Preseason is always a good time for the future of hockey organizations to get their skates wet and show their potential future team, coaches, and fan base what they’re made of. Beginning on September 19 in a doubleheader against the Florida Panthers, that is exactly what the Nashville Predators’ prospects began to do.
The doubleheader was a split, with right-wing Miikka Salomaki scoring the game-winner in a 3-2 overtime win for the Predators after dropping a 5-3 loss to the Panthers earlier in the day. After the game, which featured a young roster largely made up of prospects, head coach Peter Laviolette said the aim was “putting our players in game-like situations to see what they can do, and to me, that’s the only way you can see where guys are.” While many of the guys come into camp in good shape and are fit to play hockey, preseason games show “they’re ready to prove that they can play at this level, or that they want to move up the lineup at this level.” The doubleheader was especially useful in that Laviolette was able to see most of their 53-man roster play in the span of a few hours. The games were a good evaluation period that helped with the cuts the Predators made on Saturday to get the roster from 53 down to 36 players and the purpose of the games “really got served today” in the eyes of the coach.
Following their series split, the Predators went on the road to play the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Columbus Blue Jackets, which ended with very different results. Even though the Predators lost to the Lightning, Laviolette thought “our guys competed really hard tonight, shots are pretty even, chances were even, they won it on the scoreboard.” While the scoreboard is what counts in the wins and losses column, this game also served a similar purpose to the Panthers games in that is was for “evaluating the young talent, the people trying to move up the lineup and for that, I thought it was good.” Clearly, the roster cuts of the less-experienced members were effective because, in their next game against the Blue Jackets, some of Nashville’s veterans made their debuts and helped the younger squad members to a 5-2 win.
With their preseason being two-thirds of the way over, the Western Conference champions had a few veterans make their debut against the Blue Jackets. Kevin Fiala, Pontus Aberg, and Filip Forsberg all contributed to the scoring and are set to remain in the preseason lineup as the opening night roster really begins to take form. With their preseason now that the preseason is more than halfway over for the Western Conference champions. Following the road win, Laviolette commented that while the first period was slow, during the second and third periods “We got going and lots of guys played good hockey… thought the guys played a good game and got better as it went on.”
With a roster still housing 36 players, more cuts are sure to be made throughout the next week and final two preseason games and for Laviolette and the management team, they’re still “in a big-time evaluation process of young players” and have plenty of talent to look at.
The Predators will bring their preseason to a close next week with games against the Blue Jackets on September 28 and the Lightning on September 30, both at Bridgestone Arena. These games are likely to show the regular season lineup and a few very impressive younger guys thrown in who made it through the cuts.
Young talent is abundant in Nashville, even among their leadership (Roman Josi was named as the new captain last week) and the expectations are very high for the Nashville Predators going into this season. Based on the talent that they’ve showcased during the preseason and their magnificent run last year to the Stanley Cup final I think it’s safe to say the Predators will be a force in the world of hockey for seasons to come and it will be a great show to watch.