Predators season preview: Saros growth a must for playoff return

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The 2021-22 NHL season starts Oct. 12. With training camps open, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lineup for each of the 32 teams. Today, the Nashville Predators.

Coach: John Hynes (third season)

Last season: 31-23-2; fourth in Discover Central Division, lost to Carolina Hurricanes in Stanley Cup First Round

3 KEYS

1. Continued growth of Saros

Juuse Saros became the starting goaltender for the Predators last season and seemed to affirm the faith they had in him. He had a 2.28 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage in 36 games (35 starts) and a 2.78 GAA and a .921 save percentage in six Stanley Cup Playoff games. Saros, who has never played more than 40 games in an NHL season, will not have Pekka Rinne to help him as a mentor for the first time in his NHL career. Rinne retired from the NHL on July 13.

2. Youth movement

The Predators made it a priority to get younger and faster this offseason. They traded forward Viktor Arvidsson, 28, to the Los Angeles Kings for two NHL Draft picks and defenseman Ryan Ellis, 30, to the Philadelphia Flyers and acquired forward Cody Glass, 22, and defenseman Philippe Myers, 24, in the Ellis trade. Forwards Eeli Tolvanen, 22, and Philip Tomasino, 20, could compete for roster spots in the top-six.

3. Production down the middle

Nashville will need more offensive production at center. Ryan Johansen scored 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists) in 48 games last season and Matt Duchene scored 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in 34 games. Mikael Granlund, who signed a four-year contract July 28, could split time at center and left wing. Granlund scored 13 goals last season, which tied Calle Jarnkrok for the team lead.

Video: Nashville Predators 2021-22 Season Preview

ROSTER RUNDOWN

Position battles

The Predators seem set at goalie with Saros and David Rittich, who signed a one-year contract July 28. There are two open battles in the top four defense pairs. Alexandre Carrier, Dante Fabbro and Myers will be competing for a place alongside Roman Josi on the top defensive pairing and alongside Mattias Ekholm on the second pairing. Tolvanen, Tomasino, Glass and Luke Kunin will likely compete for forward spots.

Most intriguing addition

Glass, acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights in a trade that sent Ellis to Philadelphia, has a chance to have a fresh start in the NHL. Glass was selected No. 6 in the 2017 NHL Draft and has scored 22 points (nine goals, 13 assists) in 66 NHL games.

Biggest potential surprise

Carrier got his first extended look in the NHL last season and was playing alongside Josi in the first-round loss to the Hurricanes. He could begin the season there again and could see some time on the power play. Carrier had three points (one goal, two assists) in 19 games last season but could see a jump in his offensive numbers.

Ready to break through

Tomasino, selected in the first round (No. 24) of the 2019 NHL Draft, scored 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists) in 29 games last season for Chicago of the American Hockey League. His speed and playmaking ability are his biggest assets.

Fantasy sleeper

Tolvanen (fantasy average draft position: 167.6) scored 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in 40 games last season and was among the rookie leaders in power-play points (12; third behind Josh Norris‘ 14 and Kirill Kaprizov‘s 13). With Arvidsson gone, Tolvanen could land a top-line spot opposite valuable wing Filip Forsberg this season, making Tolvanen worth prioritizing in long-term fantasy leagues and a potential hidden gem in standard drafts. — Pete Jensen

Projected lineup

Filip Forsberg — Ryan Johansen — Matt Duchene

Mikael Granlund — Cody Glass — Eeli Tolvanen

Nick Cousins — Luke Kunin — Philip Tomasino

Yakov TreninColton SissonsTanner Jeannot

Roman Josi — Alexandre Carrier

Mattias Ekholm — Dante Fabbro

Matt Benning — Philippe Myers

Juuse Saros

David Rittich

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