This 2021-2022 NHL season was one of the least anticipated for the Nashville Predators in several years. After trading Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Ellis, we knew they were not going to be trying to win a Stanley Cup for a few seasons, but at the same time, we knew they had the potential to make the playoffs.
Key veterans such as Ryan Johansen, Matt Duchene, Filip Forsberg, Mikael Granlund, Roman Josi, and Mattias Ekholm are still on the roster, and with Juuse Saros emerging as one of the top goaltenders in the league, they are good enough to compete most nights. The competitive rebuild, as David Poile termed it, is in full swing, and it is going about as we expected it to.
Essentially, two months into the seasons, the Predators are what we thought they were going to be. They are a squad that is currently on the fringes of playoff contention and could easily make it if the cards fall their way.
This is essentially the team we have been accustomed to watching since the 2019-2020 season, so in terms of the results on the ice, this is nothing new. That being said, this group is still way different than they were in previous years, and the takeaways from the season so far are nowhere near what they were two years ago, or even last year.
Let’s start with the most obvious but important headline — Saros has been worth every bit of hype surrounding him this year. It was on him coming into the year to show that he could be truly consistent, and with how he has performed so far, he is showing that the Predators have their goaltender for the present and future, and he is one of the best in the NHL.
Josi is also having another outstanding year. He is still making things happen defensively and is still the driving force of the offence, and with his near point-per-game average, you can bet that he is in the running for another Norris Trophy.
Two veterans who are having their best seasons for the Predators are Duchene and Granlund. Duchene’s resurgence has been well documented, and Granlund is a big reason for that, as he has been a wizard distributing the puck, and the two have found seamless chemistry. It is extremely important that these two have played so well because they are going to be in Nashville for several more years, and not only do they need to live up to their contracts but take some weight off of the shoulders of the youth, who will continue to go through growing pains for this year and probably a few after.
Speaking of the youth and growing pains, everyone is still anxiously waiting for Eeli Tolvanen and Philip Tomasino to become consistent at the NHL level. It feels as if Tolvanen, in particular, has been snakebitten after his start to last year, as he is shooting the puck often but is having trouble finding the net.
People have to realize that not only are these guys struggling due to lack of experience, but John Hynes is not putting them in a position to thrive. By sending both players from line to line every few games, he is not giving either the opportunity to find a place to get in a rhythm with their teammates. It is imperative for them to be put in consistent top-six roles because it is the only way they will gain meaningful experience early on, and for a transitioning team like the Predators, it does not affect their long-term goals anyway.
It would benefit the team and Phil Myers and David Farrance if both saw the ice sooner rather than later. Mark Borowiecki and Matt Benning are alright and are acceptable calibre for the third pairing, but they have a fraction of the skill and potential that the former two possess. Again, it is a situation where just getting experience will help them even if the team struggles for a bit, because the longer before they hit the ice, the longer it eventually takes for them to get to where they want to be.
The Predators are showing this season that they have a good foundation to build upon, and with the potential of their youth and what their veterans are doing, they are looking like a deep, skilled team moving forward. They need to not be afraid to rely on the youth more at this time, but that is about the only real complaint right now. Unlike the previous few seasons, there is a much more clear direction in which this team is heading, and that is about all that matters right now.
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