any indication, it doesn’t matter where you are in November but rather where you are in mid-April and early-May. Missing Ellis also doesn’t matter as much when you also have the aforementioned Subban, the newly appointed captain Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm on the blueline. Subban adjusted well to his move to Nashville, scoring double-digit goals for the fifth time in seven years and 40-plus points for the fourth straight season despite missing 16 games. Josi was equally as successful, scoring double digit goals with 40-plus points for the fourth consecutive year. Between these two, the Predators have one of the most lethal 1-2 punches on the blueline in the NHL. You don’t hear Ekholm’s name a lot and sometimes that is a good thing for a defenseman. He plays a simple defensive game but also possesses some offensive upside. Last year he failed to match his 2015-16 output, but will see more power-play time early this year because of Ellis’ injury. Ekholm has only missed two games in the last three seasons and has 35-point upside in 2016-17.
Up front, the Predators are led by Johansen and Forsberg, but the group also consists of young forwards looking to take the next step like Viktor Arvidsson, Kevin Fiala, Calle Jarnkrok and Pontus Aberg. Arvidsson spent a lot of time with Johansen and Forsberg last year and was one of the biggest fantasy hockey surprises. The 24-year-old led the Predators in shots (246), tied with Forsberg for the team-lead in goals (31) and tied with Johansen with a team-best 61 points. Fiala was the No.11 pick in 2014 but has yet to make a big splash at the NHL level. Last season he was a near point-per-game player with Milwaukee (AHL) and is set for his first full NHL season in 2017-18. The 21-year-old has an abundance of skill and playmaking ability, making him an intriguing sleeper on a quality offence. Jarnkrok will replace Mike Ribeiro as the full-time No.3 centre and Aberg is set for a good rookie season after scoring 31 goals and 21 assists (52 points) in 56 AHL games last year. The 24-year has plenty of speed and had five points (2G / 3A) in 16 games during the NHL playoffs following a late-season call-up.
Between the pipes, the Predators have one of the best duos in the NHL. Pekka Rinne has been in Nashville for nine years and finished last year tied for 12th in the NHL in wins (31), tied for 15th in SV% (.918) and tied for 16th in GAA (2.42). With Juuse Saros behind him, Rinne has a short leash, but following an outstanding postseason, in which he recorded a 1.96 GAA and .930 SV%, Rinne enters 2017-18 as the No.1. After starting the year in the AHL, Saros was recalled by the Predators mid-season and had a 2.35 GAA and .923 SV% in 21 NHL games. He is the goalie of the future in Nashville, but will likely have to wait a few more years since Rinne has two-years with a $7M AAV left on his contract.
Last year the Predators had a slow start and still managed to ranked in the top half of the league in goals for, goals against, PP% and PK% at year-end. The Predators had the eighth best CorsiFor% (51.1) in the NHL and enter this year with one of the best bluelines, a quality goaltending tandem and tonnes of scoring upside up front. They should be considered one of the best teams in the Western Conference and a Stanley Cup front-runner.
Fantasy Rankings (Top 350)
- Filip Forsberg-#25 (#4 LW)
- Ryan Johansen-#39 (#11 C)
- Roman Josi-#43 (#6 D)
- P.K. Subban-#47 (#9 D)
- Pekka Rinne-#53 (#12 G)
- Viktor Arvidsson-#77 (#15 RW)
- Scott Hartnell-#225 (#46 LW)
- Juuse Saros-#231 (#34 G)
- Ryan Ellis-#264 (#63 D)
- Craig Smith-#296 (#58 RW)
- Kevin Fiala-#297 (#60 LW)
- Calle Jarnkrok-#300 (#65 C)
- Mattias Ekholm-#314 (#78 D)
- Nick Bonino-#338 (#70 C)
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