The old saying goes in sports that you can only go as far as your best players will take you. It’s pretty clear who the best players are on the Nashville Predators and what level they’ll have to play at.
Despite some key offseason changes that will hopefully address the issues of last season, the Nashville Predators still have their same core intact that once carried them to the Stanley Cup Final not all that long ago.
The critics say that most of those players aren’t what they once were, but I beg to differ. You always have a chance to do something special on any given night when you have arguably the best one-two combo at any given position.
The Predators have that with Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis. Barring some kind of unforeseen injury, these two players should have big seasons once again playing together, and keep the Predators as a playoff team.
Simply the best
I have to start with the defending Norris Trophy winner. Josi is widely-considered the best defenseman in the NHL, and is elite among all NHL positions. There’s just not another play like him in the game, and that’s what makes him elite.
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You can put together a solid argument that the Predators are top heavy, but at the top they have some outstanding talent. Josi leads that charge, and there’s no reason to think he’s going to take a dip this season.
If anything, Josi should continue to trend upward and maybe even have another Norris Trophy up his sleeve in the near future.
Josi was cruising along and smashing career highs last season before the pause happened. He stayed firmly near a point-per-game pace, finishing with 65 points in 69 games. His transition game is unlike anything else, and he ignited that Predators offense despite being a defenseman.
The Predators will only go as far as Josi goes. If something were to happen that keeps Josi from being his normal self, then the Predators will be in a world of trouble.
Don’t forget the worthy sidekick
Sidekick is probably a little disrespectful to Ellis. He’s on the cusp of being an elite NHL defenseman in his own right. Injuries have hampered him at times, but when he’s out there he hasn’t missed a beat.
Ellis has all of the skills to be a Norris Trophy finalist before his career comes to a close. We need him to start feasting on the power play again.
Due to the nasty injury suffered in the 2020 Winter Classic, Ellis only played in 49 games. He logged two power play goals and seven power play assists. The Predators power play suffered because of it, coming in 25th in the league.
A healthy and engaged Ellis should improve the Predators’ power play, which he’s projected to be on the second power play unit with Calle Jarnkrok, Luke Kunin and Dante Fabbro, according to Daily Faceoff.
Ellis does occasionally have those defensive lapses that make you scratch your head. He’s an offensive-minded defenseman, just like Josi. If Ellis can clean that part of his game up and avoid injury, then expect a strong season from him alongside Josi.
These two can carry the Predators far
The season predictions for the Predators on a national level are vast. Some have them as low as sixth in the newly-aligned Central Division, while others have them as far up as third.
The ceiling for the Predators goes up as high as Josi and Ellis perform. If they both have stellar seasons that we know they’re capable of, then the Predators will be just fine and in the thick of things.
You, of course, can’t leave out the top forwards on the team like Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson. But they’re not at the same elite level at their position that Josi and Ellis are at defensively.
What gives me pause about the Predators’ chances of really having a deep season in the playoffs is they rely too much on their top lines. Virtually every NHL team has incredible talent on their top lines, and the Predators are no different.
What sets apart the Stanley Cup contending teams from the ordinary teams is their depth. The Predators have enough talent up top, most notably Josi and Ellis, to contend and sneak into the playoffs. Where they go from there will rely heavily on getting support from the bottom part of their lineup.