The Nashville Predators are going to be seeing an awful lot of their Central Division rivals during this shortened NHL season. Of the 48 games on the schedule, 18 come against the other four teams in the Central. They’ve all made some changes since we saw them last, so here’s a look at some of the new faces we’ll have a chance to watch this season.
New Faces in the Central Division
Vladimir Tarasenko – St. Louis Blues
Blues fans are really excited about Vladimir Tarasenko, and why wouldn’t they be? TSN says he’s the third-best prospect in the world, and Blues coach Ken Hitchcock says he can “more than keep up” with his teammates who won last year’s Central Division title. Seeing him on a line with Andy MacDonald and Alexander Steen for four games this season isn’t going to do much to help Preds fans sleep at night.
Damien Brunner – Detroit Red Wings
At 26 years of age Damien Brunner is a little older than some of the other new faces here, but he’s got a lot of experience playing in Switzerland’s National League A. In 304 games over there he has averaged nearly a point per game with 117 goals and 155 assists. Playing alongside Henrik Zetterberg for Zug during the lockout, Brunner put up 57 points (25G-32A). Detroit fans are hoping he’ll make a smooth transition to the North American game, especially since he’s slotting in on the team’s top line, but there are questions.
Sergei Bobrovsky – Columbus Blue Jackets
24-year-old Sergei Bobrovsky came to the Columbus Blue Jackets last summer in a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers. Bobrovsky was far from terrible in 2010-11, posting a 2.59 GAA and .915 save percentage in 54 games. But playing second fiddle to Ilya Bryzgalov in 2011-12 didn’t suit him. He played just 29 games and his numbers (3.02, .899) dropped off significantly. During the lockout he played for SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL (with Vladimir Tarasenko) and looked significantly more impressive at 1.94 and .932. I don’t expect those numbers to hold behind the Columbus defense, but I also think having him alongside Steve Mason is an improvement over Curtis Sanford. Reports are that the two are competing for the starting job, which is either good (they’re spurring each other on) or bad (he’s not better than Mason, he didn’t do well in tandem with Bryz-goalie) for Columbus, depending on how you choose to look at it.
Brandon Saad- Chicago Blackhawks
20-year-old Brandon Saad enjoyed two solid seasons with the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL, scoring 61 goals and 70 assists in 103 games. The Hawks already have an embarrassment of riches at forward and have brought several young player up in the last year or two, so Saad will probably not see a crush of minutes in his first NHL season. Margaret Avila at Blackhawk Up says it’s conceivable he could see some time on the power play.