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Predators Success in 2021-22 is determined by three things

It’s most likely going to be a rough year, but that doesn’t mean they can’t win the smaller battles.

Carolina Hurricanes v Nashville Predators - Game Six Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images

“Win battles in the corners and come out with the puck.” It’s a hockey cliche that so many coaches and players have used, and it doesn’t get any less accurate even as it’s used more and more. I think it’s a phrase that perfectly embodies the Predators’ upcoming season. They statistically and analytically got worse. It’s a fact. General manager David Poile knows that this team isn’t what it used to be, so he’s decided to enter the “competitive rebuild” stage. While the team may not perform up to the standard of previous years, there’s no reason they can’t find some success in smaller areas of the game.

New Guys Perform

Cody Glass, Philippe Myers, Matt Luff, and David Rittich all came to Nashville over the offseason. Myers was in the trade for Ryan Ellis to the Philadelphia Flyers and Nolan Patrick, who was then flipped to the Vegas Golden Knights for Cody Glass. Rittich signed a one-year deal with the team after playing with the Calgary Flames and the Toronto Maple Leafs last season.

After some sketchy stints with their former teams, the Predators brought in the first two players to solidify the youth movement. Glass, in particular, drew the ire of Knights fans everywhere, considering his production relative to his draft position. He was drafted sixth overall in 2017, and he’s battled both lower minutes and injuries. He’s scored 22 points in 66 games with an average of 13:51 of ice time. Although he did get some premium powerplay time with Mark Stone, Shea Theodore, Max Pacioretty, and Chandler Stephenson, it wasn’t enough to truly break him out. He succeeded with those players, but there wasn’t enough room in their top six to keep him up. He then got hurt, and the rest is history. Soon he was on a plane to Music City.

Vegas Golden Knights v St Louis Blues Photo by Joe Puetz/NHLI via Getty Images

With the emphasis on youth and speed spreading throughout the organization, Glass should be able to thrive. His ability to create time and space with the puck is fascinating. He’s extremely creative, and one of his strong suits is working through defenders using an abundance of stickhandles. If he gets top-six time, I do not doubt that he will break out and find the stride he’s been looking for in the NHL.

Myers is a big defenseman that can play with Mattias Ekholm on the second pair. He’s a strong puck mover, and his skating is excellent, considering his frame. He can take the puck up on the rush, although he does turn it over quite a bit. He can also play some physical hockey and isn’t afraid to battle in front of the net. His 2020-21 season with the Flyers was rough, but he gets a fresh start. He has proven his value in the regular season and postseason, and there’s still room to improve.

These players bring different things, but they aid the Predators' quest get younger, stronger, faster, and better with the puck. It will be a big storyline this season, and personally, I think Glass is the most interesting player to watch moving into this season. Everyone should be excited that the team is giving these players new opportunities.

Young Guys Take the Next Step

The Predators not only added new players, but they’re bringing up younger guys to fill roster spots as well. Philip Tomasino is the talk of the town. He’s showed out in almost every level of hockey, and his performances at both the rookie camps and the preseason games have solidified his position in the opening night lineup for most fans. He’s the hope that everyone has needed—a young player with elite scoring potential who can also play well in his own zone.

His defense was one of the things that separated Tomasino from other prospects in his range. Not only can he produce points at an elite rate along with possession exits and entries, but his two-way play relative to those things was some of the best in his draft class. He even carried it over into the AHL, so it’s not like it was a fluke either.

Glass and Myers are obviously included in this, but other names that I could mention are Tanner Jeannot, Yakov Trenin, Alexandre Carrier, Dante Fabbro, and Eeli Tolvanen. Those players will be in the starting lineup, and tangible and box score improvement is important in gauging their development. Tolvanen, in particular, is one of interest, considering he was on pace for being in the Calder Trophy talks before he got injured. Carrier is also interesting because he has only played 24 games in his entire NHL career, but he looked excellent in the 19 that he played in 2020-21 next to the captain Roman Josi. The situation is the same with Jeannot and Trenin on “The Herd Line.”

Carolina Hurricanes v Nashville Predators - Game Four Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

An interesting addition to that duo could be Rem Pitlick. Pitlick—a player that shined in his few appearances in 2020-21 and the minor leagues with the Chicago Wolves—has been a fan favorite for many seasons. It feels like the right time to pull him up in the lineup, and in preseason games, he showed that with Jeannot and Trenin, he could be an even more valuable asset.

The onus is on the coaches to help develop the young players, but they need to step up to succeed with a roster like the Predators’. If there is a tangible improvement from the majority of those players, it’s a win in my books.

A Good Draft Pick

I know that the team can’t control this like players improving their numbers or tangible play can. However, the only way that losing ever feels okay at the end of the year is with a lottery pick. The Predators were eliminated from the playoff bubble in the play-in round against the Arizona Coyotes, and the consolation prize was a goaltender with the potential to be generational. The New York Rangers were eliminated from that same play-in bubble, and they won the lottery and got Alexis Lafreniere. In sports especially, good things can come out of taking a punch to the jaw.

What do those good things look like this season? Shane Wright is one. A player with generational scoring prowess and a nose for the net, Wright, does it all. However, as much as I’d love to see the Predators win the lottery and subsequently get their highest (and best) draft pick in franchise history, he is not the player I’m most interested in the Predators taking.

The Russian invasion has already started, and I want it to continue. Egor Afanasyev, Yaroslav Askarov, Fyodor Svechkov, and Semyon Chistyakov, among others, are its leaders, and there’s nothing wrong with adding more. Probably my favorite prospect in the 2022 NHL Draft class, Ivan Miroshnichenko, could be a much-needed addition to the forward core.

Miroshnichenko is one of the best scorers in the entire class. I could see him succeeding extremely well next to a player like Tomasino and on the opposite flank of Afanasyev. His creativity is excellent, and his shot is one of the more impressive in the class. He won’t wow you with his skating, but he will take advantage if the defender makes one wrong step. He’s an incredible power play threat, and he could be the goal scorer that the Predators are looking to add.

The best part about all of this is that they won’t have to win the lottery to pick him. He most likely goes in the top ten, and it all depends on who gets the draft picks, but there’s no requirement to have the most luck out of all the teams vying for the first overall position.

The upcoming season might suck. It might really suck. Sometimes it might feel like it’s better not to watch the team. But, let me reassure you, there’s more to the team than wins and losses. It’s going to be important to recognize that, while losing does drain a lot of energy, more important things like the development of young players need to happen. The Predators can find success, but it won’t be in the traditional sense.