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MCKEEN’S 2023-24 NHL YEARBOOK – NASHVILLE PREDATORS – Team Preview – Player Profiles

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 19: Nashville Predators center Thomas Novak (82) is shown during the NHL game between the Nashville Predators and Edmonton Oilers, held on December 19, 2022, at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire)

Review: The Predators have rarely been listed among the main contenders for the Stanley Cup in any given year, but they have managed to stay consistently competitive, making the playoffs for eight straight campaigns from 2014-15 through 2021-22. They nearly reached nine consecutive seasons but came just short with their 42-32-8 record last year. Juuse Saros deserves most of the credit for keeping Nashville close. He’s one of the most reliable goaltenders in the world, and he stayed strong in 2022-23, posting a 33-23-7 record, 2.69 GAA and .919 save percentage in 64 contests. Consider that Nashville ranked 28th in 5-on-5 expected goals against (199.01), suggesting the Predators were among the league’s worst teams defensively and would have consequently been easy to score against if not for some stellar netminding. Saros’ role was even more important because Nashville didn’t do much offensively. None of the Predators reached the 60-point mark, though it didn’t help that Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and especially Roman Josi missed meaningful chunks of the season. The silver lining is Saros is just 28, and the Predators have two more seasons left at a team-friendly $5 million cap hit, so there’s still time to build around him.

What’s Changed? Deciding major turnover was necessary, Predators GM Barry Trotz bought out Matt Duchene’s contract and traded Ryan Johansen to Colorado. Nashville leveraged that freed cap space to ink top-six forwards Ryan O'Reilly and Gustav Nyquist. They also added defensive defenseman Luke Schenn, which might make life a little easier on Saros.

What would success look like? The Predators could absolutely make it back into the playoffs, but their push needs to start with another great campaign from Saros. Assuming they have that, an injury-free year out of Josi would do a lot to make up the rest of the gap. Meanwhile, it will be the first full NHL campaign for forwards Thomas Novak, Luke Evangelista and Juuso Parssinen, who could combine to make Nashville a significantly better team offensively than they were in 2022-23.

What could go wrong? Whenever a team relies so much on a single player, as Nashville does with Saros, the nightmare scenario is always an injury to said player. Although Nashville does have a sufficient backup in Kevin Lankinen, but being forced to rely on him for an extended period would be far from ideal. It’s also not clear how much offensive help O’Reilly and Nyquist will be. Both had up-and-down campaigns last year, so if Nashville was hoping to swap Duchene and Johansen for safer bets, they may end up disappointed.

Top Breakout Candidate: After scoring 17 goals and 43 points in 51 games last season, Novak is perhaps too easy of a choice, so instead let’s focus on one of his projected linemates, Evangelista. The 21-year-old also had an encouraging, albeit much shorter, stint with Nashville in 2022-23, contributing seven goals and 15 points in 24 contests. Evangelista also excelled in the AHL with 41 points in 49 outings and turned pro with plenty of offensive upside. He’s a big part of why Nashville has reason for optimism about the long-term outlook of its forward core.


Filip Forsberg - LW

Looking to follow up a fantastic 42-goal season, Forsberg started off a little slow with only two goals in the first month of the season. He hit his stride over the winter, scoring at a point-per-game pace in November and December before a concussion in early February sidelined him for the rest of the season. Streaky scoring isn’t out of the ordinary for Forsberg, as he is the type of player who will run hot, and he was on-pace to match his typical season totals before getting hurt. Talent eventually shows through with most players, and he is the type you can always count on to go on a scoring tear at some point. Terrific at generating offense on his own, Forsberg is one of the most creative shooters in the league. He can test goalies despite being covered or tricking defenders by passing at the very last second to set up a breakaway or a lay-up goal for his linemates. He had fantastic chemistry with Matt Duchene in 2022 for this reason and while they struggled to repeat that last year, Forsberg still found a way to get on the scoresheet with a revolving door of linemates. His 42-goal campaign might have been an aberration, but at the end of the day the Preds will be happy with what they get out of Forsberg.

