Last season the Nashville Predators saw so many amazing individual performances from all over the roster, from veterans to younger players. It begs the question; are there any players on this team that need “bounce-back” years?
This is going to be a difficult exercise to undertake because many players had career seasons, like Filip Forsberg, Matt Duchene and even Ryan Johansen hit his highest goal mark since joining the Nashville Predators during the 2015-16 season.
There are a few candidates who fit the bill for needing a bounce-back year. Players who we know has it in them to produce at a higher level than they showed last year.
These players will be critical for the Predators if they’re going to take that next step of being viable in the postseason against the league’s best teams.
1. Dante Fabbro
First up is Dante Fabbro. He’s the first player that comes to mind for me as needing a bounce-back year. Unfortunately, his NHL progression has hit a plateau, but he’s still very young and is capable of really boosting his stock in 2022-23, even if his future isn’t long-term with the Nashville Predators.
Fabbro is likely looking at decreased ice time this season with Ryan McDonagh joining the mix and filling in the top-four defensive lines.
Interestingly enough, Fabbro is going into the last year of his contract and is due to become an RFA at season’s end. Which makes him a prime candidate to be on the trade block, so keep an eye on that.
This is another reason why Fabbro needs a bounce-back season, if not just to boost his own value to get traded to another team that can use him more effectively. I don’t see Fabbro in the extended future plans for the Predators unless he just completely shows out on the third pairing and entices the Predators to keep him around.
Seems like a long shot, but we’ll see how it pans out. A strong showing from Fabbro will give the Predators one of the deepest defensive cores in the league.
Although Fabbro did post a career high in assists with 21, he still hasn’t figured out how to be more reliable at scoring goals. To be a top-four defenseman, you have to produce more than 10 goals over three regular seasons.
2. Kevin Lankinen
Lankinen is in a situation where he’s playing for a future starter role somewhere else. It’s almost certainly not going to be with the Nashville Predators regardless of how well he plays this year.
If Lankinen plays at a high level around 20 starts behind Juuse Saros, then he’ll probably fetch himself a starter opportunity on the free agency market next offseason. If he performs poorly, the Predators won’t retain him anyway and he’ll have to look for a backup role on another team.
Either way you slice it, Lankinen needs a bounce-back season after struggling for a bad Chicago Blackhawks team in his second year in the NHL. It wasn’t all on him, and he’ll have a much better team around him playing with the Predators.
The benchmark for Lankinen is to finish above a 90 save percentage, steal a couple games for the Predators when Saros is getting rest, and of course not be a total liability when he starts on back-to-backs. That’s really not too much to ask of him.
Unfortunately, the David Rittich experiment failed miserably for the Predators last season, forcing Saros to make 67 starts which led the NHL. Lankinen should take at least some pressure off Saros if he can be more like his rookie season version and not what he was last year.
3. Eeli Tolvanen
No other player on this team needs a bounce-back season more than Tolvanen does. His long-term future in a Predators uniform depends on it. The patience is starting to run out on if Tolvanen can live up to the hype of being a dangerous offensive player, particularly on the power play.
Tolvanen needs a bounce-back year offensively. He needs to at the very least be hanging around the 20-goal mark, and obviously elevate his shooting percentage, which was second-lowest on the team among forwards.
Site Contributor Max Greenberg projects in his season preview of Tolvanen that he should benefit from hopefully finding a more consistent spot in the lineup, even if it’s on the fourth line.
Something has to give for Tolvanen, otherwise he’s a potential trade piece and becomes expendable for a Nashville Predators team that has plenty of talented prospects getting closer and closer to making the NHL club.
If Tolvanen can put it all together for a solid offensive year, while keeping his defensive growth intact, then it’s possible that the Nashville Predators decide to keep him around. But this is the year he has to show the organization that this is his time to finally rise up.
It’s actually pretty surprising to look over the full Nashville Predators roster for 2022-23 and not really see too many players who are coming off of down years individually. And despite that, this team still lost in the first round and suffered their first ever sweep.
This is also scares me to a degree because it likely means at least one, if not a few, players regress a bit from last year. That means the aforementioned players need to step up to offset whatever regression we may see from somewhere else.
If Luke Kunin was still on this team, then I’d say he was the leader on this list of needing a bounce-back year. But in a smart move he was traded, while Nick Cousins was also let go. Both were wise decisions by the front office.
On paper there’s not a lot to criticize about this team as the preseason is almost here. Now they have to put it all together on the ice and execute.