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Nashville Predators 2013-14 Season Preview

Nashville Predators center Colin Wilson
Nashville Predators center Colin Wilson

February 23, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Nashville Predators center Colin Wilson (33) tries to score on Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard (35) in the second period at Joe Louis Arena. Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

With Seth Jones falling to them on draft day, the Nashville Predators have the makings of an elite defensive corps once again. Jones’ arrival should heal the wound left by Ryan Suter‘s 2012 exit, but defense alone can’t win championships. If the Predators are going to get back to the playoffs, they will have to light the lamp a whole lot more often.

The Preds ranked 29th in goals-scored last season, averaging just 2.3 goals-per-game. Captain Shea Weber led the team in points with a humble 28. While the defenseman brings a quality attacking game, he’s hardly Erik Karlsson. His team scoring lead truly illustrates Nashville’s ineptitude at the forward positions.

14-year veteran David Legwand continues to be the team’s most prolific scoring forward, and that’s not saying much. Legwand is six-years removed from his modest career high of 63 points. At 33-years-old, he can no longer be considered reliable.

Amidst the mediocrity on Nashville’s forward lines, Colin Wilson‘s encouraging play stood out in 2013. A shoulder injury limited the former Boston University star to just 25 games, but his 19 points in that time put him on pace to lead the team in scoring by a wide margin. The 23-year-old center has developed slowly in his four NHL seasons, but he might finally be ready to justify his top-10 draft slot from 2008.

A healthy Patric Hornqvist should give the Preds a boost. Like Wilson, Hornqvist missed nearly half of the shortened season. The Swede averaged 26 goals-per-season from 2009-2012. If he stay’s healthy, he’s a good bet to lead the team in goals for the fourth time in five years.

GM David Poile shrewdly dealt three-time Preds point leader Martin Erat to Washington in April for Filip Forsberg. That trade could determine a great deal of the Predators’ future. The Swedish teenager is the best offensive prospect to pass through the Nashville system in years, at least since the Alexander Radulov debacle.

Forsberg projects to be a top-notch two-way winger, and he could take advantage of weak competition to snatch a roster spot this fall. The 2012 first rounder managed just one point in five NHL games last season, but his professional success in Sweden should have him well prepared. He probably won’t win the Calder Trophy this year, but he can begin to right the offensive ship in Tennessee.

Beyond Forsberg and Seth Jones, the Predators prospect pool is rather shallow. Austin Watson looks like the genuine article, but he’ll probably need a year in the AHL. Eventually the Predators will have to bring in some talent via trade or free agency. Summer signings Viktor Stalberg, Matt Cullen and Eric Nystrom are nice depth options, but they hardly fill the void in the top-six.

It really is a shame that the Predators can’t score, because they project to be truly elite in their own zone.

Seth Jones is the most talented and complete player in this year’s rookie class, and he’ll be a perennial all-star soon.  The son of a former NBA player, Jones has elite size and athleticism, and he’s a clever player at both ends of the ice. He knows how to utilize both his body and his stick. He’s also proven himself as a leader and a winner. Jones captained underdog American squads to gold at both the U18 and U20 World Junior Championships. His adjustment from the WHL might be rough at first, but this kid won’t be denied his place among the NHL’s best.

Roman Josi also has a bright future. The Swiss blueliner broke out in 2013, and he will probably see top-pairing minutes once again this season. Alongside him, Shea Weber should be his usual superstar self. This is a group that can do it all. There will be growing pains, but improvement is guaranteed.

Of course, Pekka Rinne should once again provide spectacular goaltending. As Rinne races against Tuukka Rask and Antti Niemi to become Finland’s Olympic starter, he’ll likely be at his very best. The 30-year-old netminder has been a rock for Predators throughout his career, but he’ll probably lack the goal support to get this team back into the postseason.

While the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues should easily top the Central Division, there is some room in the group for the Predators to sneak up the standings. Coach Barry Trotz has made a surprise of this team before, but until the Predators’ offense turns on, the Minnesota Wild, Winnipeg Jets and Dallas Stars seem likely to box them out. Even if the Preds can latch onto a playoff bid, they aren’t built to win now.

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