Ryan O’Reilly - C

Nashville shook up their forward corps this summer, shipping off veterans Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen and bringing in Ryan O’Reilly as their new centerpiece. Whether you’re a contending team or navigating a rebuild, O’Reilly is a good player to build your forward group around. He can handle the big minutes and the tougher matchups, which will make life easier for the Tommy Novaks of the roster. Nashville’s blue line will also benefit from him, as he acts like a third defenseman with how deep he plays in the zone and how good he is at starting breakouts. This along with his strength in making plays on his backhand are his calling cards. He has also made the most out of playing with some of the scraps in the St. Louis’ forward corps, as the more talented players were moved to more scoring lines. Last year he formed an excellent checking line with Josh Leivo and Brandon Saad. O’Reilly is the type of player whose line will usually dominate territorially even if they aren’t scoring a lot of goals, so this bodes well for what he can do in Nashville. Very high floor, but a lower ceiling than there used to be with him.

Tommy Novak - C

The former Minnesota Gopher might have been the best player in the second half of the season that you’ve never heard of (unless you’re a Nashville fan or a fantasy hockey player). Known primarily as a playmaker and a pass-first player, the 17 goals in 50 games Novak scored last year was one fewer than his career total in four years at college and more than he scored in any season in the AHL. It wasn’t the “playing out of the string” type of production either, as Nashville was fighting for a playoff spot in the second half and three of Novak’s goals were scored in overtime. He showed signs that he could be a good player during his first cup of coffee with the Preds. He has excellent hands and was very good at making safe plays to keep offensive zone shifts going. What changed last year was that he really started poaching for more offense and began shooting more. Some of that is from getting endless breakaway opportunities but he also worked his way into the slot to create his own shot instead of reverting to the point or passing it off to someone else. At 26, this was probably Novak’s last chance to prove he belongs in the NHL and to say he proved that is an understatement.

Gustav Nyquist - LW

Every team needs a player or two like Nyquist, a decent scoring forward who isn’t a top-liner but can keep up with your big dogs if you need someone to fill-in. Nyquist has that Swiss-Army Knife toolset where he can do just enough to help everyone his line without being the main driver of it, not being the first one on pucks, but usually being in the right spot to receive a pass or setup a give-and-go. Uses his stick well in the defensive zone and was a regular on Columbus’ aggressive penalty kill for years, scoring seven shorthanded goals in three years with Columbus. Had no real consistent linemates with the Jackets last year and didn’t see any action with Minnesota until the playoffs where he played on a line with Ryan Hartman. Doesn’t have the shot or the game-breaking skill to be the driver on his line, or a consistent offensive threat, but will pitch-in enough to help any line that he is on. Modern day utility player and a nice placeholder for the Preds.

Cody Glass - C

Spending all of 2021-22 in the AHL, Nashville made it a priority to fix Cody Glass’ development after getting him from Vegas. The former third overall pick had a rocky start in the NHL and his first full season with the Predators was a major step forward. Finding his way as a middle-six center, Glass seemed to find his niche as a goal-scorer and a net-front guy on the power play. Scoring six of his goals with the man advantage, Glass is more of the “goal/point vulture” mold right now, he hangs around the net most of his shifts and has slowly figured out the ins-and-outs of scoring a lot of dirty goals. He has terrific hands but slow feet, so this is a good way for him to make an NHL career. It makes him more of a secondary player on his line, as he doesn’t play with a lot of pace, or handle the puck much, but it’s also something you can work around since he will do the little things away from the puck. His defensive game was especially encouraging, always in the right spot in coverage to help generate easy exits. Great things were expected for Glass when Vegas took him with their first ever pick and a detour to Nashville seems to be just what he needed to get his career back on track.

Yakov Trenin - LW

Appropriately nicknamed “The Yak,” the Nashville winger is probably most known for being one of the only players to fight Zdeno Chara twice. What they might not know is that he’s become one of Nashville’s more reliable players since then. Scoring double-digit goals in back-to-back seasons, he found a home on what was dubbed “The Herd Line” by Preds fans. He was one of the straws that stirred the drink on that line because he is very direct in how he plays. He shoots the puck at every opportunity and will lay a shoulder into any player that is along the boards. The more skilled parts of his game showed out a little last year, carrying the puck into the zone more and surprising defenders with his puck-handling. He still doesn’t drift too far from his bread and butter, always hanging around or behind the net to set up shop in the offensive zone and being a nuisance to play against. Also, a fixture on Nashville’s penalty kill alongside Colton Sissons. Trenin should continue to be a regular middle-sixer for Nashville even with The Herd Line disassembled.

