The quick stay in Edmonton came to a close when the Nashville Predators got eliminated by the Arizona Coyotes, giving them another early exit in the playoffs.
With the Nashville Predators going in the wrong direction for three-straight seasons, now seems like the time to make some big roster changes. It’s clear that this current group isn’t going to be much more than a first-round playoff team.
If the Stanley Cup is still the goal, and not just pats on the back of making the playoffs, then this team has to look very different on opening night of next season.
With that said, I’m expecting a blend of prospects from Milwaukee to crack the starting lineup to go along with a new face or two via free agency. Money will be freed up to sign a defenseman or winger to keep this team relevant.
I’m going to go completely down the roster from top to bottom to predict how I think the Predators roster will look in the first game of next season.
The magic is still there for the top line of Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen. Perhaps the biggest mistake was ever breaking them up in the first place at the beginning of the season.
Be that as it may, this trio performed very well in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers despite the elimination. They produced seven of the 11 goals the Predators scored in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.
Forsberg continued to be the main offensive force of the team, Arvidsson found some new life after being 100 percent healthy and Johansen played a major role in many facets of the game.
The core is all locked up with long-term contracts as well, so there’s still time to keep the foundation intact and try to build around them.
The big positive to take away from the short stay in Edmonton for the Predators is they reignited the chemistry of their top line. They have something to build around going into next season after it was broken up for part of the season.
2020-21 Top Line Projection: Forsberg, Johansen, Arvidsson
The second line is what has given me the most headaches all season. A line I was incredibly excited about going into the season. Matt Duchene was the centerpiece of that line, and he’ll be in the mix again.
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Duchene has been under a lot of scrutiny for not living up to the hype, but he did show me something in the final playoff game.
Yes, the Predators got eliminated, but Duchene responded to the backlash with an outstanding game that included a goal. Maybe too little, too late, but he’s going to be a big part of the Predators once again next season.
This is where the big shakeup is going to occur. Philip Tomasino is going to be on this line, and the Predators are going to have to live with some of the growing pains that almost certainly will come along with it.
Tomasino is a dynamic young player that can change this offense. Give it the one-two punch that it desperately needs. Imagine Tomasino playing with a crafty stick handler and skater like Duchene is? I love this match going into next season, especially for a young Tomasino.
Mikael Granlund is probably gone, so I’m not factoring him into this line. If the Predators do re-sign him somehow, then he’ll round out the second line.
However, I think the Predators are going to part ways with Granlund and cut their losses. That means someone else has to elevate to the second line, and I’m going with Rocco Grimaldi.
Grimaldi has gradually grown into a fiery offensive player that forechecks hard and creates scoring chances. He’s only going to keep getting better judging by his personal drive and hard work to keep improving.
2020-21 Second Line Projection: Tomasino, Duchene, Grimaldi
I’m keeping Nick Bonino as the center on the third line. Some people have him as a trade block player, but the Predators have to keep some of their proven veterans for next year. They can’t just burn the whole thing down like some are suggesting.
Bonino will continue to be a vital piece, maybe the most important piece, to the bottom-six. He does all of the little things well that many times go unnoticed. He makes the right passes, wins faceoffs, works on the penalty kill and occasionally scores the big-time goals.
Another young prospect is going to get elevated to the everyday NHL lineup next season. To fit into the third line I’m going with Eeli Tolvanen right here. A player who has enormous offensive potential, especially regarding the power play.
Tolvanen did enough to make the training camp roster for the Predators in preparation for the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, but never got into a game. That’s going to change on opening night of next season.
Colin Blackwell should’ve been in the starting lineup for the Predators against the Arizona Coyotes. The Predators lost out on more offense and better forechecking by having Austin Watson in over Blackwell.
Blackwell is on my third line going into opening night of next season to go along with Bonino and Tolvanen. A line with some youth and inexperience, but one that will anchored by a smart veteran in Bonino.
2020-21 Third Line Projection: Blackwell, Bonino, Tolvanen
It may not match the contract, but Kyle Turris fits best on the fourth line at this point. Put him back at his natural position at center and let him lead the way in a smaller role.
Turris had a rough season with the Predators after getting healthy scratched for a stint, then came back and never really got it going. He shows flashes from time to time, but only to fade back into hardly showing up at all.
If the Predators can find a way to unload Turris, then great. I don’t see that happening, and realistically speaking the Predators are stuck with him. Might as well make the most of it.
That leaves Colton Sissons on the fourth line to continue to provide that strong forechecking and defensive presence. He’s never going to be the big goal scorer, but his value remains defensively.
The last spot should go to another newcomer to the everyday starting lineup, and that player is Yakov Trenin. A player that many thought should’ve also been in the postseason starting lineup.
Trenin is a bulldog. He’s gritty, plays a physical game that the Predators lack far too often. You always need a guy like that in your bottom-six to muck things up against the other team’s depth players.
The odd man out that might surprise people is Calle Jarnkrok. It comes down to a numbers game, and if the team is going to start rebuilding then sometimes you have to offer up a player that you might not want to.
To make room for up-and-comers like Trenin, Blackwell and Tomasino it’s going to mean losing a player via trade. Jarnkrok is that guy for me.
2020-21 Fourth Line Projection: Trenin, Turris, Sissons
Defense and goaltending
Not as many changes to these two units, but there will be some minor tweaks and maybe even an addition in free agency for the second or third defensive pairing.
The question is what to do with the bottom pairing, and where to fit in Fabbro if an outside addition is made. There are some pending unrestricted free agents that I don’t think are coming back including Dan Hamhuis and Yannick Weber.
This leaves Jarred Tinordi as a likely starter for the bottom pairing on opening night. Tinordi does some things very well. He’s massive and contributes on the penalty kill, but brings almost zero value in terms of any kind of offense.
Unless the Predators make a move in free agency, Tinordi will be on the bottom pairing with Alexandre Carrier. Fabbro will stay on the second pairing with Ekholm to see if more chemistry can be built between those two.
I’m fairly confident the Predators make a defensive addition in the offseaosn, but until that actually happens I’ll stick with this defensive lineup for the season-opener.
Connor Ingram will get one more full year with the Milwaukee Admirals to get himself ready for a future role as Saros’ backup.
Laying all of this out shows me a team that will contend for a playoff spot, but not be considered a Stanley Cup contender. It doesn’t mean they can’t get hot at the right time and pull off some magic like they did in 2017.
But on paper, this team is a slightly above average team. They’ll be exciting to watch nonetheless with some newcomers, and I could see them finishing around 90 points and getting a wildcard spot. Not all is lost, but we’ve come a long way down from 2017 and 2018.
2020-21 Defense Projection: Josi/Ellis, Ekholm/Fabbro, Tinordi/Carrier
2020-21 Goaltender Projection: Saros/Rinne