One of the biggest things to happen at the NHL Draft for the Nashville Predators was seeing No. 1 prospect defenseman Seth Jones fall into their lap with the fourth overall pick.
Many people believe Jones is the guy who will make Ryan Suter an afterthought in Nashville. Meanwhile, third-round pick Jonathan-Ismael Diaby has some thinking he along with Jones will be the Suter-Shea Weber combo of the Preds’ future.
The question to ask now is: Can both players make the Preds roster this season? It could happen.
Here’s what Nashville’s defensive setup looks like right now:
Roman Josi – Shea Weber
Kevin Klein – Seth Jones
Mattias Ekholm – Ryan Ellis
The top four seems almost destined to happen. Josi had a breakout season playing alongside Weber and earned himself a big contract extension because of it. Some think Jones is set to play alongside Weber, but they’re both right-handed shots. Pairing the improving Klein with Jones would seem more likely.
Those final two spots would seem to be up for grabs and Diaby could fit into that mix.
At 6’5″ 223-pounds, Diaby is already NHL-sized as an 18-year-old. Last season with Victoriaville in the QMJHL, he had just 4 goals and 22 assists but punished opponents to the tune of 117 penalty minutes. That kind of mean streak and physicality is lacking on the Preds blue line as Ekholm and Ellis are better puckhandlers than hitters.
Nashville’s “Smashville” brand of hockey gets plenty of grit-and-grind from the forwards but it’s lacking from the defense. Diaby could change that up drastically.
One thing working against the possibility is age. Would coach Barry Trotz trust two 18-year-old defenseman to make the jump right into the NHL? Jones is a virtual lock to start right away but Diaby may need more refinement to his game. Trotz along with new assistant coach and legendary defenseman Phil Housley will have plenty to look at when camp opens next month.
Damien Brunner debuted in the NHL last season after coming over from Switzerland and showed he could score goals with the best of them. While he showed he can stick, no one’s snagged him yet this summer. Could he be headed back for Europe? Not so says his agent.
In an email correspondence with a Swiss paper (via George Malik), Brunner’s agent, Neil Sheehy, says any talk of his client turning down big money from Detroit or returning to Europe is false. (Poor translation ahead)
“Yes, there are NHL teams interested in signing Brunner. And yes, I’m sure, when I say that Damien will play next season in the NHL,” Sheehy said.
Sheehy went on to say that Brunner enjoyed his time in Detroit but they’re going to wait it out for the right opportunity. Where that opportunity winds up being remains to be seen.
Goals are in demand but Brunner’s one shortened season in the NHL may be causing teams to pause on how much to pay up for him.
Eric Staal is going to be watched closely this season in Carolina, but the team believes he’ll be ready for training camp.
Chip Alexander of the News & Observer hears from GM Jim Rutherford and coach Kirk Muller that Staal’s progress after being injured at World Championships is going well and he’ll be ready to go when camp opens next month.
In case you forgot, Staal suffered a nasty knee injury courtesy of Sweden’s Alex Edler while playing for Team Canada. The hit was bad enough that the IIHF suspended Edler long enough to keep him out of the remainder of Worlds and he’ll miss the first two games of the Olympics in Sochi should he make the Swedish team (he will).
For what it’s worth, Staal has said before he’ll be ready for training camp.
Pop quiz hot shots: Who led the Nashville Predators in goals last season?
Before you go running off to look that up, we’ll just tell you it was center David Legwand with 12. He was one of three players on the team to reach double figures in goals and if you can guess the other two guys, you’re clearly keeping very busy. (FYI: It was Gabriel Bourque and Mike Fisher).
Why the run-around on the questions? To show that the Preds are going to need to find their offense from somewhere.
Free agent additions Matt Cullen and Viktor Stalberg will add speed to the wing and solid play up the middle as well as 16 total goals combined from last season. If Stalberg can repeat what he did in 2011-12 with Chicago, 20-plus goals would be a boon for Nashville’s offense.
The guy they’ll have to hope has a big bounce-back season, however, is Patric Hornqvist.
The Swedish power forward missed half of last season with varying injuries and his presence in front of opposing goals reminds many of the work Tomas Holmstrom did in Detroit. Pretty goals aren’t his forte but the Preds don’t care how they get in, just that they do. After three straight solid seasons of scoring, they need that effort back.
With how the Predators defense stacks up, a lot of their offense will come from there. Shea Weber’s gigantic shot and the skills of Roman Josi and Seth Jones should help stir things up as well.
Only thing that’s certain in Nashville is they’ll be able to keep teams off the board well enough. If they can’t put crooked numbers up on their own side, however, making the playoffs will be an arduous process.
Ever since Mikhail Grabovski was bought out by the Toronto Maple Leafs, it seemed likely that he’d find a new home quickly. He’s a productive center and tends to drive opponents crazy at times, especially teams he used to play for.
Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun heard from one NHL GM about why Grabovski is still waiting for an offer.
“He was trying to cash in on getting the buyout and double dipping,” a general manager said. “And once everybody who wanted a center signed them, there was no place for him to get the kind of deal he wanted.”
All right, so he’s not going to get another large contract like he did from the Leafs, but surely there are still teams out there willing to take a flier on him, right?
Just take a peek around the league at teams that could use a No. 2 center and you’ll find some teams sticking out like sore thumbs. Washington and Nashville stand out in particular. There’s still time before training camps open up and it’s hard to imagine he’ll still be without a job.