We’re now on our third full day of the post-lockout NHL and Nashville Predators fans are as giddy with excitement as fans around the rest of the league. The team made the front page of yesterday’s Tennessean and everyone’s already back to talking about the Nashville roster. Some things never change!
Now that the team is without the services of Ryan Suter, probably the most questionable aspect of the Nashville Predators roster is how the defensive pairings will shake out. With four veterans and three young players making up the current batch of Nashville blueliners, there are all sorts of options for Coach Barry Trotz to mix and match. The only sure bet right now is that Shea Weber is going to be on the top pair. Most likely he’ll be matched with Roman Josi, who spent the end of last year playing alongside Hal Gill. Kevin Klein, Scott Hannan, and Gill could play together or with Ryan Ellis and Jonathan Blum. It’s likely the coaching staff with try a few permutations before settling on what’s working best.
A Healthy Squad
With play tentatively scheduled to begin on January 19th, the Nashville Predators have 11 days to get ready for hockey season. The good news is doesn’t look like there should be any major injury concerns to start the year and most of the team has stayed active. A core group led by captain Shea Weber has been skating here in Nashville throughout the lockout. Several others (including Pekka Rinne, Sergei Kostitsyn, and Patric Hornqvist) have been playing in Europe, and the team’s AHL affiliate in Milwaukee has kept the youngest prospects busy. The only player currently out of action who was expected to start the season with Nashville is winger Gabriel Bourque, whom GM David Poile says he expects to see return to play in two to three weeks.
Anybody Care To Join The Nashville Predators?
There’s a low-level buzz right now about what sort of acquisitions the Predators could still make in the near future. The new CBA landscape is still uncertain but there are options available. Poile said yesterday that he had his scouting team checking out Eastern Conference teams he won’t have to face during the intraconference schedule. The question around town seems to be which gap in the lineup our GM would seek to fill: a puck-moving defenseman to help make up for the recent loss of Ryan Suter, or somebody to address the longer-standing issue of a lack of consistent top-line scoring threats. Poile also mentioned the possibility of picking up a player from waivers or an unsigned free agent coming back from Europe. The pickings there look to be pretty slim, but Poile has a history of taking low-risk, high-reward shots at players others have given up on.
Shorter Season: A Boon To Ex-College Players?
During yesterday’s press conference, David Poile singled out several of the Predators’ younger players that he’s expecting to add value to the team this year and mentioned both 22-year-old Craig Smith and 23-year-old Colin Wilson. Smith and Wilson were both collegiate hockey players – with Wisconsin and Boston University, respectively – before coming to the NHL. The college hockey season is about half as long as the NHL campaign, and the wear and tear of the pro season has shown late in the year in each season these two have been in the league.
But this year they’ll only be playing 48 games. That’s just a few games more than what they were used to in college. If Preds fans are lucky, that will keep the coaching staff from having to protect Smith and Wilson as much in the later part of the season – and hopefully we’ll see consistent point production from both of these players as they continue to develop.