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Nashville Predators 2023-24 Season Preview

Sep 27, 2023; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Nashville Predators center Tommy Novak (82) scores during the third period against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Nashville Predators head into the 2023-24 season having made some drastic changes this offseason, including a franchise first. Whether this is finally the start of a long-delayed full rebuild, or whether the team will be able to convert it into a retool on the fly again, remains to be seen. Either way, it’ll be an exciting year full of young talent and returning stars.

Key additions and subtractions

David Poile ended a 24-season term as the Preds’ general manager this summer and Barry Trotz is starting his first season outside of coaching as his replacement. The coaching staff has also changed, with Andrew Brunette coming in as a new head coach to replace John Hynes. Brunette is known for coaching an up-tempo, hectic style, which fits well with Trotz’s draft philosophy that he’d like to make the Preds fun and exciting to watch, even if it means accepting the risks that come with aiming for a high ceiling.

On the ice, Trotz’s tenure began with a significant roster shakeup. Top centers and $8M men Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene were sent out — Johansen traded after a season-ending injury; Duchene bought out on short notice–and landed elsewhere in the Central.

Ryan O’Reilly was their highest-profile offseason addition, though they’ve also made role pickups in players like Denis Gurianov, Gustav Nyquist, and Luke Schenn. Trotz has emphasized a culture change, and going for a former Cup winner like O’Reilly–a skill player who won the Conn Smythe as well as getting a ring–is a smarter way to add some winning pedigree to the room. How well changes this drastic will work out for the Preds remains an open question, however.

Strengths and weaknesses

Juuse Saros will be back in net for the Preds, which gives them a fighting chance to succeed anywhere in the league. Kevin Lankinen, who did very well in a supporting role last season, returns as his backup. The Preds are set up well in net, and Roman Josi remains one of the most skilled puck-moving defenders in the league.

Josi and Filip Forsberg are the closest things the Preds have to a gamebreaking skater, but both have struggled with injury — including last season — and the roster behind them is unproven or unfamiliar. A few injuries last season destroyed the team’s playoff hopes despite heroic efforts from Saros and a slew of AHL callups; Preds fans can only hope that the youth will do better, with the experience from last year, while they’re asked to play bigger roles this year.

Biggest questions

The Preds’ season at this point feels like it’s composed entirely of questions. Will the new GM’s plan to shake up the roster and culture work out, or will the team spend half the season trying to develop chemistry? Will the new head coach’s high-tempo style work for a team that’s been built from the ground up to play with more caution than excitement?

Will the young players who need to be the team’s future step up, and will Trotz and Brunette give them the opportunity to grow? Will Saros be able to handle the kind of workload he’s had to handle the last few years? Will key players stay healthy? Will the lottery balls be kind in June, if the season hasn’t gone as hoped–and should fans even be hoping for anything other than a high draft pick?

Star players

The three big names on the roster remain Filip Forsberg, Roman Josi, and Juuse Saros. Saros was a Vezina finalist in 2022 and finished fourth in voting in 2023, while Josi is a two-time Norris finalist who took it home in 2020.

Forsberg, who’s the Preds’ franchise leader in career goals scored for the team, has yet to made it to the NHL awards, apart from the All-Rookie Team, but if he could stay healthy and get support from teammates any year could be the year. He’s a dynamic two-way forward and a skilled and creative puckhandler. Like Josi, he’s enormously fun to watch.

Under-the-radar player who could have an impact

Dante Fabbro underwhelmed in his first year or two in the NHL, especially by comparison with Josi, Mattias Ekholm, and Ryan Ellis. Preds fans had unreasonably high expectations, and were disappointed, which means that Fabbro’s quiet improvement since his debut has snuck up on a lot of people.

While he doesn’t grab the kind of attention some of the Nashville Predators’ other defenders have, he’s the best shutdown option remaining on the roster, and was almost as good as Ekholm in his own end last season. Offensively, he’s been making improvements, despite a dropoff in scoring last season–the team as a whole struggled offensively, which more than halved the number of assists Fabbro was able to notch. He looks more comfortable and confident at both ends of the ice now, and has quietly grown into a solid option for Nashville.

Key rookie/young player

With Johansen and Duchene leaving this summer, all eyes have turned to Luke Evangelista and Philip Tomasino. O’Reilly is a great stopgap, but at some point the Preds are going to have to draft and play a top-six center of their own, and Evangelista and Tomasino are both legitimate possibilities for the role.

It’ll be interesting to see how the line combinations are set up, and how the young forwards are used on the power play and penalty kill. Almost every Stanley-Cup–winning team since the last lockout has relied on a 1C they drafted and developed themselves. It’ll be interesting to see the Preds get to work.

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