Fantasy hockey drafts are coming fast and furious these days, so in order to help round out your cheat sheets and projections, I wanted to provide some analysis for you out-of-towners who may not get an up-close look at the Nashville Predators all too often.
After the jump, we'll zero in on the Preds you need to include on your draft board...
First, the all-important caveat; any fantasy hockey recommendation must be put into the terms of your own league. Since scoring categories vary so much, factors like power play performance and total shots on goal may or may not make a given player more worthwhile.
With that in mind, let's focus on the Preds who can help your fantasy team. Given the team's well-documented issues with scoring depth, you really only need to worry about the starters:
Last year, the Predators' captain set a new team record for goals in a season (33), tying his career best from way back in 1993-94. The good news is that there are a few reasons to believe he can take things further this time around. Having a healthy Steve Sullivan on his line is a tremendous boost, one which we saw only sparingly in 2008-9. Just as Sully got 10 to 15 games under his belt and worked his way into game shape, Arnott suffered a concussion and missed almost a month of action. Ultimately, the two only had about 10 games together last season.
With Sullivan's speed serving as an offensive catalyst, look for Arnott to bang home the one-timers early and often, particularly on the power play, where he spend over 4 minutes per game.
Projection - 70 GP, 35 G, 30 A, 220 SOG
Having set a new career high with 49 assists last season, Dumont has found his metier as a playmaker, and this trend is likely to continue. By deferring to his more offensively-aggressive linemates, however, J.P. is in danger of leaving his 20-goal seasons behind. His assist totals should benefit from having a true sniper on the opposite wing.
Projection - 80 GP, 20 G, 55 A, 160 SO
Sullivan has the potential to be the "hidden gem" in many fantasy hockey drafts, because his offensive totals from last season (41 GP, 11G, 21A) don't rank highly, and due to the back injury which caused him to miss nearly two full years of action, he is seen as "injury prone."
However, there's good reason to believe that Sully's health should be of no more concern than for any other 35-year-old forward. Once he returned to action last season, Sully played - pure and simple. He often logged over 20 minutes a game, and did his best to carry the Preds to the playoffs.
And as far as being injury prone, yes, he lost two years to a specific problem, but look at his games played from the previous 6 seasons before that injury: 69, 80, 82, 78, 81, 80. He may be small, but he knows how to survive on NHL ice.
As for his prospects this season, he should have every opportunity to produce. He'll get all the offensively-favorable ice time he wants, such as faceoffs in the opponent's end, lots of PP work, etc., and in the pre-season he's already shown great chemistry with the top line. Sully has the veteran savvy to know that once he uses his speed & shiftiness to get loose in the zone, he can find good shooters like Arnott & Weber to finish the play.
When it comes to drafting Sully, plug him into your cheat sheet based on the projection below, and see if you can snag him as one of the last guys within that group of comparable players. Most likely, as your draft heads into the 25 goal, 60 point producers, he'll still be available as a mid- to late-round bargain.
Projection - 70 GP, 30 G, 40 A, 200 SOG.
The big beast on the Nashville blueline enjoyed a coming-out party last season with 23 goals and 30 assists, and given his age, the inclination is naturally to expect bigger and better things in the year ahead.
Don't get caught in the hype, however. There are warning signs in Weber's 2008-9 campaign that make greater offensive numbers somewhat unlikely. First off, when it comes to goal scoring, Weber's shooting percentage of 9.2% last year was quite high, 9th in the NHL among defensemen. A reasonable projection would be for something more like 6-7%, which still acknowledges a premium over other blueliners. Assuming that he can repeat his 251 Shots on Goal from a season ago, that would lead us to a projection of 15-18 goals; still excellent for a defenseman.
In terms of assists, the big opportunity here is on the power play; he leads Nashville in PP ice time per game, and if Sullivan can inject some life into that moribund unit, Weber should reap the benefits.
Projection - 82 GP, 17 G, 35 A, 250 SOG.
Many are looking for Suter's 2009-10 campaign to be the equivalent of Weber's 2008-9. He has taken solid steps forward in each of his previous four NHL seasons, and given a likely role on Team USA's Olympic squad, he'll draw attention as one of America's best young hockey players.
The question with Suter is to what extent he can assert himself on the top pair, taking enough quality shots himself to prevent opponents from getting away with trying to lock down Weber. While he doesn't boast the howitzer of a slapsot that his partner does, Suter has a knack for sending low, tippable shots on net through traffic, which should continue to drive his assist totals as forwards like Ryan Jones and Joel Ward scoop up the rebounds.
Projection - 82 GP, 12 G, 40 A, 175 SOG
The Nashville organization has groomed Rinne for the starter's role for a number of years, and the expectation is that he'll get a heavy workload this season; not quite as much as the elite fantasy goaltenders, but certainly enough to warrant a mid-round selection. The fact that Nashville tends to engage in low-scoring games works in your favor in a league that values Goals Against Average.
Projection - 35 W, 2.30 GAA, .915 Save %, 8 Shutouts
Mike Santorelli will start the season on the wing alongside Legwand and Erat, and given his point-per-game pace in the AHL last season (at center), he might have a shot at a 20G, 25A season. Similarly, Colin Wilson makes for an exciting prospect in the Nashville organization, but he's likely to spend at least the early part of the season in Milwaukee with the Preds' AHL affiliate. Keep an eye out for when he's called up, however, as he may provide a surprising amount of production despite limited duty.
If you draft Rinne as your goaltender, I highly recommend taking Dan Ellis in one of the late rounds; should injury occur, Ellis would make a fine replacement, and he'll probably get a decent number of starts regardless.