In 2019 the Nashville Predators made the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season, finished with 100-plus points for the third time in five years and won the Central Division for the second year in a row.
Nashville has become a regular-season powerhouse in recent years but has had very little playoff success—outside of making it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2017.
This summer, the Predators underwent very few changes, but the moves they made were significant. First, they traded defenseman P.K. Subban to the New Jersey Devils for a 2019 second-round pick, a 2020 second-round pick, Steven Santini and Jeremy Davies. Second, they signed Matt Duchene, one of the summer’s biggest free agents, to a seven-year contract worth $56.0M ($8.0M AAV).
The emergence of Dante Fabbro late last season and into the playoffs allowed them to move-on from Subban. On the other hand, Kyle Turris’ inability to carry their second-line necessitated the Duchene addition. They didn’t dismantle the team that won 47 games last year, they tweaked it ever so slightly but still come into the season with fourth-best odds to win the Central in 2020.
Nashville’s first-line of Filip Forsberg—Ryan Johansen—Viktor Arvidsson remains intact but their second-line is drastically different from this time last year. They acquired Mikael Granlund in a trade with the Minnesota Wild in the middle of last season and he will likely skate with Duchene and Turris. The three natural centres could form a dynamic second-line but also gives them plenty of flexibility, moving one of them back to centre the third line.
Depth is the clear strength of the Predators forward group. According to Corsica Player Ratings, they own the No.11 ranked second-line, No.9 third-line and No.5 fourth-line.
If top prospect Eeli Tolvanen has a good camp, he could very easily crack this lineup, maybe even the top-6. That would likely push the diminutive Rocco Grimaldi to the extra forward role. The Predators had high hopes for Tolvanen at the start of 2019 but he ended spending the majority of the year in the AHL, scoring 15 goals with 20 assists (35 points) in 58 games. If Tolvanen can make the jump and play with Granlund and Duchene on the second-line, moving Turris back to the third makes this team even deeper than they already were.
Filip Forsberg (LW)
- — Forsberg did not miss a game in his first three seasons but has missed a combined 33 games over the last two years. Injuries have held him under 30 goals in both of those seasons. However, if you extrapolate his results over 82 games, Forsberg’s goal totals over the last four years would be 33, 31, 32, and 36. He is a consistent 30-goal-scorer and will hopefully put the injury woes behind him in 2020. If the Predators can somehow figure out how to improve on their league-worst power-play, Forsberg could be a legitimate 40-40 threat and a huge bargain on draft day.
Viktor Arvidsson (LW/RW)
- — Arvidsson missed 24 games last season but still managed to set a career-high with 34 goals. Arvidsson did so by boosting his already impressive shot volume and his shooting percentage climbed to 17.4 percent. That rate will probably drop back down closer to his career average of 12.2 percent, but Arvidsson could approach 270 shots over a full season and that would give him another 30-plus goal season. Arvidsson is a reliable No.2 fantasy right-winger.
Matt Duchene (C)
- — Starting the year on a terrible Ottawa Senators team made Duchene a huge sleeper last season. He was excellent in 50 games with the Senators but faltered a bit during his time in Columbus. Overall, he had 31 goals and 39 assists (70 points) in 73 games and was a massive fantasy steal. Now with the Predators, Duchene will likely be limited to a second-line role, but there is enough talent on the wings to make him a viable 60-point threat. He won’t shoot 18.0 percent again and his shot volume is very pedestrian. Expect him to be a solid No.3 fantasy centre and hopefully, his presence can be the boost that Nashville’s power-play needed.
Ryan Johansen (C)
- — Johansen was the only Predator forward that had a modicum of power-play success last season. With 16 PPA, Johansen was able to set a new career-high in assists (50) and posted his best point total (64) as a Predator. Johansen is a filthy playmaker with two 30-goal scorers on his wing, making him one of the best sources of assists in the NHL. However, he ranks 179th in shots over the last three seasons, so his goal total will never improve until he increases his shot volume. He had one 33-goal season in Columbus but averaged 2.9 shots per game—he is averaging 1.7 in the last three years.
Mikael Granlund (LW/RW)
- — Granlund was on-pace for his third consecutive 60-plus point season before the trade to Nashville derailed his campaign. The transition can often be tough but Granlund was hampered by a 3.4 SH% and 6.1 on-ice SH% in his 16 games with the Predators. A full year in Nashville, especially next to Duchene should help Granlund get back on that 60-point train. However, limited PP1 exposure could be the one thing that could hold him back.
Craig Smith (RW)
- — Smith has been a consistent, albeit unspectacular producer throughout his career. Smith has scored 20-to-25 goals in five of the last six seasons but has eclipsed 50 points just twice. He is 62nd in goals since 2014, so even his biggest calling card doesn’t make him that valuable.
