2010-11 NHL Preview: Nashville Predators
The Predators were 13.6 seconds from taking a 3-2 series lead on the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
They were 13.6 seconds away from possible pulling a huge upset and making it past the first round for the first time in franchise history.
That was not meant to be, as Patrick Kane scored the big goal and Marian Hossa sent the Chicago fans home happy and the Nashville fans wondering "What if?" all offseason.
The emergence of right wing Patric Hornqvist was one of the biggest positives last season. The 23-year-old Swedish sniper had a team-best 30 goals last season, 10 of them on the power play, and was greatly missed in the Blackhawks series.
Steve Sullivan's scoring touch was also back, tying Hornqvist for the team lead in points (51).
Defensively, Shea Weber continued his climb towards becoming one of the best two-way defenders in the NHL. The 24-year-old continued to show off his cannon of a shot by scoring double-digit goals (16) for the third time in four years and having over 200 shots for the second consecutive season (222 shots).
The Predators always seem to have it figured out when it comes to goaltending. From Tomas Vokoun to Chris Mason to Dan Ellis to now Pekka Rinne, the man in the net has stood tall for Nashville. Rinne had career highs in starts (58), wins (32), and tied his career high with seven shutouts. The 27-year-old Finish goalie earned his recent two-year extension worth $6.8 million.
C Matthew Lombardi (PHX: 78 GP, 19G-34A-53P), D Ryan Parent (PHI: 48 GP, 1G-2A-3P, -14), RW Sergei Kostitsyn (MTL: 47 GP, 7G-11A-18P), LW Jonas Andersson (KHL: 30 GP, 7G-13A-20P), RW Matt Halischuk (NJD: 20 GP, 1G-1A-2P), LW Blake Geoffrion (NCAA: 40 GP, 28G-22A -50P)
C Jason Arnott (46P), D Dan Hamhuis (21:15 ATOI), G Dan Ellis (15W)
What Makes Them Tick
Since the Nashville Predators were announced as an expansion team in 1998, they have played the same way: hard-nosed hockey.
No matter the personnel changes every offseason, general manager David Poile and head coach Barry Trotz have expected the same intensity out of the new players taking on new roles.
They have always been an organization that has pride in its defensive depth to play in front of the good goaltending. Gone is talented, hard-hitting Dan Hamhuis, but waiting in the wings is 6'5" Cody Franson, ready to take a bigger role this season. The 22-year-old had 6 goals and 21 points and was a +15 in 61 games last season.
This is now Shea Weber’s team after being named the fifth captain in franchise history and the first to be homegrown talent.
The B.C. beast exemplifies the hard-working mentality that all the defenders follow and he can score with the best of them from the backline. Weber’s 62 goals since the start of the 2006-07 season are the second-most goals at the position (Washington’s Mike Green has 70).
What Could Make Them Go Boom
The Predators have made the playoffs in two out of the last three seasons but have finished no higher than 12th in the league in goals per game, finishing 18th last season (2.65). If defense and goaltending are their strengths, offense is definitely their weakness.
The Predators this season hope an infusion of some youthful exuberance in the forwards should help that liability. 2008 seventh overall pick Colin Wilson got a taste of the action last season, appearing in 35 games and scoring 15 points.
The BU product will be a part of their top six forwards this season along with newly acquired center Matthew Lombardi.
After two seasons in the AHL, former second round pick Nick Spaling could also see some time in the top nine forwards, as well as KHL defector and another former second round pick Jonas Andersson.
These young players are going to have to add to the scoring of Sullivan, J.P. Dumont, and Martin Erat for the team to have success.
Player to Watch
No questioning the pedigree is there for Blake Geoffrion, the great-grandson of Montreal Canadiens legend and Hall of Famer Howie Morenz and the grandson of Hall of Famer Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion.
No questioning that the talent is there with 114 points in 146 NCAA games, a national championship, and being the first-ever Wisconsin Badger to win the Hobey Baker Memorial Award.
No questioning the great story line attached to this 22-year-old, as he is the first native of Tennessee to sign with the Predators.
Now the 6'2", 56th overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft has to use all those attributes to prove himself at the NHL level.
Geoffrion got to dabble in life as a professional hockey player, signing an ATO and playing in three playoff games for the Milwaukee Admirals and scoring two goals in those games.
He might spend the beginning of the season in the AHL but most certainly will get a heavy look for the big club during training camp and preseason.
Another season and another discussion on how the Predators will fill the holes of some key players lost in former captain Jason Arnott, Hamhuis, and Dan Ellis.
The team this season will experience more growing pains than before as they move toward a youth movement.
The Predators will need Hornqvist to prove that last year’s +28 in goals scored was not a fluke. They will need 25-year-olds Ryan Sutter and Kevin Klein to continue their development.
They will need Pekka Rinne to prove he's worth the contract extension they normally do not give out to their goalies.
With a lot of those questions not seeming to be answered, this team should contend for a final playoff spot but might just miss out as the youth develops.
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