It’s time for some BIG OLE QUESTIONS.
This will be a two part series where we ask five different writers to respond to some BIG OLE QUESTIONS facing the Nashville Predators this season.
Up first is Marya, Bryan, Carson, Corey, and Kate.
1. Which of these players surprises us the most this year: Pontus Aberg, Craig Smith, or Scott Hartnell?
Marya: This is a tough one, since I have fairly underwhelming expectations for all of them. That said, I will be very surprised if Smith doesn’t return to 20-goal form.
Bryan: My natural response would be Aberg, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say Craig Smith. After a disappointing year last year, and knowing that he has an opportunity at a bigger role on the team potentially, I think we may be in store for a much improved player in Smitty this year.
Carson: For a while I was torn between Aberg and Smith, but I finally landed with Smithy. The Predators are going to need guys like Smith to step up after the loss of some offensive prowess this off-season, and I think after an off-year last year, he'll be hungry for a bounce back. In regards to Hartnell, I don't think he will under-perform, I just don't see him doing anything that isn't typical of him.
Corey: I didn't want to take the obvious choice here, but Aberg is the answer. The Preds have a way of developing young forwards with potential, and Aberg is no exception. There's an unlikely outside chance for him to push for 20 goals, but likely settle into the 15 range. I wanted to pick Smith, but couldn't make myself do it. Sorry.
Kate: In terms of surprise, I'm still hoping it'll be Åberg, who I'm not expecting too much of. I'm not sure that Smith has anything he can surprise us with after last year. I don't see him finding a new level at 28, but neither a rebound to his previous reliability nor a continuing slump would be shocking. Meanwhile, the expectation for Hartnell seems to be pretty optimistic. I could go cynical and say he might be this year's Matt Carle or Vernon Fiddler, but that's no fun. (For what it's worth, I think Smith and Hartnell will both have solid years.)
2. What are reasonable expectations for Nick Bonino?
Marya: He’s a Calle Jarnkrok that’s not going to get a chance to play wing on the top line. I hope Laviolette will be able to re-ignite some HBK-esque chemistry, perhaps skating between Fiala and Arvidsson.
Bryan: Similar numbers to Mike Fisher. A 20/20 season might be a little too high in the goal scoring side of things, but I believe he could manage a 15/30 season. He'll have more talent around him on a Nashville second line as compared to a third line in Pittsburgh.
Carson: I actually am quite optimistic about Bonino this year. I see him ranging somewhere in the 15-18 goal range, and definitely feeding guys like Fiala the puck as well. Playing with younger, quicker guys should make him a better player, and give him the opportunity to have a solid year.
Corey: Reasonable expectation is for Bonino to center the second line and see 17-18 minutes of ice time. If someone like Viktor Arvidsson were to slide down to his line at some point throughout the season, his expectations will rise. I'll stick to my prediction of 45 points.
Kate: I think we can reasonably expect 30-35 points from Bonino, assuming he gets second-line minutes (roughly 16:45/game, which is a little more generous than Lavy gave his 2Cs last year and a little less generous than the year before that) and only misses around five or six games. If he's healthy all season and plays well with Fiala and/or Smith he might hit 40; on the other hand, his production rates have been trending consistently down over the last four years, so I could also see him not even managing 30.
3. With a number of tough match-ups in October, a decent amount of roster turnover, and the worry of a Stanley Cup hangover, there is a strong possibility for a slow start for the Preds in 2017-18. What are the keys to the Predators avoiding an early skid this season?
Marya: They need to have a system and stick to it. Despite Ryan Ellis being out for the first half of the season, the defense can’t afford to spend two months not knowing where to be. As unexciting as it may sound, they’ll need to depend on a system instead of chemistry for a while.
Bryan: The two biggest keys are Alexei Emelin and Pekka Rinne. Emelin for the reason that with Ryan Ellis out for the early parts of the year, he will be in a key role starting out on a line with either P.K. Subban or Roman Josi. As for Rinne, he is still the reason we got to where we were in the playoffs, and he will be the reason we get back if he plays strong throughout the year.
Carson: The biggest question going into the season has to be the offense. If the Predators can't find someone to replace James Neal’s production, we could be in for some uninspiring offense, putting more pressure on a blue line core without Ryan Ellis. If Fiala, Aberg, and others can step up (or possibly acquire a Colorado based forward), we should be fine.
Corey: I think there's definite concern that the Predators start slow this season, and you can also factor in Filip Forsberg's history of opening the season on a cold spell (his first goal last year came in the 14th game). The absence of Ryan Ellis will sting, and it will take time for the new line combos aside from JOFA to connect. So, the key to avoiding a slow start is Pekka Rinne - another guy who historically needs time to shake off the rust. Last season, he allowed 18 goals in his first six starts, so we'll need the elite Pekka to show up early in 2017.
Kate: Consistently decent goaltending would be a huge help in giving the skaters time to settle in. Early last fall Pekka only had brilliant games or awful ones, so some stability to start this season would be great. Beyond that, there were quite a few times in last season's early skid where the game seemed to fall apart within a few moments. If the team can figure out how to respond calmly to adversity, that might help keep games within reach.