The Return of the Nashville Predators: Top Training Camp Storylines

Apr 1, 2023; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Nashville Predators center Tommy Novak (82) celebrates with teammates after a win against the St. Louis Blues at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 1, 2023; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Nashville Predators center Tommy Novak (82) celebrates with teammates after a win against the St. Louis Blues at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s officially official; the Nashville Predators are returning to the ice to prepare for the 2023-24 season with newcomers Ryan O’Reilly and Luke Schenn joined by returning veterans Roman Josi and Filip Forsberg.

I’ve been saying it all offseason; The Predators are somewhat of an enigma with a balanced blend of young talent and seasoned veterans. It should make for another year of competing for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with a streak of eight-straight years coming to an end in 2023.

We’ve been dishing out our training camp player spotlights over the past couple of weeks previewing each player’s season ahead, how they’ll fit into this lineup and their strengths/weaknesses.

General Manager Barry Trotz and his new Head Coach Andrew Brunette (fourth in Predators history) aren’t mincing words when they illustrate that training camp will be competitive and every player from the top down to the fringe of the starting lineup needs to bring their “A” game.

#1 Nashville Predators Training Camp Storyline: Where do the Veterans Land in the Lineup?

No veteran sticks out more than the return of Forsberg. He’s missed action since mid-February from a head injury. Going into Year 2 of his 8-year deal signed in the 2022 offseason, it’s time for him to prove that 2021-22 wasn’t fool’s gold.

An energized Forsberg that shows leadership in training camp will be a beautiful thing to see, so my radar is pinging to see how much rust might need to be shaken off. If there is rust, it’s totally understandable.

Trending. Forsberg Returns to the Ice for Nashville Predators Training Camp. light

Furthermore, on the defensive side of things, Luke Schenn is the topic of speculation on what defensive pairing he ends up on. The overwhelming consensus is leaning towards Josi as his linemate, which would leave an odd man out that gets bumped down to third pairing status or as a healthy scratch.

Alexandre Carrier, Jeremy Lauzon and Dante Fabbro have all been around long enough to be considered veterans, although young veterans. Fabbro and Carrier are on one-year deals, so you read between the tea leaves on that one. They got things to prove.

“That’s why it was really important that we got a Ryan O’Reilly, for instance – so Cody Glass might not have to go head-to-head against Connor McDavid in all 82 games… That is going to eat at your confidence.” – Barry Trotz told Emma Lingan of Predators Official Website

Finally, the free agency acquisition that got everything rolling was the signing of O’Reilly. How quickly does he blend into the lineup as a veteran leader, and seemingly the replacement to Matt Duchene. Although two different types of players, it is a one-for-one veteran swap after Duchene was bought out and picked up by division rival Dallas.

O’Reilly is about to hit the impressive milestone of 1,000 career games in the NHL. Yeah, something tells me he has a lot to give to teach and share with the younger players of the roster, which Trotz has mentioned was a key reason why O’Reilly was added in free agency this summer.

#2 Nashville Predators Training Camp Storyline: Power Play Work, New Offensive Systems

The Predators have to show vast improvement on offense in 2023-24, and there’s not much time for Brunette to introduce his changes. There’s going to be a lot of trial and error, which is why it won’t surprise me in the slightest if the Predators stumble out of the gate in their first 10 games.

Related Story. Breaking Down the First 10 Games for the Predators. light

Training camp will be an opportunity for returning players to adopt new philosophies different from the Hynes era. It’s going to take patience, but it should be fascinating to watch unfold.

In particular, how will Brunette change the power play structure? I’m looking for much better puck movement and spacing, and less cookie cutter zone entries that are easily sniffed out by the penalty kill.

There should be plenty of experimentation in training camp on what the power play units will look like, with preseason games offering a chance to put them to the test in game action.

Look for Luke Evangelista to get hard looks on Brunette’s power play. Let’s see if he’s ready for a prominent role after making the transition look rather effortless towards the tail end of 2022-23.

Of course fans will need to not freak out if things look choppy at first, because they probably will. You’re asking players who will have new linemates to learn from a head coach going into their first year with the organization.

#3 Nashville Predators Training Camp Spotlight: Players on the Roster Bubble

I can’t remember in recent memory a Nashville Predators training camp with this much roster competition. Barry Trotz said it very clearly, per the team’s official website on Tuesday:

"“I think everybody who’s coming to camp has a lot to prove. We have some great opportunities for them, but they also have very limited time. They’re first- and second-year guys; that’s not a career to me. You’re just still trying to find yourself… They’ve got lots to prove”"

Trotz also hammered home his approach of surrounding players like Evangelista and Glass with strong veterans like O’Reilly and Forsberg so that they can succeed and not have their confidence completely ripped apart.

That’s why identifying who is and isn’t on Nashville’s roster bubble for opening night in Tampa is pretty much a guessing game. You can call it an educated guessing game, but still no one really knows for sure.

I do know that players like Kiefer Sherwood, Cole Smith, Michael McCarron, Denis Gurianov and Egor Afanasyev are all entering training camp as forwards who can play their way into the starting lineup.

Even players who might be safe bets to be a starter still have the opportunity to play for more minutes and play on a more prominent line. Someone like Tommy Novak will be battling for top-six minutes in a crowded depth chart of centers.

When the initial line combinations come out for the first preseason games against the Florida Panthers on September 25, fans are going to be ready to draw hasty conclusions. I assure you that although it may offer a window into what Brunette is thinking, it will be fine-tuned as the preseason unfolds.

Also it’s important to note that September 25 will be split squads in a doubleheader. Then the Predators will return to Bridgestone Arena for a preseason matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning, which should give us much more inclination on possible line combinations and what Brunette is favoring.