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Breaking down the Predators’ opening night roster

Star prospect Philip Tomasino will start the year in Nashville, while questions remain on defense.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Nashville Predators Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images

With two days remaining until the Nashville Predators kick off their season against the Seattle Kraken, the team is getting their final roster in order.

The Preds have chosen the 23 players who will represent the team on opening night. The most notable name is Philip Tomasino. The Preds’ 2019 first-round pick has earned an everyday spot after an impressive offseason which included a dominant performance at the Prospects Showcase in Tampa. The one notable absence is Mathieu Olivier, who will start the season on injured reserve after an injury late in camp.

The Predators will start the year with 13 forwards and 8 defenders. Let’s take a look at the breakdown.

Forwards (13)

Nick Cousins, Matt Duchene, Filip Forsberg, Cody Glass, Mikael Granlund, Rocco Grimaldi, Tanner Jeannot, Ryan Johansen, Luke Kunin, Colton Sissons, Eeli Tolvanen, Philip Tomasino, Yakov Trenin.

Injured Reserve: Mathieu Olivier

Even with Tomasino’s fate being the story to watch for all of camp, this was still pretty much the lineup everyone had predicted going into the preseason, sans Olivier on injured reserve. You can’t really argue that anyone in the forward corps didn’t earn their spot or became a “surprise” addition.

Based on Monday’s practice rushes, it looks like the “Big Money” line (we really need a better nickname for this trio) of Forsberg, Johansen, and Duchene will stick together to start the year. Mikael Granlund will start as the 2C between two guys who might be teetering towards breakout seasons: Luke Kunin and Eeli Tolvanen. Both guys spent time with Granlund at points last season, and both had productive tenures when that was the case.

It appears Tomasino will start on the third line alongside newcomer Cody Glass and Nick Cousins. At first, I was a little skeptical of starting him in the bottom six, simply because I thought he’d benefit most from playing in a more traditional scoring role. But I actually love the idea of Tomasino playing with Glass. You get the sense that the Preds believe these could be two-thirds of their future top line, so I’m intrigued by the idea of them building chemistry early, and possibly working through some growing pains together. Cousins is the perfect foil for those two; his physicality at and around the net can open enough space for Glass and Tomasino to create plays, and he can anchor that line’s defensive presence while the two younger guys continue to develop awareness in their own end.

The Herd Line is the Herd Line; the group of Colton Sissons, Yakov Trenin, Tanner Jeannot, and Mathieu Olivier showed no signs of losing last year’s chemistry during the preseason. It’ll be interesting to see where the roster stands when Olivier returns from injury. Olivier has certainly done enough to warrant a full-time spot in the lineup, but he also seemingly fell behind Trenin and Jeannot in Hynes’s pecking order last year.

That leaves Rocco Grimaldi as the extra forward, which is a perfect role for him at the moment. Grimaldi was one of the guys that stood out during camp and preseason, and his defensive prowess has — so far — seemingly improved tenfold from the last few years. He’s proven he can be a high-impact player in the right situations. So if someone in the top 9 struggles, or there’s an untimely injury, Grimaldi is a perfect player to fill in.

Defense (8)

Matt Benning, Mark Borowiecki, Alexandre Carrier, Mattias Ekholm, Dante Fabbro, Ben Harpur, Roman Josi, Philippe Myers.

While a lot of eyes were on the forward corps this camp (thanks to Tomasino and Afansyev), one of the things I was most intrigued about was how the defense would shake out. You could argue there were seven “locks” to make the roster midway through camp. Despite reactions from the Twittersphere, I really have no qualms about keeping Harpur on at this point of the year. He’s a guy with NHL experience who can fill in if things go haywire... not the worst archetype to have on your roster. I know the argument is that he’s blocking someone like Jeremy Davies or David Farrance from getting NHL experience. But considering those two guys would have also likely been 6th/7th fringe defenders to start the year, letting them get consistent top-pair minutes in Milwaukee for a while isn’t a loss.

Based on Monday’s skate, it appears Josi will pair with Carrier while Ekholm will pair with Myers. I had Myers and Carrier flipped in that scenario before the season just based on playing styles, but I also don’t hate it. Carrier complemented Josi well when the two played together in the playoffs, and having Myers and Ekholm gives the Preds a physical pairing that can make life hell for opponents, not unlike another pairing Ekholm was a part of a few years back.

The bottom pairing may still be in flux. Brooks Bratten’s line rush report had Borowiecki-Benning skating as the third pair, while Fabbro-Harpur skated as the extra pair. I’m not really sure what to make of that at the moment. This may be a case of Hynes thinking those particular pairings work together better than other possible combos, or he thinks Boro and Benning give that bottom pair more of the identity he’s looking for. If the latter is the case come Thursday, that opens up a discussion about how the Preds view Dante Fabbro moving forward.

Goaltenders (2)

David Rittich, Juuse Saros

This was the only position group without any intrigue. Even though Connor Ingram showed he’s due for a bounce back season, Saros and Rittich were always going to be the 1-2 at the start of the year.

Juuse Saros’s workload is still a question mark, simply because he’s never gone through a full season as “The Guy.” The good news is he’s proven he can start pretty much every game during important stretches of the season if need be (and play consistently well while doing it). But I would imagine the Predators are ideally looking for more of a split that gives Saros 55 to 60-ish starts. That of course depends on A.) whether Rittich can re-discover his All-Star form from a couple of years ago, and B.) how many “must-win” games the Preds find themselves in at the end of the year.

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Thoughts on the Predators’ opening night roster?