The 2023 preseason slate gets started for the Nashville Predators in doubleheader action against the Florida Panthers from Amerant Bank Arena in Sunrise, Florida on Monday.
It will be our first look into the revamped Nashville Predators under first-year Head Coach Andrew Brunette, who has preached speed and intensity all throughout training camp so far.
A focus for the doubleheader will be how much different the Predators will look on the ice compared to past years under John Hynes. There will definitely be a learning curve and early mistakes.
This will also be a split squad doubleheader, so player evaluation will be the top priority for Brunette and his coaching staff that’s deciding on a roster full of young talent and new veterans.
Identifying which players have noticeable chemistry with each other in game action against another opponent will be a main focus. It is really anyone’s guess how the line combinations will end up being sorted out for opening night at the Tampa Bay Lightning.
With that, let’s look at my top three impact players for the Nashville Predators in the preseason doubleheader against the defending Eastern Conference champion Florida Panthers.
Yaroslav Askarov Needs to Show Steady Progress in Year 2 in North America
Really looking for Yaroslav Askarov to show some progress against NHL opponents during his preseason action. He made his brief NHL debut last season, and while he made some spectacular saves in that game against the Montreal Canadiens, he was also a little shaky with his decision making.
I’m expecting to see a much more settled in Askarov, and should start one of the two games in this doubleheader. The organization is looking for steady development from one of the top goalie prospects in the NHL.
Even if it’s preseason, it will be no easy task against the Panthers. A team that scored the sixth-most goals last season with 288, while the Predators finished with 223.
Askarov will be put to the test regardless of which Panthers squad he goes up against. Quite frankly, you want to see him tested against the best in the preseason. So will he have to go up against the likes of Matthew Tkachuk?
The Predators have their goalie duo for 2023-24 set for now with Juuse Saros and backup Kevin Lankinen, but times are changing fast and the front office will soon have to figure out if Askarov is ready for full-time duty in the NHL, at least in a backup role.
Cole Smith Standing Out at Training Camp
Everyone’s favorite player to criticize is actually getting rave reviews from the early going to Nashville Predators training camp. Cole Smith got time on a line with Filip Forsberg and Ryan O’Reilly and Brunette liked what he saw.
Let’s not get too fixated on Smith being matched with two players who figure to be on Nashville’s top line to open the regular season. This is a time when coaches are experimenting with all sorts of different combinations to see what works and what doesn’t.
As for Smith, who many thought would be battling for a roster spot, he’s certainly making his presence known at camp and looking to carry that over into preseason action against the Panthers.
You can check out a great interview from Emma Lingan for the team’s official website that highlights Smith’s added confidence in this year’s training camp.
“I think the intangibles that I had before – work hard, skate fast – should fit well in this system. “I’m [hoping to] be able to bury a few more pucks and get those chances to put them in the back of the net this year.” Cole Smith to the Team’s Official Website
The thing about Smith, with his lack of offensive upside well understood, is that the guy never goes any less than full throttle. If he can somehow unlock his offensive misfortunes and become a legit threat to pot some goals for the bottom-six, then he’s a lock to be an everyday starter.
That is a big “if” from Smith, who has a 5.9 percent shooting percentage for his NHL career, but did remain aggressive by registering 64 shots on goal in 69 games in 2022-23.
How much of Smith’s issues were system based, and can a new system under Brunette make Smith a different player? We will see, but obviously he’s a top player to watch in the preseason. We know he’s going to bring the hard hits and physical play, but can he translate that to more offensive success from Year 1 to Year 2?
Also if Smith is featured on a line with Forsberg and O’Reilly for this preseason game against Florida, then enjoy watching Predators fans have a meltdown on social media.
Luke Evangelista Enters Rookie Season with Nashville Predators
A player with so much hype around him already, Luke Evangelista is heading into his official rookie season in the NHL. In a loaded rookie class for the NHL, Evangelista is kind of flying under the radar around the league.
Either way, Evangelista is expected to make the NHL roster out of camp but I also wouldn’t call anything a mortal lock aside from Juuse Saros being the team’s starting goaltender. Seriously, a lot is up for grabs and a lot to prove for the vast majority of this roster, including the young Evangelista.
Evangelista played in just his second NHL game against the Florida Panthers and tallied his first career points on a primary assists for a Matt Duchene goal. The Predators would end up winning that game with Evangelista logging 12:53 of ice time.
The coaches have to find a healthy balance of giving the young talent a chance to play, but also be sure not to throw them into a spot that’s going to crush their confidence if they’re not ready just yet.
Evangelista doesn’t seem to fit that narrative, but it’s still important for him to play solid hockey in preseason action to not give coaches reason for pause.
Even if Evangelista is relatively safe in terms of being a starter out of training camp, figuring out where to place him in the lineup is another thing for Brunette to decide on.
How Evangelista plays in the preseason and what kind of confidence he shows will go a long way into landing even a possible top line role and power play minutes.
General Manager Barry Trotz has made it very clear that he doesn’t want to shatter young players’ confidence, which is why bringing in Ryan O’Reilly was a key addition.
I’d like to see Evangelista get on a line with Forsberg and O’Reilly against the Panthers and see how he responds to playing with two veterans. Can he feed off them and find those scoring chances?
Game 1 of the split squad doubleheader will be at 1 PM CDT and Game 2 will be at 5 PM CDT. The Nashville Predators will then return home to Bridgestone Arena for a preseason matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday, September 27 at 7 PM CDT.