Kyle Turris (RW)
- — Turris was great for Nashville in 2018 after being traded from Ottawa but struggled mightily last season. His shot volume completely fell off of a cliff—2.34 SOG/gm from 2014-to-2018 to 1.42 in 2019—and when you combine that with a 6.4 on-ice SH%, you get a disastrous season. Leave Turris on the waiver-wire to start but there is bounce-back potential on a potent second-line.
The blueline has been a strength of the Predators for a few seasons and they still have a great looking top-4 after trading Subban. Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis are ranked as the best defensive pairing in the NHL (Corsica Player Ratings) and Mattias Ekholm is a stable two-way defenseman that will help Fabbro in his rookie campaign.
Roman Josi (D)
- — Josi is as consistent of a fantasy defenseman as you will find. The 29-year-old has scored 12-plus goals with 49-plus points in five straight seasons. Over that span, he is tied for third among defensemen in points (274) and fifth in goals (70). With Subban out of the picture, Josi is the unquestioned No.1 defensemen at even-strength and on the power-play. He isn’t Brent Burns, but he is a great No.1 fantasy defenseman.
Ryan Ellis (D)
- — A true breakout has been on the horizon for Ellis, but he still has a career-high of 16 goals (2017) and 41 points (2019). Ellis played 24:01 TOI/gm last season and could see a little boost on the PP without Subban. He is capable of 150 shots, 10-plus goals, and 30-plus assists, making him a low-end No2./high-end No.3 fantasy defenseman.
Mattias Ekholm (D)
- — Ekholm had a surprising breakout campaign in 2019, ranking tied for 10th among defensemen in even-strength points (35). His massive role on a high-powered offense makes him a decent deep-league option, but his lack of PP exposure limits his upside.
Dante Fabbro (D)
- — Fabbro should be in line for second-unit power-play time behind Josi and Ellis and is a decent keeper/dynasty league target late in drafts. Fabbro has excellent mobility and a big point shot that should mitigate the loss of Subban. He was second on Boston University in points (33) last year and had one goal and one assist in 10 combined NHL games (reg.season + playoffs). Even with an expanded role in his first full season, rookie defensemen rarely make a big fantasy impact and Fabbro shouldn’t be an exception.
Nashville has one of the oldest starting goalies in Pekka Rinne (37) and youngest backups in Juuse Saros (24). It is evident that Saros is capable of carrying a heavy workload in the future, but Rinne isn’t showing too many signs of wearing down.
Pekka Rinne (G)
- — One year after winning the Vezina Trophy, Rinne posted a 2.42 GAA and .918 SV% in 55 starts. His workload will likely continue to decrease in 2020 but he is still a goalie who should see 50 starts. When you’re playing 50 games for the Predators, you’re a 30-win candidate and Rinne has consistently posted elite-level splits. He doesn’t have the upside of an Andrei Vasilevskiy, but he is a strong No.1 fantasy option, but it is wise to handcuff him with Saros—in case the timeshare moves closer to a 50-50 split.
Juuse Saros (G)
- — Saros’ numbers were the worst of his young career in 2019 but he is still tied for fourth in SV% (.921) and ninth in GAA (2.49) since 2017. Saros has standalone value because he should start 30 games and will post high-end splits. If Rinne gets hurt for some time, Saros instantly becomes a No.1 fantasy option. He is absolutely worth the late-round pick as your No.3 netminder.
Projected Scoring Leaders
|V. Arvidsson (34)||R. Johansen (46)||R. Johansen (61)||F. Forsberg (8)||R. Josi (19)|
|F. Forsberg (30)||R. Josi (41)||V. Arvidsson (61)||M. Duchene (6)||R. Johansen (19)|
|M. Duchene (26)||M. Granlund (40)||F. Forsberg (60)||R. Josi (6)||F. Forsberg (16)|
Predators in the DFO Top 300
- 64 — Pekka Rinne (G)
- 66 — Roman Josi (D)
- 72 — Filip Forsberg (LW)
- 79 — Viktor Arvidsson (LW/RW)
- 118 — Matt Duchene (C)
- 138 — Ryan Ellis (D)
- 144 — Ryan Johansen (C)
- 149 — Mikael Granlund (LW/RW)
- 176 — Juuse Saros (G)
- 250 — Craig Smith (RW)
- 259 — Mattias Ekholm (D)
- 284 — Kyle Turris (C)
|1||NASHVILLE PREDATORS||45-27-10||100 PTS|
|2||DALLAS STARS||44-28-10||98 PTS|
|4||COLORADO AVALANCHE||43-28-11||97 PTS|
|6||CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS||40-32-10||90 PTS|
|7||MINNESOTA WILD||37-36-9||83 PTS|
At their current odds, the Predators look like a savvy bet to win the Central Division. They have no issues in the regular season, the playoffs have been their bugaboo. They were able to win the division with the league’s worst power-play, imagine what they could do if that unit starts clicking at 20 percent?