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Jones, Forsberg, Hellberg ready to push for NHL spots

Depth was a big issue for the Nashville Predators last season. Key players were lost due to injury, and Nashville just didn’t have enough NHL ready players to replace them and make a push toward the playoffs. After the 2013 NHL Entry Draft and a busy free agent frenzy, depth doesn’t appear to be an issue for the Predators heading into this season.

Three young players in Nashville’s organization will have a big opportunity in training camp to make the opening night roster with the Predators this season. Fourth overall pick Seth Jones, skilled Swedish forward Filip Forsberg and last season’s goaltending standout in Milwaukee Magnus Hellberg all have the potential to be with the Predators when the 2013-14 campaign begins.

Jones appears to be almost a lock to start the season in Nashville. He was the number one prospect in the entire draft by many experts, and he was the number one player on Nashville’s draft board. In all likelihood, Jones is going to start the upcoming season in Music City. Still, there are certain things he’s going to have to do before training camp gets here if he’s going to be successful from the start.

“I think I’ve got to get a little bigger to play at that level, but also mentally. It’s a tough sport to play mentally,” Jones said. “You’ve got back-to-backs some nights and your body’s aching, and you’ve got to take really good care of your body as well. Both physically and mentally you have to be ready by training camp.”

Forsberg is a player that saw limited NHL action with the Predators last season. He was acquired from the Washington Capitals in a trade for Martin Erat and Michael Latta and showed some glimpses of the kind of potential he has during the five games he played with the Predators last season. He is in a pretty good spot to make a run at being a full-time NHL player in 2013-14.

“I’ve been working out with the team in Leksand that I played with last year because  I live there, and I’ve had good workouts this summer. I’m getting ready for camp and the next coming season,” Forsberg said. “I have to get bigger and stronger, faster and more NHL ready. It’s a brand new type of game that I’m getting used to playing here in the NHL. I got five games, and it was good for me to get experience. You have to know what you need to focus on.”

Forsberg’s talent was evident very quickly. There’s a zip on his wrist shot that a lot of current NHL players don’t have. He’s got great puck skills and is a playmaker. Perhaps the biggest adjustment that Forsberg had to make in his brief stint with the Predators last season was getting used to playing on the smaller ice.

“Of course there were some quick changes there. I had just got in from my season back home, and it was smaller ice and a lot better players. It was a big adjustment in the beginning, but I think I handled it pretty well though during the journey here,” Forsberg said. “The first game and the fifth game was a big difference, but I think my last game was my best game so hopefully I can play even better in the future.”

Nashville’s goaltending situation heading into 2013-14 is interesting. They don’t have a proven backup goaltender at the NHL level. The Predators signed Carter Hutton in free agency, who has played in just one NHL game in his entire career. Will he be the backup to Pekka Rinne, or will Hellberg be able to make a run for that position in training camp?

“I just need to go down the road I have been this last year,” Hellberg said. “I know I have a lot of stuff to work on, but I’m learning new stuff every day and I’m going to prove that I will be a good goalie that they can rely on in the show later on.”

Hellberg had a great season for the Milwaukee Admirals in 2012-13. In his first first full season in North America, Hellberg posted a 22-13-0 record with a .924 save percentage and a 2.14 GAA. He fits into the mold of Nashville goaltenders of late in that he is tall, blonde and Scandinavian.

Will the Predators want to rush him into the lineup this season, or will they take a more patient route with him similar to the way they did with Rinne? It’s an interesting question because the Predators are ideally going to need their backup goaltender this season to player in 20-25 games. After all, Rinne is coming off of hip surgery and will more than likely be playing in the Olympics. The backup goalie is going to be very important for the Predators.

“It’s a process. I don’t stress. I mean I think it’s a lot of fun to play in Milwaukee and play games there so whenever they think I’m ready, they’ll pick me up. I’m just going to try to focus on the things I can do, and then the other stuff will come along,” Hellberg said.

When September rolls around, Nashville’s training camp should be one of the more interesting ones in the entire league. There are a lot of players competing for a limited number of spots. Jones, Forsberg and Hellberg all have a pretty good shot to make the team this season.

A year ago at this time, the cupboard was pretty dry for the Predators as far as young talent was concerned. That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore, and it’s going to make for an exciting preseason.

 
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