Part of the fun of making bold predictions before the season starts is tracking them as the season unfolds. Sometimes there might be a prediction that is scoffed at, which then looks likely to come to fruition, and sometimes they come oh so close. Other times, as is the nature of “bold” predictions, they crash and burn dramatically.
With the Nashville Predators being at the one-quarter mark of the abbreviated 56-game schedule, I thought it might be a good time to revisit my five bold preseason predictions, and see how they were tracking so far. Since the Predators are underachieving through 14 games, suffice to say that it will take a lot of leg work for some of these predictions to be realized. I’m not ready to give up hope on these predictions, so prepare yourself for some warranted, and maybe much-needed, optimism.
Roman Josi Will Match His Points Total From Last Season
A season ago, Roman Josi put up career highs in goals (16), assists (49) and points (65). So far this season, he has struggled offensively, with eight points in the first 14 games. These offensive struggles are not unique to Josi, as pretty much the entire roster has experienced similar struggles, but it’s not for lack of trying. He has been consistent in shooting the puck and creating offensive opportunities, but hasn’t had good puck luck most nights.
Josi has fired 47 shots on goal in 14 games, which puts him on pace for 275 shots over a full 82-game schedule, which would be a career high. It shouldn’t be long before his shooting starts paying off, and it’s entirely possible for someone of his offensive calibre to get hot and the points will come.
One aspect of the game that has hurt the star defenceman’s production is that Nashville ranks fourth in the league in terms of most power play opportunities by their opponents, and Josi does not see much time on the penalty kill. It’s entirely possible that his struggles in the defensive zone have been affecting him in the other zones of the ice as well. Regardless of how the rest of the season goes, as Alex MacLean wrote recently, Josi’s chances at a Norris Trophy repeat have taken a hit.
Matt Duchene Will Lead the Team in Points
At first glance, Matt Duchene’s seven points so far don’t stand out. But if there is one thing that fans know about him at this point in his career it is that he is incredibly streaky in terms of his production. He has begun to heat up over the last five games, and his elevation to the first line could increase his offensive output while Ryan Johansen is out with injury.
Thanks to his speed and stickhandling ability, Duchene is a player who can create offence at will. However, with head coach John Hynes constantly shuffling the line combinations, it isn’t conducive to creating chemistry and consistency, which could be an important factor in Duchene settling in and finding great offensive success with his linemates. His strength is scoring on the rush, and recent success against the Detroit Red Wings, shown below, could put an extra jump in his step moving forward.
While he is currently six points back of Filip Forsberg for the team lead, it certainly isn’t out of the question for Duchene to pick up the pace and start racking up the points with great speed. As mentioned, he can be very streaky, and if he gets on a roll with multiple games of multiple points, he can definitely leapfrog Forsberg for the team lead.
Juuse Saros Will Earn Himself a Big Contract
So far this prediction has been a dud, but I don’t know if it is entirely Juuse Saros’ fault. Defensively, the Predators as a team have been absolutely dreadful, but so far the goaltending has not been sharp, and Saros has been front and centre. It was anticipated that he would be the clear number one in the crease this season, but that has not been the case, as he has started only eight of the 14 games so far. In part, this is thanks to the number of back-to-back games the team has played, but it’s also no secret that Pekka Rinne has looked more comfortable in goal.
Saros has struggled his way to a .881% save percentage and an inflated goals against average of 3.56. Not particularly inspiring numbers for a goaltender slated to hit restricted free agency this summer, and with prospects such as Connor Ingram and Kasimir Kaskisuo in the system, it could very well become an open competition for the number one goaltending position next season if Saros’ struggles could continue.
What makes this situation even more interesting is the free agent market for goaltenders this summer is full of great starting talent, and the Predators aren’t expected to lose many players to free agency while also having some decent cap space to work with. I would expect Saros to be a Predator in 2021-22, but whether or not he will have earned himself a big contract remains to be seen, and it will take a drastic improvement in his play over the rest of this season for him to do so.
Calle Jarnkrok Will Earn a Selke Trophy Nomination
An early-season stint on the injured reserve list has limited Calle Jarnkrok to only eight games so far, and while he has bounced around on several different forward lines, he has remained a mainstay on the penalty kill. Unfortunately for the Predators — and Jarnkrok’s chances of a Selke nomination — the penalty kill in general has been atrocious, operating at a league-worst 65% efficiency.
While I don’t think there is any one player at fault, and certainly not Jarnkrok himself, it is going to be hard for league award voters to bring themselves to nominate a player at the forefront of the league’s worst penalty kill. He is having a decent season through his limited time, ranking best on the squad with a plus-minus rating of plus-3, and four points in eight games. I think he still remains one of the better two-way forwards in the league, but will definitely fall short of a Selke nomination this season.
Nashville Will Lead the Central Division in 20-Goal Scorers
Bear with me here, because this is still possible. But in order for it to be possible, the Predators are going to have to start scoring goals, in bunches, and soon. There is a significant amount of offensive potential spread through Nashville’s roster, and in this re-aligned Central Division, the Predators on paper may have more offensive depth than other rosters.
Tampa Bay Lightning’s Steven Stamkos and Chicago Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat have come out of the gate hot, while Joe Pavelski of the Dallas Stars has started this season with the same momentum in which he exited the 2020 Playoffs with — aided in part by an opening season series against a hapless-looking Predators team.
Forsberg is the only Predator so far who has been consistently scoring goals, but we still can’t rule out players like the streaky Duchene, Mikael Granlund, Viktor Arvidsson and even blueliners like Josi and Ryan Ellis getting hot as well. They are all shooting the puck in great numbers, so perhaps it is only a matter of time before those shots start going in in greater numbers than through the first quarter of the season. It is unlikely that Nashville, at this point, can have the most 20-goal scorers in their division, but they can make a run at it for sure, and plenty of games left against the Detroit Red Wings’, Blackhawks’ and Florida Panthers’ subpar blue lines and goaltending should allow for some momentum to be gained.
While the purpose of bold predictions is to be bold in nature, I felt as if there was enough evidence on paper for all of these predictions to come true. I still do feel as though some of them have a shot, but it will take an impressive turnaround on an individual and team basis for some to be accomplished. I remain hopeful that the Predators can and will turn things around over the remaining 42 games, which seems like plenty of time for things to improve for Hynes and his squad.