Before I mention anything about what happened on the ice at Bridgestone Arena, I want to make it known that the Predators organization is doing an incredible job of making sure they follow every precaution possible to ensure the safety of their players, staff, and the media that cover them.
I was required to wear a mask the entire time, had a COVID-19 screening done by a medical professional from Vanderbilt before entering, and was only allowed direct access to my assigned seat, which was properly socially distanced in every direction. Upon the conclusion of practice, I was given direct access to the parking garage. At no time while in the arena was I within 50 feet of the players.
Post-practice interviews were completed via Zoom from the safety of my home office. The team even took a break between each player and coach’s appearance in the interview area to sanitize it. All in all, no one is taking this situation lightly.
Now, let’s talk about what happened on the ice.
Lines and Pairs
The most exciting development thus far, and referenced as such by Coach John Hynes in his interview, was the familiarity of forward lines. Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and Viktor Arvidsson practiced together. Kyle Turris, once again, found himself with Matt Duchene and Mikael Granlund. The line of Nick Bonino, Craig Smith, and Rocco Grimaldi remained together (and looked like they had never stopped skating). The fourth line consisted of Colton Sissons, Calle Järnkrok, and Austin Watson. Yakov Trenin and Colin Blackwell rotated in and out of the Sissons and Bonino lines, respectively.
Now, I already mentioned that the Bonino line looked like it hadn’t lost a step, but the biggest takeaway from watching the forwards was simply that the lines looked happy. Long gone are the dog days of Kyle Turris being scratched for unknowable reasons, and the top three lines look locked in. When a line works well together and they feel good about their respective performances, they have an easy give and take between them and an overall air of happiness—that’s what it looked like on the ice on Wednesday. However, most drills I witnessed were more skill-based and less competitive. It will be interesting to see the in action during their intra-squad scrimmage.
My one big takeaway on the forward front is that Yakov Trenin looked solid in practice. He was able to find the back of the net in several situations and had a knack for knowing where to be to get possession of the puck. While things will be more clear after a scrimmage, I would look for him to have a chance at breaking onto the game-day roster.
The defense pairs stacked up in about the same way you remember them: Roman Josi skated with Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm skated with Dante Fabbro, Dan Hamhuis worked with Yannick Weber, and Korbinian Holzer partnered up with Jarred Tinordi.
In practice, the defenders were mainly responsible for drills in which they worked with forwards to control the puck through the neutral zone. There was a drill toward the end of practice where a 5-man unit attacked in the offensive zone in order to score against a 3-man unit made up of two defenders and a forward, who tried to clear the puck.
Of course the main question on everyone’s mind is who will be minding the net for the Predators on August 2nd. Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros looked incredibly sharp during scoring drills. Based on this performance alone, there was no clear favorite. John Hynes weighed in on the situation in the post-practice interviews.
Nick Bonino’s line caught fire early in the season and it still burns bright. I had the opportunity to ask him about Craig Smith and Rocco Grimaldi’s style of play and how it has allowed him to gel so well, so quickly with them. His answer (yes, this is a video of my laptop):
Nick Bonino on why his line with Craig Smith and Rocco Grimaldi has been successful and why they’ve been able to get back up to speed so quickly during training camp. #Preds @OnTheForecheck pic.twitter.com/pbSVDjhuNk— Shaun C. Smith (@SCSOTF) July 15, 2020
Also during the media availability, another reporter asked a question that led Bonino to reveal that his family did not travel with him (which makes sense based on the strict NHL Bubble rules). This came up again with Mattias Ekholm, who stated that leaving their families behind has helped reinforce for the players that they have to take the quarantining seriously and remain focused on the ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup. Ekholm also said that he agreed with Ryan Ellis’s previous comment about this scenario making the Stanley Cup even harder to win than in a usual season.
Head Coach John Hynes played his cards pretty close to his chest in regards to the starting goalie situation and was really only willing to say that they would be “observing them every day—how they practice, their fitness level, tracking the puck, rebound control, how they play in competitive game-like situations. Those are the situations you really have to look at. And when do some game-like scrimmaging, those will be some evaluation situations for both goaltenders.” If anything it clear, it’s that no decision has been made.
The team will have a recovery day on Thursday and an intra-squad scrimmage on Friday.