Central Division 2014-15 Preview: Nashville Predators
COACH: Peter Laviolette
2013-14 RECORD: 38-32-12, 88 points, sixth in Central (missed playoffs)
VITAL SIGNS: 2.61 goals per game (19th); 2.84 goals-against per game (23rd); 19.2 power play pct. (12th); 80.2 penalty kill pct. (25th); shootout record: 2-9 (29th)
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART:
OUTLOOK: A team traditionally known for its steady defense and solid goaltending, the Predators have a fresh up-tempo philosophy this season, driven by new coach Peter Laviolette. More offense-minded than predecessor Barry Trotz, Laviolette has plenty of new toys to work with, as former Penguins winger James Neal looks to become the fifth 30-goal scorer in franchise history (and first since 2009-10). Fellow newcomers Mike Ribeiro, Olli Jokinen, and Derek Roy will be expected to help make up for the loss of Mike Fisher (Achilles tendon; out two months), the team's leading scorer last season, while they help bring along youngsters Calle Jamkrok, Colin Wilson and Viktor Stalberg. The defense should again be a stalwart crew led by captain Shea Weber while the highly regarded Seth Jones continues his development. But with Laviolette looking to get more blueliners into the offensive mix, a full, healthy season from goalie Pekka Rinne would go a long way toward preserving Nashville's chances for a playoff berth as back-up Carter Hutton isn't ready to shoulder a heavy load just yet. It could take the revamped Predators time to gel in their new system and mindset, but getting it right as soon as possible will be crucial in the highly competitive Central. Nashville missed the playoffs by three points last season, so a slow start is likely to prove deadly.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Colin Wilson
While Ribeiro is an obvious candidate, given his reputation for being erratic and his unceremonious exit from Arizona, Wilson gets the nod here. He was a man among boys during his final season at BU in 2008-09, but has struggled to transition his skills into the same big numbers during his five NHL seasons. (His first 40-point campaign will be his first.) In his sixth go-round, he'll finally have a chance to play in an offensive system with more consistent scorers. It's a big chance for the 24-year-old former first-round pick who will have plenty of motivation: He's in the last of a three-year deal that will see him become an RFA at season's end.
PREDICTION: 90 points; sixth in Central