NHL.com is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 31 teams from Nov. 16-Dec. 16. Today, three important questions facing the Nashville Predators.
1. How do they get more from Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene?
Nashville’s top two centers played far below their potential last season. Johansen scored 26 even-strength points (10 goals, 16 assists) in 68 games, his lowest output in that category since he scored 11 (five goals, six assists) in 40 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2012-13. Duchene, in his first season with the Predators, scored 13 goals, his fewest in 11 NHL seasons.
Heavy offseason turnover at forward — Luke Kunin, Nick Cousins and Brad Richardson are in; Craig Smith, Mikael Granlund, Nick Bonino, Kyle Turris and Austin Watson are out — will mean different linemates, which could provide a spark, but Johansen and Duchene need to drive the offense regardless of who plays with them.
“They had down seasons from an offensive standpoint and it was disappointing,” general manager David Poile said. “But if we’re going to be successful this year it all starts with our top players, and these guys have to play at the highest level they can, and they have to be point producers, because that’s what we’re going to need from our top two lines.”
2. Is Juuse Saros ready for a bigger workload?
The goalie was one of the biggest beneficiaries of John Hynes replacing Peter Laviolette as coach Jan. 7. Saros started 17 of the Predators’ final 28 regular-season games and all four games in the postseason after starting 17 of the first 41 games.
Rather than creating an awkward situation with longtime starter Pekka Rinne, Poile said having both goalies will be an advantage this season.
“I think we’re in a good position,” Poile said. “I think either one of them can be the No. 1 goalie.”
3. How can the power play improve?
The Predators were tied with the New York Islanders for 24th in the NHL on the power play last season (17.3 percent) but did improve after Hynes became coach. Nashville was 23rd on the power play (16.8 percent) in 41 games under Laviolette, and 20th (18.1 percent) in 28 games under Hynes, then was tied for second in the NHL in the postseason at 28.6 percent (Calgary Flames, Florida Panthers).
“John working with different coaches and changing a few things around, at the end of the year and especially in the [postseason] we looked very confident, very dangerous on our power play,” Poile said. “… I know in the meetings [the coaches] have had in the summer that they’ve been talking a lot about the special teams. All I can say is we’ll have a couple of new looks on the power play, a couple of different setups and different people playing in different places. I feel good about our chances of improving our special teams, especially the power play.”