Predators season preview: Need to score more to return to Cup contention


The 2020-21 NHL season is scheduled to begin Jan. 13. With training camps opening this week, is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the Nashville Predators, who will play in the Central Division.


Coach: John Hynes (second season) 

Last season: 35-26-8 (.565 points percentage); sixth place in Western Conference, lost to Arizona Coyotes in Stanley Cup Qualifiers



1. Finding more offense

General manager David Poile has said the biggest question he has about the team is where the goals will come from. Centers Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene will be counted on to anchor the offense, but they’ll need help, especially after forwards Craig Smith (18 goals) and Nick Bonino (18 goals), who were tied for second on the Predators last season behind Filip Forsberg (21 goals), left during the offseason. Forward Luke Kunin, acquired Oct. 7 from the Minnesota Wild in a trade for Bonino, scored a personal NHL-best 15 goals last season, and Mikael Granlund, who scored 17 goals for Nashville last season, signed a one-year contract Dec. 23.


2. Settling the goaltending situation

Juuse Saros likely will begin the season as the No. 1 goalie after starting 17 of the Predators’ final 28 regular-season games and all four games in the Cup Qualifiers. But the Predators view Rinne as being a key part of their team. At 38 years old he’s not the same player who won the Vezina Trophy in 2018, but in a short season with every game so important, the Predators could have an advantage with an emerging young star in the 25-year-old Saros, who had a .935 save percentage in 19 games between Jan. 7 and the end of the season, and Rinne’s experience.

Video: 31 in 31: Nashville Predators 2020-21 season preview


3. Improved special teams

The Predators were tied for 24th in the NHL on the power play last season (17.3 percent), but it was a strength during the playoffs, going 4-for-14 (28.6 percent) in four games against the Coyotes in the Cup Qualifiers. The hope is that success can carry into this season. To improve a penalty kill that was tied for 28th last season (76.1 percent), Nashville signed defensemen Mark Borowiecki and Matt Benning, and forwards Brad Richardson and Nick Cousins. Richardson led Coyotes forwards with 2:34 of shorthanded ice time in 59 games; Arizona was fifth in the NHL on the penalty kill at 82.7 percent.



Making the cut 

After Johansen and Duchene, the Predators have questions at center. Erik Haula, who signed a one-year contract Dec. 23, could play in the middle on the third line but also has experience on the wing; Kunin also has experience at center and on the wing during his three NHL seasons. Colton Sissons played well as a center in 2018-19, scoring 30 points (15 goals, 15 assists) in 70 games, but struggled offensively last season with 15 points (nine goals, six assists) in 57 games. Richardson also could center a bottom-six line.


Most intriguing addition 

Eeli Tolvanen has tantalized the Predators with his offensive skill since they selected him with the No. 30 pick of the 2017 NHL Draft. He’s gotten a few opportunities in Nashville, but the belief is the 21-year-old forward is ready for a top-six spot this season. He scored 36 points (21 goals, 15 assists) in 63 games with Milwaukee of the American Hockey League last season and improved enough defensively that he was used on the penalty kill. If Tolvanen can display that same effort in the NHL, the Predators’ offensive worries could be lessened.

Video: MIN@VAN, Gm2: Kunin scores SHG in 1st period


Biggest potential surprise  

Philip Tomasino was fourth in the Ontario Hockey League last season with 100 points (40 goals, 60 assists) in 62 games. On a team in need of offense, the 19-year-old forward, chosen with No. 24 pick of the 2019 NHL Draft, could be an option for a top-nine forward spot.


Ready to break through 

Kunin played his first full season in the NHL in 2019-20, and after scoring 31 points (15 goals, 16 assists) in 70 games, he scored two goals in the Wild’s four-game loss to the Vancouver Canucks in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers. He can play center or on the wing, and at 23 years old, the Predators believe Kunin’s best days are ahead of him.


Fantasy sleeper  

Forward Viktor Arvidsson (LW/RW; average draft position: 160.1) is coming off an underwhelming fantasy performance with 28 points (15 goals, 13 assists) and 127 shots on goal in 57 games last regular season but scored three goals on 16 shots on goal in four games during the 2020 postseason, a sign he could bounce back this season. Arvidsson, a fixture on the top line with valuable left wing Forsberg in the past, scored at least 29 goals in each of his prior three seasons (2016-17 to 2018-19) and averaged 3.2 SOG per game in that span, making him a potential hidden gem in late rounds of a fantasy draft. — Pete Jensen


Projected lineup 

Filip Forsberg — Ryan Johansen — Viktor Arvidsson

Mikael Granlund — Matt Duchene — Eeli Tolvanen

Nick Cousins — Erik Haula — Luke Kunin

Rocco Grimaldi– Colton Sissons — Calle Jarnkrok

Roman JosiRyan Ellis

Mattias EkholmDante Fabbro

Mark Borowiecki — Matt Benning

Juuse Saros

Pekka Rinne

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