Mapping Out the Rest of a Rocky Season for the Nashvile Predators

Nashville Predators center Calle Jarnkrok (19) celebrates after a goal during the third period against the Carolina Hurricanes at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Nashville Predators center Calle Jarnkrok (19) celebrates after a goal during the third period against the Carolina Hurricanes at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports /

As we’re still not even at the halfway point of the 56-game regular season, it looks like the Nashville Predators are all but finished when it comes to their postseason hopes.

With that being said, there’s still a lot to look forward to if you’re a true hockey purist and excited to see what the future of this team looks like. Change is necessary, and you have to be willing to embrace it.

Let’s go ahead and put aside the unlikely scenario that the Predators go on some crazy long four-winning streak that rockets them into the top-four. Could it happen? Absolutely. But that likelihood is as high as the likelihood that Mike Fisher comes out of retirement again for “one more run”.

In all seriousness, the Predators have some positives to build off of. I’ve been moderately encouraged by what I’ve seen from the young players on the roster, and also see some exciting developments being built on some of these line combinations.

I’m going to set the table for you on how I see the rest of the season panning out.

Nashville Predators have a brutal remaining schedule

The Predators just came out of the “soft” portion of their schedule, if there is such a thing. They beat up on the Columbus Blue Jackets to the tune of five wins in six meetings. Bravo, take a bow. That means the historical dominance of Columbus has continued into 2021.

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A four-game split with the Detroit Red Wings makes my head hurt, but at least the Predators did salvage some points out of that.

The Predators have four more games against Detroit, and two more against Columbus. The rest of the division are teams that the Predators are going to be mostly perceived as heavy underdogs, with the exception of the Chicago Blackhawks. That matchup will be slated as much closer in terms of the betting odds I would suspect.

No one is sneaking through without going through a gauntlet of a remaining schedule. Just ask the Dallas Stars.

I just don’t see a lot of wins left on the schedule that would lead me to believe the Predators are going to be able to build any kind of lengthy winning streak. Maybe the occasional two-game win streak, or three of four wins. Other than that modest amount of success, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Time to get to know the youngsters

For the fans out there who love following the prospects from the time they initially suit up in the minors, now is your time to get excited. It’s really fun to follow the journeys of these prospects, and several of them are now getting their NHL opportunities for the Nashville Predators.

There’s going to be a lot of growing pains this season, no doubt. Hockey isn’t just one of those sports where you typically just jump right in and start dominating. Sure, there’s huge exceptions to the rule, and those players are usually elite superstars, like when Connor McDavid put up 100 points in just his second season in the NHL.

However, we’re now going to get a chance to see what the future looks like for this Predators team that’s at a crossroads. How long will this rebuild last? It could be quicker than you think if these prospects turn out more NHL-ready than previously thought.

I’m particularly excited to see the continued growth of Eeli Tolvanen, who is no longer a prospect in my eyes. He’s here to stay on the NHL level.

Others that will continue to get plenty of NHL minutes this season will be Mathieu Olivier, Ben Harpur, Alexandre Carrier, Tanner Jeannot and many others.

Philip Tomasino and Rem Pitlick could be the next ones up, and we still have to await the injury concern for Juuse Saros.

The veterans, and the trade deadline

The big elephant in the room is the trade deadline and unloading eyesore contracts if possible. The Predators are in a position where they need to acquire draft capital and prospects to replenish the pool.

First order of business is to see what’s going to happen with Mattias Ekholm, which is on top of TSN’s trade bait board.  A legit Stanley Cup contending team I expect will target Ekholm heavily, and put up an offer the Predators won’t be able to refuse.

Once these big chips start falling, the roster will take better shape for the future. The Predators should acquire some starters in return for some of these trades they work out with other teams.

However, the current prospects that are getting minutes now, or are playing for the Chicago Wolves in the AHL, should also keep getting NHL opportunities for the remainder of the season.

This all means that the Predators are going to be a team in flux all season. Line chemistry is going to be hard to come by, but thinking about the long-term future is at the center of this.

In the end, I think Ekholm is as good as gone, and there’s at least two or three others that I don’t think will be here by April’s deadline. Perhaps Calle Jarnkrok, Viktor Arvidsson or Colton Sissons.

Prediction for where the Predators finish

This is an insanely hard prediction to make, but I’m going to shoot my shot. I think the Predators will keep battling and pull together some exciting wins throughout, and even over teams they have no business beating on paper.

I’ll be completely surprised if the Predators finish in last place. The Red Wings are in just as much disarray, and already far behind the Predators. That 7th-place spot, however, is a very likely landing spot for the Predators.

Don’t come at me about tanking. I’m never going to condone a team tanking for better draft position. The competitor in me, and hopefully the players, should keep those thoughts out of our minds.

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Not to mention this upcoming draft class isn’t all that loaded anyway. So the Predators’ ceiling for me is a 5th-place finish, and that’s even pretty far-fetched.

I see the Predators finishing ahead of Columbus and Detroit with a 6th-place finish, while I think Dallas will get their act together against weaker teams, like Nashville, and eventually overtake Chicago for the 4th-spot.