As the 2021-2022 NHL ceiling rolls on, the Nashville Predators are consistently staying firmly in a playoff spot. First place in the Central Division, let alone Western Conference, seems unrealistic at this point, but nobody will complain about that in the slightest.
As has been well documented, the Predators have been one of the most impressive teams this season, as most expected them to go in the opposite direction due to their 2021 offseason moves, not to mention that the Central Division is one of the most brutal in all of hockey. Anything is possible, and the 2014-2015 season should remind the team and their fans to not count their eggs before they hatch, but a playoff spot is all but their’s, barring a major collapse.
So now the question has gone from whether or not the Predators will make the playoffs, to how far they will go when they arrive at the dance. It seems as if the common answer is that they will go nowhere, but let’s take a look and see just what they are capable of.
When you take a look at the Predators from top to bottom, there is one area that can take them anywhere no matter what — their goaltending. I think we can say at this point that Juuse Saros has reached elite status.
He is continuing to face shot after shot on a nightly basis, make save after save, and is easily a Vezina candidate at this point of the year. We know that a goaltender can take a team places if he is playing that well, and the play of Saros is showing that we cannot rule out the possibility of him taking the Predators deep through the playoffs.
The other part of this team that is championship calibre is the defence, as has been for a long time. The biggest difference in past years is that the third pairing is solid, and with Dante Fabbro and Alexandre Carrier continuing to show why they belong, there are few units in the league that are better than this one.
Offensively though, while things are looking better than in previous years, they are still dicey. The Filip Forsberg, Mikael Granlund, and Matt Duchene line is still humming along nicely, and we know the bottom six can produce, but that is not enough.
Ultimately, at this point, the long-term success of the Predators is going to come down to how Eeli Tolvanen and Philip Tomasino develop. And that should not worry Predators fans at all, both have showcased their skill and clearly shown their progression as players since they have made the jump to the NHL.
But for guys in their situation, rarely does it all come together in the first year or two. Tolvanen is still looking to become more consistent at even strength, Tomasino — while he is getting better at this — is still working on his decisions with the puck on his stick, and honestly, John Hynes plays a huge role in their development. He also might be holding this team back.
He is getting much better at generating consistent and effective lines, but when Tolvanen and Tomasino, even more so, are placed with players such as Michael McCarron and Matt Luff, you have to scratch your head a bit. The Predators are not going to reach their potential until Tolvanen and Tomasino reach their potential in terms of performance and opportunity, and that is not the case right now, and likely will not be this season.
All of this being said, the farthest you should expect the Predators to go this year is the second round. Between their elite goaltending and the chance to play spoiler, they could make some noise, but we need to be realistic and know that not all of their pieces have come together yet, so they are not ready to go all the way. That being said, you have to be proud of the work they have done this season, and if they can win a playoff series for the first time since 2018, you could not be anything less than impressed.
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