Pekka Rinne

2011-2012 season preview: Nashville Predators

2010-2011 record: 44-27-11, 99 points; 2nd in Central, 5th in West

Playoffs: Defeated Anaheim 4-2 in Western quarterfinals, lost to Vancouver 4-2 in Western semifinals

The Predators will look to build on their first ever playoff series win last season. Now that winning a first-round series is out of the way, Nashville will look to take the next step by following their strong defense and goaltending to the Western Conference finals and beyond. If fans around the league ever wanted to see what strong coaching, goaltending, and defense could do — look no further than the Predators. If they could only mix in a little more scoring, they’d have a little more room for error throughout the season.


No team is perfect and it doesn’t take long to figure out where the Predators weakness is on their roster. Their two leading scorers last season notched exactly 50 points last season. For perspective, Martin Erat and David Legwand, were tied for 91st in NHL scoring last season. To say the Predators are offensively challenged would be a little like saying the Boston Red Sox had a slightly below-average September.

Both Erat and Legwand missed 18 games apiece last season due to injuries; both will look to put together healthy campaigns and help the Preds for a full 82 games. Still, the team lacks that dynamic offensive talent that they haven’t seen since Alexander Radulov left for the KHL. The offense in Nashville isn’t expected to carry the team — they’re just expected to score enough to keep the team a float.


The blue line for the Predators is definitely the strong point of the team — this corps would be the strong point of just about every team in the league. Star captain Shea Weber was a Norris Trophy finalist and many people around the league will tell you that Ryan Suter is just as good. Between the two of them, they had 20 goals and 37 assists — not too bad for a defensive pair that plays over 25 minutes per game. Behind the top pairing, the Predators are going to go with some serious youth on the blueline. Jonathon Blum skated in 23 regular season games last season and showed the poise of a player who will be around for a long time. This season, the organization has left the bottom pairing open for a talented rookie — whether it be Mattias Ekholm or offensive dynamo Ryan Ellis. Either way, it’ll just be more of the same from the team that seems to have a never ending well of talented defensemen.


When a team is built on goaltending and defense, the goaltending better be pretty good. Last season, the rest of the league discovered something fans in Nashville already knew — Pekka Rinne is an elite goaltender. He had a fantastic 2.12 goals against average and a spectacular .930 save percentage in 64 games last season. The good news is that Rinne could be in line for an even better season this year as the pending unrestricted free agent plays for a new contract. The bad news is that he’s a pending unrestricted free agent. Between Rinne and the talented Anders Lindback playing in about twenty games, Nashville is stacked in the crease.


If Barry Trotz was coaching in Canada or the Northeast, he’d probably be mentioned with the best coaches of the last 20 years. He consistently gets more out of his players than just about any other coach in the league. Then again, there’s a reason that he’s still the only coach in Predators history. While many casual fans around the league may not know his name, the organization and fans in Nashville understand that they have a good one.

Breakout candidate

Colin Wilson is going to be given every opportunity to excel in his third full season in the NHL. The 2008 pick has shown flashes of the type of player who can succeed in the long-term. He potted 16 goals last season — yet it was his consistency that was the biggest problem for the young Wilson. If he can eliminate the inconsistency from his game, 20-plus goals and 50-plus points aren’t out of the realm of possibility. Remember, on the Preds, that would make him one of the team leaders on offense.

Best-case scenario

The best-case scenario for the Predators would be to have another season like the last one. By the end of the regular season, they had a Vezina finalist, Norris finalist, and Jack Adams finalist. Since Suter, Rinne, and Weber are all entering contract years, the trio could once again show the league that goaltending and defense is where it’s at. If they get similar seasons from their blueline and get a little added production from the likes of Sergei Kostitsyn, Wilson and Erat, the Predators could be a playoff team battling for home-ice in the first round.


The reality is that this team desperately needs a dynamic offensive talent to strike a little fear into the opposition. Both Legwand and Mike Fisher are very good NHL centers, but they thrive on the two-way game. Their power play has been a disaster for the last few seasons (26th in the league last year), and none of the offseason moves make us think they’ll be much better next season. We have the utmost respect for the strong team that David Poile and Trotz have put together on a shoestring budget, which is why we expect the Predators to make the playoffs again (despite the obvious lack of offensive talent). If they can figure out a way to score and produce on the power play, they have the potential to win a series or two in the playoffs this season. Look for the Preds to finish third in the Central and sixth in the Western Conference.

Fabbri primed to make Blues in significant role

Jason Demers, Robby Fabbri
AP Photo
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With the start of the regular season just around the corner, it looks like Robby Fabbri will not only make his NHL debut on Thursday, but also get meaningful minutes.

During Sunday’s practice the 19-year-old forward played alongside Jori Lehtera and Jaden Schwartz. Nothing is set in stone, but that combination did gel.

“I think we want to look at what the combinations look like now rather than do it at the start of the season,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We’re looking at a hard match line and we’re also looking at taking advantage of speed and skill off the rush.

“I really liked what I saw today. I really liked Lehtera’s line, they looked very dynamic off the rush.”

The top line of Alexander Steen, Paul Stastny, and Vladimir Tarasenko seems like a good bet to play together for the time being. Jori Lehtera and Jaden Schwartz will stick together on the second line while Dmitrij Jaskin and David Backes can expect to be regular partners on the third unit. The X-factors will be Fabbri and Troy Brouwer as Hitchcock has left the door open to alternating between the two of them on the second and third line depending on the opponent.

Fabbri was taken with the 21st overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and is looking to make the leap after a brief stint in the AHL last season. At the OHL level, he’s been a dominate force with the Guelph Storm, scoring 25 goals and 51 points in 30 games in 2014-15.

Panarin impresses ‘Hawks with his preseason debut

Artemi Panarin
AP Photo

Will Artem Panarin‘s overwhelming success in the KHL translate to North America? The 23-year-old forward has a lot to prove, but his first big test was a success.

Playing on a line with Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov, Panarin made his preseason debut in Chicago’s finale on Saturday. He registered two assists while giving his teammates reason to be optimistic about him.

“For not being on the ice he looks really relaxed. He’s great with the puck, has nice moves and I think we’ll see a lot of this,” Marian Hossa told CSN Chicago. “He has unbelievable skill. People here in Chicago are going to have a good time watching this guy dangling.”

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was impressed by Panarin as well and liked that line as a whole.

The fact that the trio seemed to hit it off quickly has to come as a relief after an upper-body injury prevented Panarin from getting the most out of this year’s training camp. At the end of the day though, the fact that he was able to at least get in one preseason contest is a big silver lining. How smoothly his adjustment goes from here is still a big X-factor, but at least now he’s going into the regular season with a better idea of what to expect.

Panarin is attempting to establish himself in the NHL after leading the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg to a championship last year. He was the team’s scoring leader, topping ex-NHL star Ilya Kovalchuk.