No team in the NHL had a more inviting bandwagon to hop on last season than the Nashville Predators. The plucky underdogs were the 16th seed, but quickly became the darlings of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The majority of hockey fans and pundits didn’t expect them to get by Chicago in the opening round after dropping four of five against them in the regular season, but thanks to Pekka Rinne’s .976 save percentage they swept the Blackhawks before getting by the Blues and Ducks. They fell short against the Penguins with the Cup on the line, but after playing up to their potential they showed the hockey world they’re capable of and established themselves as a team to be reckoned with moving forward.
UP-AND-COMING PLAYER TO WATCH
Pontus Aberg inked a two-year deal in July that will pay him an average of $650,000 per season, which could end up being an absolute steal if the 23-year-old can carry the momentum he generated in the playoffs into the 2017-18 campaign.
The 37th overall pick from 2012 had one goal and one assist in 15 regular-season games as a rookie and saw regular ice time as he registered two goals and three assists in 16 playoff games. He led the Milwaukee Admirals in goals (31) and points (52) in 56 AHL contests in 2016-17 and he’s ready to take his game to another level as an everyday NHLer.
WHAT A SUCCESSFUL 2017-18 WOULD LOOK LIKE
It’s going to be tough to duplicate the magic we saw in the 2017 playoffs, yet at the same time there’s no excuse for this Preds squad to be anything besides a legitimate Cup contender in 2018.
They lost some scoring depth and veteran leadership when the Vegas Golden Knights selected James Neal in June’s expansion draft and team captain Mike Fisher announced his retirement in August. Reuniting with former Preds first-round pick Scott Hartnell after a decade apart, plus signing Nick Bonino, eases the pain of losing Neal and Fisher.
Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson are three of the best top forwards under the age of 26 the Western Conference has to offer, and a blue-line that features a top four of Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm might just be the class of the league.
Anything besides a second consecutive trip to the Western Conference Final might be considered a disappointment.
BIGGEST REMAINING QUESTION
Was their 2016-17 an anomaly?
Prior to the run they had in the spring, the Preds had never made it beyond the second round despite qualifying for the post-season in seven of the past 10 seasons. It’s not like last year was the best Preds team we’ve ever seen either. The franchise has had seven teams register more regular-season points than the 2016-17 edition did.
Take this with a grain of salt, too, but whenever Peter Laviolette’s teams advance to the Stanley Cup Final they don’t go on lengthy playoff runs the following year. His Hurricanes missed the post-season one year after winning the Cup in ’06, and his Flyers team lost in the second round in 2011 despite facing the Blackhawks in the final the year prior.
On paper, though, this team does have all the pieces required to be successful.