It is that time of the offseason when meaningful transactions are dead and fans are just waiting for hockey to return in full force this October. The Nashville Predators will hit the ice to start their eighty-two game season on the road in St. Louis October 3. There will be a lot happening during this 2013-14 campaign and here are six predictions for the Predators this year.
Ryan Ellis will be moved
Ryan Ellis will be traded at some point during the season, whether it is at the trade deadline or months prior. Since turning pro from the Ontario Hockey League's Windsor Spitfires where he won every conceivable award, Ellis has yet to transfer his skills from juniors to the NHL. It could be that he is in the wrong system under head coach Barry Trotz.
After being signed by the Minnesota Wild earlier this offseason, Jonathon Blum told the Pioneer Press, "Things didn't go as well the past year and a half with the Preds; I wasn't able to play my game there."
Ellis appears to be in that same boat. He may just need a change in scenery — trade or becoming a forward — to jump start his NHL career. Teams want Ellis and GM David Poile should be listening while his value is still high.
Colin Wilson will have a breakout year
Last season, Colin Wilson finally showed what he was capable of — being a number one forward for the Predators. In twenty-five games last season, Wilson totaled nineteen points (7g,12a). Unfortunately, his season was cut short on March 9 after suffering a season ending shoulder injury that required surgery.
If the twenty-three-year-old was to have played all eighty-two games in a full season, Wilson would have scored twenty-five to thirty goals — a new career high. Wilson's play last year allowed him to be released from Trotz's doghouse. It is unsure how he got in there, but it is likely due to lack of performance and focus.
The Greenwich, Connecticut native is expected to do big things next season. The potential to become a top forward in the league is there, but now it is up to him to fulfill his role.
Pekka Rinne will return to form in mid- to late-November
In May, star netminder Pekka Rinne successfully underwent hip surgery after playing through the pain for some of last season. Rinne has recovered smoothly so far, showing up at Mitch Korn's goaltending camp and a development camp scrimmage in good spirits.
“It’s feeling good,” Rinne told Smashville 24/7's Ryan Porth. “It’s coming along. I got off the crutches and so I’m excited about that. It’s getting stronger and I’m getting my range of motion back and all the movement and flexibility back. It’s a good feeling.”
Don't let his optimism fool you. Rinne is not going to be one-hundred percent entering training camp and won't be when he gets the nod to start on opening night against the Blues. It will take time for him to re-become the Rinne Smashville knows and loves, who is known for making cat-like saves. Mid- to late-November is a conservative outlook on his full recovery, but when the grind to the playoffs begin, he will be ready to go.
Preds will have an issue in the penalty box
With the July 5 signings the Predators made, they sent out a message to everyone in the league — we are going to be big, bad and tough. Well that is just dandy, but when a team usually becomes bigger, badder and tougher, it means there will be a problem with discipline.
Right now, Nashville is primed to be in penalty trouble with their bottom six forwards. Rich Clune, Matt Hendricks and Eric Nystrom — who will be switching in and out of the lineup on different nights — had one-hundred-thirteen penalty minutes, seventy-three penalty minutes and sixty-one penalty minutes, respectively. This is just a recipe for disaster for the team's penalty kill and in late-game situations.
And if the rumor of Jordin Tootoo returning to Nashville becomes reality, the Preds are in serious trouble.
Seth Jones will return to Portland
Eighteen-year-old Seth Jones is said to be NHL-ready by many experts, but after seeing him at development camp awkwardly playing defense, he would benefit extremely from another year with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League. It is likely Trotz will give Jones the nod to play the first few games of the season to test out his ability against NHLers, but if his play isn't all that is expected, he will return to Portland for extra development.
Even though Kevin Allen of USA Today believes Jones will be paired with Shea Weber, it just isn't going to happen. Jones is not yet experienced or skilled enough to control the likes of St. Louis' David Backes and T.J. Oshie and Colorado's Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog in first two games of the season. The Plano, Texas native will be blown away by all of those guys.
If Jones does make the team, he will likely be paired with Kevin Klein on the second D-pair.
Preds will barely squeak into the playoffs
The Predators will qualify for the playoffs in the final week of the season as a fourth seed in their division. There is no chance Nashville will outperform the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues this season because they still have holes that need to be filled. A true top six scorer has yet to be found. With the departure of Hal Gill and the uncertainty of Seth Jones, a top four dd=efenseman is also on the priority list — whether Poile thinks so or not.
Fans are going to see the same thing this season as year's past. A scoring by committee team who plays a defensive first style. Has it really worked? No. Will you work this season? No, it will get Nashville to the first round of the conference quarterfinals and then eliminated after five or six games.
One advantage the Preds have in this year's playoff system is that of the seven teams in their division, only five are legitimate playoff contenders — Chicago, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville and St. Louis. And I believe the Preds can make the playoffs over Ryan Suter and the Wild this season.
(Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)