Nashville Predators 2023-24 NHL Season Preview
The Barry Trotz era is back for the Nashville Predators, as the franchise’s first head coach was named the team’s General Manager starting this past July 1st. He will look to build a team that can return to playoff action after a disappointing 2021-22 season that saw them miss out on the postseason for the first time since the 2013-14 season. It was a rocky season from the start that saw the Predators lose six of their first nine games and Trotz has brought in Andrew Brunette to be the team’s new head coach in the hope of getting the team off to a stronger start.
The Predators were within the race for the last wild-card spot but ultimately fell just short, finishing with a 42-32-8 record good for 92 points, three shy of the Winnipeg Jets, who claimed the Western Conference’s second wild-card spot. The issue last year was injuries derailed the team later on in the season with key players missing significant time.
Another worry for the Predators is that they lost their first and fourth leading goal scorers from last year; Matt Duchene departed to Dallas and Nino Niederreiter to Winnipeg. This hole is something that Brunette can work through. He had been an assistant and head coach with the Florida Panthers when they put up a league-leading 4.11 goals per game and an assistant coach for the New Jersey Devils last season when they scored the fourth most goals in the NHL.
All the pressure is on Trotz and Brunette to guide this mix of young talent and seasoned veterans back to the playoffs in a tough Central Division.
Line Combinations (Via Daily Faceoff)
Bold = New Addition; Italics = Rookie
With the departures of Duchene and Niederreiter, the Nashville Predators were in desperate need of forward help. The call has been answered in the form of Ryan O’Reilly, Denis Gurianov and Gustav Nyquist. O’Reilly signed with the Predators from Toronto on a four-year deal worth $18 million.
The former Conn Smythe Trophy winner is still one of the elite face-off men in the league. After being traded in February last year, the Predators will be his third team in 2023. In just 13 games for the Maple Leafs, O’Reilly finished with four goals, seven assists and a 62 percent faceoff success rate. He will undoubtedly be a big help as Nashville’s first-line center.
Nyquist was another player who was traded at the deadline last season from Columbus to Minnesota. In three regular-season games with the Wild, he notched five points along with five in the 2022-23 NHL playoffs. Before an injury-filled season last year, the forward had played in 70 or more games every season since 2014. This consistency is something that the Preds lacked a lot last year.
Gurianov signed with the Predators on a one-year $850k deal after playing 66 games for the Dallas Stars and Montreal Canadiens last season. He took a big step back in performance last season. After back-to-back 30-point seasons, Gurianov only managed 17 points all of last year.
While forward depth was important the Predators also bolstered their blueline by signing Luke Schenn to a three-year deal worth $8.25MM. Schenn bounced back and forth between the AHL and NHL for a few years, but found a home in Tampa Bay and helped the Lightning win two straight Stanley Cups. A possible first-pairing partner with Roman Josi would be a very good fit. Josi is an offensive defenseman while Schenn is far more defensive-focused.
3 Faces to Watch:
1. Juuse Saros – Saros could only do so much for the Predators last year. The 28-year-old goaltender faced the most shots in the league with 2,099. Despite that, he finished with a .919 save percentage, which was among the top six in the NHL. Saros is one to watch because if the Predators find themselves not contending for a playoff spot then his name will be all over the trade board come deadline time.
2. Luke Evangelista – 21-year-old Evangelista is not a household name yet by any means. However, this will be his first full season at the NHL level. For Nashville last season he played in 24 games while scoring seven goals and picking up eight assists. He has been a natural scorer at every level, during the 2021-22 OHL season he picked up 111 points while scoring a league-leading 55 goals. Then last season in the AHL he collected 41 in 49 games before being called up to the NHL. If Evangelista continues this trend he could quickly become one of the top scorers on the Predators.
3. Cody Glass – In his first full season for the Nashville Predators, Glass finished with 35 points with 14 goals. Now that the Predators have more forward depth alongside the 24-year-old he could be in for a 40-plus point season. The addition of Nyquist to the second line will give Glass someone to thrive with as both can both find the open man and tuck the puck away.
Riser and Faller:
Riser: Philip Tomasino played in just 31 games for the Predators last season after his return from the AHL affiliate in Milwaukee. In his 31 games at the NHL level, the now 22-year-old collected 18 points. Tomasino will likely have an increased role for the Predators and is expected to be part of the second line according to Daily Faceoff.
Faller: Colton Sissons had a career-high season last year. He finished with 12 goals and 30 points. This year should see him regress a bit though. He was the only player that played in all 82 games for Nashville last season and combined with the injury issues to other forwards he saw a much more significant role. Another concern around Sissons is that there are plenty of young and upcoming centers in the Predators organization that could leap over the 29-year-old.
The Big Question:
Can the Predators avoid the injury plague again? Going into the second half of the season last year the Predators were looking set for another playoff appearance. However, injuries caused that to fall away in the final games. Four key players for the Preds missed a combined 84 games to end the season, starting with Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen were ruled out for the rest of the season. Then Roman Josi suffered a concussion that kept him out for the final 15 games. The final nail came when Matt Duchene was ruled out for the final 10 games of the season because of a hand injury.
Duchene, Forsberg and Josi were the team’s three leading scorers. Had just one or two of those players not suffered season-ending injuries then there was a good chance that Nashville would have continued their playoff streak. Injuries hit the rest of the team to a lesser extent, but only one player on the team played in all 82 games last season and that was Colton Sissons.
Now, Duchene and Johansen are both on a different team and with a new offensive core, the Predators have the chance to get back to the playoffs. They will need some luck on their side as injuries will happen to every team. The new look Preds have youth on their side and for them hopefully, that means fewer injury worries.
There are a lot of new faces around the Nashville Predators and that could rejuvenate the franchise. The additions of top-six forwards and a top pair defenseman give the Predators much more depth and experience which should bode well with the fresh young players that are going to be trying to make a name for themselves.
The concern is that the Central Division only got stronger this offseason, especially with the addition of Connor Bedard to the division. I do feel optimistic for the Predators, however. My prediction is that the young guys surprise some people and the new additions help guide the team to a fourth-place finish in the Central Division. However, I believe a late-season collapse will not happen again and the Predators will find themselves fighting for a wildcard spot come April.
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