The Nashville Predators gave us our first glimpse into the development of the 2021 roster with Friday’s scrimmage, and we’re starting to see the squad take shape.
Friday night was the first of two practice games known as the “Smashville Strong Scrimmages” for the Nashville Predators, and it gave us our first glimpse into what the 2021 iteration of the team will look like before the season gets kicked off in less than a week.
Team Blue ended up trouncing Team Gold by a score of 8-2, with an offensive attack that saw a lot of players crashing to the net and making crisp passes.
With one more scrimmage to go on Sunday, here are the five takeaways from this first taste of hockey’s return to Bridgestone Arena.
1. Missing Persons
While many familiar names were on the ice for the Predators, many were not. The returners like Rocco Grimaldi and Matt Duchene were noticeably absent.
Other absences included re-signed forward Mikael Granlund (immigration challenges) and new signee (and one of Granny’s besties) Erik Haula, who just welcomed a newborn with his wife.
Another noticeable absence was that of up-and-coming Predators prospect Philip Tomasino, who is currently going through protocols to join the team following the World Junior Championship in Edmonton, where Canada took home the silver medal.
Tomasino had a very impressive showing in the tournament and many are eager to see what he looks like in Predators gold.
Hopefully these players will get some ice time in practice so that we can see them in the next and final scrimmage before the season begins.
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2. JOFA Cooking
The top line for the Predators have led storylines going into camp, and expressing a desire to stay together and set the tone and pace for the rest of the team.
Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg made the case early and often throughout the scrimmage for why they are the top talent for the Predators, and their chemistry was on display.
Arvidsson led the squad with two goals, Johansen tapped one in himself, and Forsberg had multiple points from assists while narrowly missing a few opportunities to put the puck in the net.
Here’s the power play goal from Johansen courtesy of the Predators:
Power play = EFFICIENT!
— Nashville Predators (@PredsNHL) January 9, 2021
If these three are the tone setters (along with some strong help from Norris Trophy winning Roman Josi), the tone is going to be fast, attacking, and one that can excite the Predators faithful.
3. The Kids are Alright
Friday was the first chance for fans to also get a look at some of the Predators’ prospects that have been so talked about during this offseason.
With the speculation being that the young players were going to get a chance in GM David Poile’s youth movement, fans have been eager to see who the early contributors and possible taxi players may be.
Mathieu Olivier made an early impression, scoring twice in the game on what looked like some very nice shots. He moved very well off the puck to score, and showed promise as a forward that could contribute if paired with offensive creatives.
Olivier’s game will be interesting see evolve. Another player with a goal was Sean Malone, who recently joined the Predators as an AHL player from Rochester and in the Buffalo Sabres system.
Eeli Tolvanen, a prospect Predators faithful have long been waiting to make the full time jump to the NHL, looked good, clearly having hit a growth spurt and appearing as a player that looked like he belonged in the NHL. \
Though Tolvanen didn’t tally a point, you have to wonder what line he may play with as he started the game with the fourth line. I speculate he could be a winger on a line with Granlund and Duchene when they are cleared for action, and form a group that could finally be the second line weapon that the front office has coveted.
4. Who Gets the Scraps?
Among other players who are fighting for roster spots, and trying to carve out roles in an ever evolving roster, are those like recently signed Luke Kunin, summer addition Mark Borowiecki, and a player returning on a tryout basis in Yannick Weber.
Kunin looked good in spite of having very little practice time with the team, having signed his deal after camp already began. He scored a goal that showed his versatility that could be invaluable for a team that needs to improve offensively after last season.
For all the criticism Trenin gets, fair or not, his goal in the third period was one of the smoothest shots of the night, and perhaps being on a tryout basis is a motivating factor that has elevated his game.
Borowiecki was involved in some of the more notable plays, though at a distance, he didn’t make an impact as much as other players in the scrimmage.
We know the Predators want to improve on the physicality aspect of the game, and Borowiecki is an addition that can definitely help with that, but it also must not come with a defensive liability, which has been a large part of the criticism he has received in his career.
5. Goalie Go ‘Round
Juuse Saros was on the receiving end of a scoring barrage, with most of the points scored in the game coming while he was in net. Granted, he also faced arguably the more talented players on Blue Team that included the JoFA line along with Josi.
This may be helpful to Saros in an “iron sharpens iron” sort of way, as he will need to be prepared for some strong offenses in the newly aligned Central Division.
At the same time, some will recall that Saros struggled a bit in the early part of the 2019-2020 season. With the shortened schedule, a slow start isn’t permissible if the team wants to contend.
On the flip-side, Pekka Rinne didn’t see nearly the offensive danger in the same way Saros did. When he did face danger, he looked like the elite goaltender the Predators know, expect, and need him to be.
The sample size is still too small to say anything definitive about Rinne’s night. Both goalies will get starts in the gauntlet schedule that is the 2020-21 season, and the team could hinge on their success.
The remaining question mark is who will be the Predators mandatory third goalie, carried on the taxi squad. Connor Ingram is the early favorite, having had one of the best seasons an AHL goaltender could have last season.
Ingram will be pushed by Kasimir Kaskisuo, who had a small sample size playing in the third period, for that spot.