The final countdown towards the 2021-22 NHL season is underway. The Nashville Predators will open the regular season Thursday, October 14th against the league’s shiny new team, the Seattle Kraken.
The Predators are one of the league’s most interesting teams. They’re a group that easily has enough talent to do damage late in the year; likewise, they have question marks that could just as easily derail the year, and set the franchise firmly on the path of a rebuild.
If you need a cheat sheet to let you know where the Preds are heading into the year, we’ve got you covered.
Stories to Watch
Anytime your general manager announces your team is in a “competitive rebuild,” you’ll want to keep an eye glued to the transaction pages. The Predators’ apparent transition towards a younger, cheaper roster has put the future of two prominent players in doubt. Filip Forsberg and Mattias Ekholm will both be free agents at the end of the season. Both players, along with GM David Poile, have stayed mum on their futures in Nashville.
Fans would love to see both players back, as would the Predators in a perfect world. However, if the Preds stumble towards the back end of the season, or if it starts looking like one (or both) may test the open market, Poile could put them on the trade block.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the rise of Nashville’s youth will be one of the stories to track this season. Young forwards Eeli Tolvanen, Yakov Trenin, and Tanner Jeannot each earned full-time spots at the end of last season, and each should have bigger roles entering the 2021-22 campaign. Cody Glass, the fifth overall pick in the 2017 draft, will get a chance for significant playing time, something he did NOT have while buried on the Vegas Golden Knights’ roster. On defense, Dante Fabbro, Alexandre Carrier, and new addition Philippe Myers will get more opportunities to grow with the departure of Ryan Ellis.
The most notable absence this year is in net. Pekka Rinne has moved on to greener pastures, handing the full-time starting reins to Juuse Saros. Saros has looked every bit ready for the role, finishing last season as one of the best goaltenders in the NHL. However, he’s yet to go through an entire 82-game season as THE guy in goal. Saros has been brilliant during long stretches of past seasons, but the Predators will need him to string together an entire season’s worth of consistently solid goaltending to have a shot at the postseason.
Player To Watch
Luke Kunin’s first season in Nashville was marred by a slow start and injuries. But he hit his stride by season’s end, tallying eight goals in the last four weeks of the 2021 campaign, and two more in six playoff games. Entering this year’s campaign, Kunin appears poised for more responsibility, especially with the departures of Viktor Arvidsson and Calle Jarnkrok.
Kunin is a player with great hockey sense. He has a knack for finding himself “in the right place at the right time” for second chance goals, while still being skilled enough to create opportunities for himself. He’s probably not an 80-point scorer, but he’s still someone who can have a great statistical season playing alongside other high-end talent.
That appears to be what’s happening this season; Kunin has spent much of training camp skating with Mikael Granlund, perhaps Nashville’s most consistent forward last season. The two seem to have solid chemistry, which could signal a productive season for Kunin.
Two Bold Predictions
- Juuse Saros will be a Vezina Trophy finalist. He likely would have been one last year had it not been for a slow start. Entering this season, however, there are promising signs that Juuse may instead carry some of his red-hot momentum over from last season. His first couple of preseason games have been impressive despite a limited workload, and his performances in practices have given no indication that Saros is entering the season on a slump. If Saros stays hot, he’ll likely “steal” a handful of wins, putting the Predators in prime playoff position. And speaking of....
- The Nashville Predators will make the postseason. By no means should they be considered an “elite” team, but there’s still enough talent to will the Preds to another playoff berth. Along with Saros, the Predators bost two of the league’s best defenders in Ekholm and Roman Josi. The question will be whether or not the team finds enough scoring to win games. If Forsberg, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Johansen can even get close to their respective forms from a few years ago, there should be just enough to get Nashville past that line.
And a reminder that the league’s new broadcast partner this year is ESPN, with many games to be aired on ESPN+.
What are your bold predictions for the Predators’ 2021-22 season?