Can the Nashville Predators surprise the West again?

Standings projections are coming in as Opening Night of the 2011-2012 NHL Season approaches, and pundits around North America are finally getting comfortable with the idea of the Nashville Predators being a reliable playoff qualifier. The question is, however, can this team exceed expectations once again, and take things the next level, competing for a Central Division championship or a Stanley Cup?

Sports Illustrated came out with their predictions this morning, calling for a 6th-place Western finish, and SB Nation's hockey voters called for the same. How might the Preds do better than that? There are a couple significant factors working in their favor...

The Big 3 - Talent Where It Counts

Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter are peaking right now, with all of them entrenched among the elite at their respective positions. Nashville also benefits from the fact that these are the three players who spend the most time on the ice, so one could argue that they've got the top talent in the areas which most affect the outcome of a game.

And yes, we all know about the uncertainty surrounding their future with the Predators, but we can rest assured that all three are motivated to put together career seasons, as they look ahead to their next contract. 

Organizational Depth

While the Preds may not boast a headline-grabbing sensation up front, what they do boast is organizational depth, so that when injury strikes during the course of the season, they can call up players from Milwaukee and have them fit in readily. Last season it was the center position which was tested, but you never know which area will be hit next. There is good reason to believe that they can meet whatever need arises, however, with the defense prospects working their way up the depth chart, and the number of forwards who can either step up on the wing, or move over from the center spot, like Blake Geoffrion, Jerred Smithson, or Nick Spaling.

So when other teams struggle during those heavy December and January stretches of the season, the Preds should be able to maintain their level of play and keep on chugging.

Vote in the poll below to make your pick as to where Nashville will place, and state your case in the comments!

And follow after the jump for a quick look at how the SB Nation voting turned out for the West...

1.  Vancouver Canucks 

2.  San Jose Sharks  

3.  Detroit Red Wings  

4.  Chicago Blackhawks   

5.  Los Angeles Kings   

6.  Nashville Predators   

7.  St. Louis Blues  

8.  Columbus Blue Jackets   

9.  Anaheim Ducks 

10. Minnesota Wild   

11. Dallas Stars   

12. Phoenix Coyotes  

13. Calgary Flames  

14. Colorado Avalanche   

15. Edmonton Oilers     

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