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Nashville Predators 2016-2017 Season Preview: Goalies

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Always hug your goalie.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-San Jose Sharks at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The previews of the Nashville Predators continue! Here is the breakdown of our preseason coverage:

Arguably the most criticized players in the game. The netminders often bare the burden of a bad game, even if they’ve played their best hockey.

Position Strengths

A mixture of youth and a rested Pekka Rinne.

Rinne may be used to putting the team on his back and carrying a hefty work-load, but that shouldn’t be the norm. The Finnish netminder isn’t getting any younger and while playing the bulk of a 82 game season isn’t completely out of the question, it is ridiculous with not one but two reliable backups.

With Marek Mazanec and Juuse Saros both capable of filling Carter Hutton’s former role as backup, there should be no reason to ride Rinne into the ground. Mazanec is no stranger to the pressure of the NHL and has already shown solid play in his pre-season outing. We may still be another year out from Saros filling the backup completely, but having two back-ups for Rinne isn’t a bad thing.

Position Weaknesses

Mental clarity and blind faith.

Rinne is no stranger to how quickly the public’s perception of you can change if you’re not playing up to form. Statistically he can be playing the best game of his career, but if the team loses he’ll be at the mercy of a pitchfork yielding mob somewhere. Rinne will have to continue to focus on his mental game if he wants to silence the questions that he’s no longer elite.

Likewise Peter Laviolette will have to know when to make the tough call to rest Rinne and let Mazanec or Saros have their time. Whether it was blind faith in Rinne, or lack of faith in Hutton, leaving Rinne to figure out his own demise night after night isn’t going to work this season.

Catalyst of the Group

Juuse Saros

The Predators have three goalies in their system who are not only solid back-up choices, but can all hold their own in a starting position as well. Saros may still need a little bit more time in Milwaukee before he gets the full-time gig, but knowing he’s this close could ignite a fire under Mazanec and even Rinne.

Nothing says step your game up like having two younger players battling for your spot.

Breakout Player

Pekka Rinne

Rinne isn’t done yet. Despite overwhelming opinions stating otherwise, he is still a great goalie. He still holds the starting position and until Mazanec or Saros truly has the chance to prove themselves, Rinne will do what he’s always done. He’ll prepare to carry the workload, he’ll put his head down and he’ll go to work.

If Rinne can play like he did during the playoffs it’s going to be a fun ride this season. After last year I suspect he will be eager to prove himself and return to being Nashville’s favorite Finn.

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Pekka Rinne

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-San Jose Sharks at Nashville Predators Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

What he adds to the mix:

Rinne provides veteran leadership and heart to the mix. The Predators will be younger this season and they will thrive by having an established player that never quits despite how the game might be going.

Expectations for this season:

Be Pekka Rinne.

After a fantastic showing in the playoffs there shouldn’t be any reason why Rinne can’t have a stand-out season. Despite his age and his spotty regular season play last year he’s still considered one of the top 10 goalies in the league. If he can stay healthy and in a positive mindset he’ll have a great season.

What does the future hold?

Rinne’s getting older, that’s life, even for elite athletes. While many might be ready to ship him off to a retirement community he’s still got a few good seasons left in him. He may not play 60+ games but he won’t be fading into hockey obscurity either.

Marek Mazanec

Chicago Blackhawks v Nashville Predators

What he adds to he mix:

No stranger to the NHL. Mazanec saw himself thrust into the big show during Rinne’s lapse with injury during the 2013-2014 season. Often times he saw the starting role over Hutton, even notching the NHL’s Rookie of the Month in November of 2013.

Mazanec is already acclimated to the Predators system and gives the team a backup goalie who’s reliable, and not just for a Save of the Game highlight reel. Mazanec was able to prove himself in the Trotz system and should have no problem flourishing under Laviolette. He’ll be a key factor in keeping Rinne rested and healthy.

Expectations this season:

Proving his reliability in a short time frame will be key to Mazanec’s success. He will have to embrace every opportunity he’s given or he’ll find himself in the same situation as Hutton, watching while Rinne exhausts himself.

What does the future hold?

Mazanec will have to work hard to hold onto the backup role with Saros hot on his heels. If Mazanec can play like he did when he got the Rookie of the Month nod, he’ll have a steady role in the NHL.

Juuse Saros

Buffalo Sabres v Nashville Predators Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

What he adds to the mix:

Already at such a young age Saros has four World Championship medals to his name and made the 2015-2016 AHL All-Rookie Team. He went 26-7-0 in 34 appearances with the Admirals last season and even made his NHL debut with the Predators last November. If he continues at the pace he has been he’ll be an elite goalie by his first full NHL season.

Expectations this season:

As pre-season wages on it’s still undecided who will fill the back-up role. If Saros does take the full time role in Milwaukee he should take it in stride and use the season to elevate his game while carrying a larger work-load.

Or just blow it out of the water and send Mazanec back to Milwaukee. Don’t poke the Little Bear.

What does the future hold?

Saros is the future of goal-tending in Nashville. His size in comparison to Rinne may be striking but he’s never let that stop him. It’s not a matter of if he’ll be Nashville’s future, but when?