Training camp begins Wednesday, with the players officially returning to the ice Thursday. It is certainly going to be an interesting camp for the Predators, who have a lot of depth to sort out heading into the regular season.
What should you be looking for during training camp and preseason? Here are five things we will be watching beginning Thursday…
1. Pekka Rinne’s health
The importance of Pekka Rinne’s health to this Predators team cannot be understated. They need Rinne, who is coming off hip surgery in May, to be fully healthy when the regular season begins – especially because they don’t have a proven backup goalie to turn to if a setback occurs.
The condition of Rinne’s hip shouldn’t be as big of a concern as his ability to actually get back into game shape. He’s already behind his usual schedule heading into training camp. Following Monday’s on-ice drills – the first time Rinne dropped to the ice to make saves in live action – he was noticeably tired and finished well before the rest of his teammates. While he’s on track to participate in preseason games, he said he has no timetable to return to game action.
Rinne will be extra cautious with his return, as will the Predators. This is their $49 million goaltender. It would be foolish to rush him back. But the sooner Rinne can clear the final recovery hurdle and be ready for the season, the better the Predators will feel about their goaltending situation when Oct. 3 rolls around.
– Ryan Porth
2. Filip Forsberg and Seth Jones
All eyes will be on Nashville’s pair of highly-touted youngsters in training camp. It is one thing to make an impression when playing with other rookies, but both Filip Forsberg and Seth Jones – two of the best prospects the organization has ever had – are expected to be impact players with the Predators this season.
In exchange for Martin Erat at last April’s trade deadline, the Preds acquired Forsberg from Washington. Drafted 11th overall in 2012, Forsberg is expected to eventually replace the offense that left the team with the departure of Erat. Forsberg played five games for the Predators late last season, but a roster spot is not guaranteed.
Like Forsberg, there is pressure on Jones to be an instant standout. With speculation that Jones could at some point be paired with captain Shea Weber, the Predators believe they selected another franchise defenseman when they took Jones fourth overall at the draft. Expected for most of the year to be drafted first, Nashville abandoned plans to draft an offensively-gifted forward when the smooth-skating Jones was still on the board. With fans wanting more offense, they will want to see Jones deliver right away.
Will both Forsberg and Jones make the roster out of their first NHL training camp? It will be one of training camp’s top storylines.
– Amanda DiPaolo
3. Battle on the blue-line
The Predators’ top four on defense is pretty much set heading into the 2013-14 season. It’s going to be some combination of Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Jones and Kevin Klein. The battle for the third pairing is going to be an intriguing one.
Victor Bartley is very likely going to earn a spot on the third pairing for Nashville. He played well in his first NHL season last year and was signed to a three-year, one-way contract worth $2 million. His spot is most likely secure. The real battle seems to be between Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm.
It’s very unlikely that the Predators will use seven defensemen in a game on a regular basis given the amount of depth they have with their forwards, which means that whoever gets left out of lineup will either be scratched a whole lot or sent packing to Milwaukee. Both Ellis and Ekholm have seen time in the NHL and both have had high expectations placed upon them. Neither has lived up to those expectations so far.
The Predators want to see both of them have success at the NHL level this season. However, there will probably only be one spot available for the two of them. Who wins that spot?
– Robby Stanley
4. How new forwards fit into depth chart
In the span of one off-season, the Predators went from a team that lacked depth to a team with a lot of it. Suddenly they have all sorts of options with the group of forwards they have assembled.
With the additions of Matt Cullen, Matt Hendricks, Eric Nystrom and Viktor Stalberg in free agency, the Predators are going to have lots of competition in training camp at forward. There are at least 15 NHL caliber forwards that will be battling for spots. Only 12 forwards will be in the opening night lineup on Oct. 3, so that means the Predators could literally have an entire line’s worth of players that will be scratched.
Nashville has a lot of players on the fringe of making the lineup. Since the newbies will make the opening night roster, players like Craig Smith, Taylor Beck, Rich Clune, Austin Watson and Nick Spaling all appear to be some of the players on that fringe.
As it stands now, the Predators should have some combination of Matt Cullen, Mike Fisher, Paul Gaustad and David Legwand as their centermen. For the past two seasons, Fisher has taken that role as the No. 1 center. It’s very possible that Cullen will get that responsibility to start the season, coming off of a season where he posted 27 points in 42 games with Minnesota.
Who will make the opening night roster? Who will be left out? It may take the entire preseason to determine, which should be a recipe for one of the more interesting training camps around the NHL.
– Robby Stanley
5. Surprise, surprise
On paper here on Sept. 10, there doesn’t appear to be much room for a training camp surprise to make the Predators’ roster because of their depth. They have about 16 forwards battling for 12 spots. The picture on defense is a bit clearer, as Bartley, Ekholm and Ellis will battle for ice time on the final pairing (assuming Jones makes the team).
That being said, there always seems to be a surprise in camp and preseason. Taylor Beck almost made the roster out of camp in 2010. Craig Smith was the story of camp in 2011, as he played his way into the opening night lineup.
If there happens to be a surprise or two this month, who are prime candidates? Perhaps it could be Kevin Henderson, who appeared in four NHL games last season. Perhaps it could be Zach Budish, a second-rounder from 2009 who has had to overcome multiple injuries at a young age. Maybe 2011 second-rounder Miikka Salomaki can carry over a solid rookie camp and make things interesting.
Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see if any unexpected players throw their hat into the ring for a roster spot.
– Ryan Porth