Predators hope Kunin, Borowiecki add toughness, improve special teams

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After the NHL Draft, free agency and other offseason moves, NHL.com is examining where each team stands in preparation for the 2020-21 regular season, which is targeted to start Jan. 1. Today, the Nashville Predators:

The Nashville Predators decided a reset was needed after a four-game loss to the Arizona Coyotes in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers.

“Our objective going into free agency was to retool our team a bit,” general manager David Poile said. “Specifically strengthen our forwards, be a harder group of forwards to play against, and also to improve our third defensive pair. I think with our signings, we’ve accomplished those goals.”

Among the additions is forward Luke Kunin, acquired in a trade from the Minnesota Wild for forward Nick Bonino on Oct. 7. Kunin scored an NHL career-high 31 points (15 goals, 16 assists) in 63 games last season and scored two goals in four postseason games.

“He plays in all situations, he plays center, he plays the wing,” Poile said. “He plays what I would call a hard game, he has a lot of energy, a lot of bite to him, power play, penalty killing. I think he is just a good all-around player that is going to get better and better.”

 

[RELATED: Complete Team Reset coverage]

 

Defenseman Mark Borowiecki and forwards Nick Cousins and Brad Richardson were signed to add toughness and improve a penalty kill that ranked 29th in the NHL last season (76.1 percent).

“He has a level of grit and physicality that we need to get to back to, playing to a new standard,” Poile said of Borowiecki. “In addition, it’s pretty obvious in watching him play and in having some conversations with him … that he’ll bring a lot of veteran leadership to our hockey club.”

Here is what the Predators look like today:

 

Key arrivals

Mark Borowiecki, D: The 31-year-old signed a two-year contract Oct. 9. He scored an NHL career-high 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 53 games for the Ottawa Senators last season. … Nick Cousins, F: The 27-year-old center, who signed a two-year contract Oct. 10, scored 25 points (10 goals, 15 assists) in 65 games for the Vegas Golden Knights and Montreal Canadiens last season. He had five assists in 17 postseason games for Vegas. … Luke Kunin, F: The 22-year-old center was tied for fourth on the Wild with 15 goals last season. … Brad Richardson, F: The 35-year-old right wing signed a one-year contract Oct. 12. He scored 11 points (six goals, five assists) in 59 regular-season games and three points (two goals, one assist) in nine postseason games for the Coyotes.

 

Key departures

Nick Bonino, F: Scored 35 points (18 goals, 17 assists) in 67 games last season. … Mikael Granlund, F: Remains an unrestricted free agent after he scored 30 points (17 goals, 13 assists) in 63 games last season. … Dan Hamhuis, D: Retired on Aug. 13 after he had eight assists in 60 games last season. … Craig Smith, F: Signed a three-year contract with the Boston Bruins on Oct. 10 after he scored 31 points (18 goals, 13 assists) in 69 games last season. … Kyle Turris, F: Had the final four seasons of his six-year contract bought out Oct. 7 and signed a two-year contract with the Edmonton Oilers on Oct. 9. He scored 31 points (nine goals, 22 assists) in 62 games last season. … Austin Watson, F: Traded to the Senators for a fourth-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft on Oct. 10. He scored 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in 53 games last season. … Yannick Weber, D: Remains an unrestricted free agent after he scored three points (one goal, two assists) in 41 games last season.

 

On the cusp

Philip Tomasino, F: The 19-year-old center was fourth in the Ontario Hockey League last season with 100 points (40 goals, 60 assists) for Niagara and Oshawa. … Eeli Tolvanen, F: The 21-year-old right wing scored two points (one goal, one assist) in seven NHL games from 2017-19. He was second on Milwaukee of the American Hockey League with 21 goals in 63 games last season. … Yakov Trenin, F: The 23-year-old center scored six points (two goals, four assists) in 21 NHL games last season and 35 points (20 goals, 15 assists) in 32 AHL games.

Video: NSH@LAK: Trenin deflects home feed from Irwin

 

What they still need

More from Matt Duchene. The center signed a seven-year contract July 1, 2019, to add more punch to the lineup behind No. 1 center Ryan Johansen, but his 13 goals were the fewest of his 11 NHL seasons.

Video: NSH@ARI, Gm4: Duchene deflects PPG by Kuemper

 

Fantasy focus

Duchene scored 42 points (13 goals, 29 assists) in 66 games last season, down from 70 points (31 goals, 39 assists) in 2018-19 with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Senators. His shooting percentage (9.6 percent) was much lower than in 2018-19 (18.0 percent) and his NHL career average (12.7 percent), signaling a potential bounce-back season. Nashville’s offense isn’t loaded with fantasy talent outside of elite defenseman Roman Josi, but Duchene should be a full-time center again this season and among its leaders in average ice time per game, making him worth selecting in late rounds. — Rob Reese

 

Projected lineup

Filip Forsberg — Ryan Johansen — Viktor Arvidsson

Eeli Tolvanen — Matt Duchene — Luke Kunin

Rocco GrimaldiColton Sissons — Nick Cousins

Yakov Trenin — Brad Richardson — Calle Jarnkrok

Roman Josi — Ryan Ellis

Mattias EkholmDante Fabbro

Mark Borowiecki — Matt Benning

Juuse Saros

Pekka Rinne

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