The Nashville Predators weren’t as active as their divisional counterparts this offseason, but the pieces they acquired provide significant upgrades to each position. General manager David Poile signed the top-six winger the team so desperately needed and added a legitimate top-four defenseman with Stanley Cup experience. Due to their offseason moves, they now have a pinch under $3 million in cap space with all of their core signed until at least the conclusion of the 2022-23 season. Management will now set its sights on the season ahead, but the names coming up in free agency as of next offseason will leave the team with difficult decisions if the campaign reaches critical mass.
Predators’ Questionable Depth On Wing Lead To Difficult Top-Six Projection
Heading into this year’s offseason, the biggest ask from Predators fans was for the addition of a top-six winger who could provide additional offense. After surprising the hockey world with a tremendous season, they were met with the depth of the Colorado Avalanche in the playoffs and simply couldn’t compete. The signing of Nino Niederreiter should give them that secondary scoring on the team’s second line, but after that, it’s anyone’s guess. The Predators’ depth on the right side starts with Matt Duchene but trails off with talent that enjoyed success last season but is still unproven in a top-six role.
After Duchene, the Predators have Eeli Tolvanen, Yakov Trenin, Philip Tomasino, and John Leonard. In their pipeline, newly-signed Zachary Sanford provides more of a sandpaper style to the team’s bottom-six, while prospects Luke Evangelista and 2022 first-round selection Joakim Kemell are still a year or two away, at the very least. The team is likely best served to start the season by giving Tolvanen a chance to prove his worth, but ultimately could end with some blender mixing mid-season if a proper fit isn’t found. Evangelista stands the best chance at earning a spot out of all prospects in the system, given his goal-scoring ability, but he’ll need to impress in training camp to convince management that he’s ready.
Predators’ Center Depth Needs Repeat Of Last Season’s Success
The most-concerning question mark heading into last season was the depth at the centre position. Duchene and Ryan Johansen were returning after lacklustre seasons finished with them on the unprotected list, and Mikael Granlund’s better days were behind him as well. Playing Duchene on Johansen’s wing with Filip Forsberg on the left side was the best thing to happen to both players, as Duchene and Forsberg scored 42 goals each, while Johansen had his most productive season in the last four years. While the team didn’t make a splash on their centre depth, Poile is putting his money on them repeating last season’s turnaround, which is a gamble at best.
On the other side of the coin, Colton Sissons had the luxury of playing on the team’s most-consistent third line that fans have seen in years. Michael McCarron was digestible in flashes, but his role will be challenged by upcoming talent in Cody Glass, who signed a one-year extension with the Predators in June. The prospect pool bodes some intriguing names in Jáchym Kondelík, who was named the NCAA (Hockey East) Best Defensive Forward in 2021-22, along with Egor Afanasyev and Thomas Novak. The options aren’t unlimited, but the present and future are in good hands, and the youngsters are getting closer each day to being a part of the team’s backbone.
Predators’ Defence Earns Major Improvement Over Last Season
While the core remains intact, the Predators’ defensive depth saw a few departures and some new faces arriving that will change things up for the Milwaukee Admirals’ blue line as of the 2022-23 season. Matt Tennyson was released, and the likes of Ben Harpur, David Farrance, Alex Biega, and Jeremy Davies were all sent out into the world as unrestricted free agents. Arriving are Roland McKeown, Jordan Gross, and Kevin Gravel, who are all excellent depth pieces that will spend the majority of their time, if not all of it, in the American Hockey League. The Admirals also boast a defensive core of five players currently on entry-level contracts, including Luke Prokop and Marc Del Gaizo. However, they are still relatively young with the oldest of the five being 22. As a result, the three new arrivals will provide veteran leadership to the younger generation in hopes that they’ll vastly improve their progress over the next two seasons.
The biggest splash came in the form of 33-year-old Ryan McDonagh, acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning for defenseman Philippe Myers and prospect Grant Mismash. Thanks to the Lightning undergoing some roster purges to make room under the cap, Poile got his veteran top-four defenseman for virtually nothing. Jeremy Lauzon signed a four-year extension with Nashville, making the second-round pick the team lost to acquire him more digestible. His physical play and discipline were welcome additions by management and fans alike, and he’ll be a solid fixture on the team’s third pairing in 2022-23.
Between the pipes, the Predators signed Kevin Lankinen, formerly of the Chicago Blackhawks, to a one-year deal, solidifying the team’s backup position. He doesn’t stand out as a top-end secondary goaltender, but the move allows Connor Ingram to play more in Milwaukee and be a positive presence for Yaroslav Askarov, who is likely to join the team after signing a three-year, entry-level contract. This inevitably means Tomas Vomacka and Devin Cooley will start the year in the ECHL.
Predators Predicted Lines
Beyond the additions of Niederreiter, McDonagh, and Lankinen, the team remains relatively unchanged compared to the 2021-22 incarnation. The top two lines will see plenty of familiar faces back, while the blue line is re-tooled with some more veteran leadership to assist with the progression of Dante Fabbro and Alexandre Carrier. With a refreshed approach to the depth at each position, here’s what the 2022-23 lineup could look like:
Forsberg – Johansen – Duchene
Niederreiter – Granlund – Tolvanen
Jeannot – Sissons – Trenin
Sanford – McCarron – Tomasino
Josi – Fabbro
McDonagh – Ekholm
Lauzon – Carrier
Saros – Lankinen
Leonard – Nurmi – Borowiecki
Right off the bat, Niederreiter stands out as one of the best additions to the Predators in quite some time. The right side could see some alterations during the season, specifically with Tolvanen and Tomasino alternating between the second and fourth lines. Alternatively, Tanner Jeannot was excellent in short stints despite the third line breaking up being seen by some as a negative. On the blue line, the Predators have plenty of options with pairings, specifically concerning Fabbro and Carrier. One consideration is the idea of having a veteran defender paired with one of Fabbro, Lauzon, and Carrier, balancing out the three pairings.
Should the Predators run into injury concerns, they have some value in their depth. Glass is on the cusp of making a difference at the NHL level, players like Leonard and Markus Nurmi could step in for short stints, and Mark Borowiecki can provide the necessary grit needed in tough situations.
This is just one opinion, and many will have their own vision of what the 2022-23 team should look like, so let us know your version of the Predators lineup in the comment section below!
Covering the Nashville Predators. I work for a company called SPORTLOGiQ and have loved the game of Hockey for over three decades. I’m obsessed with advanced analytics and pair that with my love for the eye test – i.e. watching the games (I DO that too!)