Nashville Predators: Juuse Saros’ Bright Future Rapidly Approaching

NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 29: Juuse Saros #74 of the Nashville Predators skates as Third Star of the Game after a 5-3 win against the San Jose Sharks during an NHL game at Bridgestone Arena on March 29, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 29: Juuse Saros #74 of the Nashville Predators skates as Third Star of the Game after a 5-3 win against the San Jose Sharks during an NHL game at Bridgestone Arena on March 29, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images) /

It didn’t end the way we scripted it for the Nashville Predators in 2017-18, but there are positives. Juuse Saros is a major one.

We have to find positives from last season, even though it was a premature ending to a season full of milestones. If we’re focusing on the future, Juuse Saros is a big part of that. He’s the rising star that can keep the Nashville Predators’ window to the Stanley Cup open for many more years.

Saros is still living in the shadow of Pekka Rinne. However, when he does get his starts, there’s usually no drop-off. He’s barely 23 years old and is already posting some ridiculous numbers, including shutouts. His poise in pressure situations will keep getting better as he gains more experience.

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The Nashville Predators have a tough call to make with Saros this offseason. They have to figure out how they’re going to juggle both him and Rinne next season. You can make arguments for both goaltenders, but Saros holds the keys to keeping the Predators near the top for many more years. We thank Rinne for everything he’s done, but Saros is the future and is showing he’s ready to take over.

He always gives you a chance

One thing that sticks out to me for Saros’ second season is his record. It doesn’t look spectacular on paper, but he did only take five regulation losses in 26 starts. That means he’s giving his team opportunities to the very end. His seven overtime and shootout losses are a product of the Predators never being a great overtime team. We can argue all day about why that is.

On numerous occasions, Saros kept the Predators in games with incredible save after incredible save. After his ugly month of October, this guy became just as reliable as Rinne. Some can argue he could be in the Vezina Trophy conversation if he was the full-time starter.

After October, Saros took just two regulation losses. That’s in a span of 23 starts, which is pretty amazing. You want your goaltender to allow your team to always have a chance at two points when entering the third period. His record shows that with just five regulation losses.

He’s also impressing arguably the best player in franchise history that he’s eventually going to replace. Check out Rinne’s compliments of Saros back in May, courtesy of 102.5 The Game:

Started slow, finished strong

Saros opened up the season with three ugly starts, with the first coming at Pittsburgh. After giving up 13 goals in his first three starts, a lot of people were wondering if Saros really is the future. I never joined that bandwagon due to how young he is. I wanted to see a full season of work before making my judgment on him.

Another statistic that really stands out for Saros is his save totals. You can’t always get lost in how many goals are allowed. That number can be misleading, like in the case of Saros. Just take the stretch from his 43-save shutout of Vegas in mid-January to his 39-save win over San Jose in April. During that stretch, Saros recorded 30-plus saves in all but three games. In other words, Saros had to put in serious work to get his wins.

Saros’ game of the year is definitely his shutout of Vegas in a 1-0 shutout. His 43 saves in that game was impressive at the time, but even more impressive now that Vegas is just three wins away from a Stanley Cup. He also has a 30-save win over Tampa Bay to his credit as the season was drawing to a close and the Predators were battling for a Presidents’ Trophy.

Final Thoughts

Any doubt that existed heading into the season should be evaporated when it comes to Saros. The real dilemma is when do the Predators make the full switch from Rinne to Saros. That’s an argument for another day, but I fully expect Saros to start close to 40 games next season.

There’s a contract negotiation that needs to be worked out with Saros as he’s a restricted free agent. He shouldn’t come too expensive, per Adam Vingan of the Tennessean. A short-term deal to let Saros prove himself a little more is Vingan’s thoughts on the matter. I tend to agree, although I already believe Saros has done enough to feel strongly about him to split games with Rinne and then ride the hot hand.

Next: Pekka Rinne Was Amazing, Until the End

Saros exceeded expectations in 2017-18. He only started five more games than the previous season. Expect those numbers to increase much more next season. He finishes with nearly 200 more saves in just five more games of action from the previous season to last season. His save percentage is staying consistent at above 92 percent, giving fans no reason to be worried about his future. He gets a nearly a perfect grade from me, with the only thing holding him back being that horrendous first three starts.