Denis Gurianov - RW

Dallas finally decided to cut bait with their former first round pick, sending him to Montreal in exchange for Evgenii Dadonov. Far removed from his 20-goal rookie campaign, Gurianov struggled to find the scoring touch after that and hasn’t found a niche in the other parts of the game. His last year in Dallas was his low point, with only two goals in 43 games. If you tuned into their games, you know it wasn’t for a lack of trying, as he averaged more shots per 60 minutes than almost any of their other forwards and the blistering one-timer is still there. Being able to get it on the net has been the issue and his game went from one-dimensional to zero-dimensional as a high-shot volume player who couldn’t score. A fresh start in Montreal helped for a pinch, scoring four goals in five games after the trade but they ultimately let him become a free agent. He brings some qualities that Nashville could use, especially as a triggerman for their second power play unit and someone who plays with a high-motor and will at least work hard in his minutes. It’s tough to say if he will get regular playing time with so many players from Milwaukee looking for full-time jobs too.

Colton Sissons - C

A hero from their 2017 Stanley Cup run, Sissons has been a mainstay in Nashville’s bottom-six for years, centering The Herd Line with Trenin and Jeannot. He was one of a few players that had their role increased last year due to injury, playing close to 19 minutes some nights and even getting some prolonged time with Filip Forsberg in the top-six at times. Sissons is typically the “next man up” for Nashville in these situations because of how reliable his game is as a defensive player and that he has the stamina to play bigger minutes if needed. Most of the time he has a pretty thankless role as the center who takes most of the defensive zone faceoffs and the main job is surviving the shift before even thinking about making a play with the puck. It’s a tough, but necessary role on most teams and you can do worse than Sissons. He usually finds a way to get to the 25–30-point range despite that, though. Last year was his highest goal total since 2019, as the extra ice-time allowed him to poach for more offense at times. He can also play the wing if needed, so should continue to be a fixture in Nashville’s lineup next year.

Phillip Tomasino - RW

After spending all of 2021-22 in the NHL, the former first round pick wasn’t called up to Nashville until February. This decision was met with the refrain of “it’s about time,” as he was a sleeper pick for some people last year. Not setting the world on fire but showing some flash as a playmaker and looking like he belonged in the NHL at the very least. His play down the stretch was more of the same, Tomasino getting more of a run in the top-six and showing some of that creativity that got him drafted so high. Why he was in the AHL for so long is tough to say. Either Nashville didn’t want to have one of their top prospects stuck as a checker or they felt his overall game needed more work. Regardless, it looks like he did enough to be on the opening night roster this year. He was a decent weapon on the second power play unit, setting up a lot of plays from the right faceoff circle and scoring a few “surprise” goals off deflections. The lack of goal-scoring and his spotty play-driving are legitimate concerns, but hopefully he will get a full-season to iron those out this time around.


Roman Josi - D

Following up a record-setting season is tough. Perhaps it’s even more difficult when someone on another team breaks your own record, which was the case for Nashville’s star defenseman. He was the first defenseman to top 90 points, something that hasn’t been done post-lockout, until Erik Karlsson scored 101-points this year. There wasn’t a lot that changed about his overall game this year except the puck went into the net less often, mainly on the power play where he had 13 fewer points. Josi was the same, roaming player he has always been, always looking to push for offense. Nashville’s forwards not scoring as many goals as they used to is what hurt his point total more than anything. The same passing plays he created in 2022 weren’t as freely available last year, so the points didn’t come as easily for him. The main difference for the Nashville captain this year was adjusting to a new partner in Ryan McDonagh, pairing him with another lefty for the first time in a while and someone who is a little tougher around the edges than Dante Fabbro. It made breakouts a little easier, as Josi didn’t have to go the full 200 feet to create offense and could get up in the play more with a steady partner back. Still projects to be the team’s best player for the upcoming season.

Tyson Barrie - D

Some players are a product of the situations they’re in and Tyson Barrie has been living his best life running the top of the umbrella of the Oilers power play. His vision and deception from the point made him a good fit for that spot, as he can do more than just distribute from the point and find the soft spots in the penalty kill. Nashville got to see glimpses of that during his audition with the team after the trade deadline. He’s also a decent goal-scoring threat for a defenseman, tallying 10 last season. He has some utility at 5-on-5 but was used primarily on the third pair during his final year with Edmonton, as he doesn’t handle forecheck pressure well and has trouble translating his strong puck-skills when the game gets quicker. Most of his value is attached to what he does on the power play, which was a lot with the Oilers. 54-percent of his points with Edmonton were with the man advantage. He could see a bigger role in Nashville but will have a tough time unseating Roman Josi as the team’s power play quarter back.

Ryan McDonagh - D

Few players deserved the “underrated” tag more than Ryan McDonagh in his prime. He did everything you want out of a top-pairing defenseman and could control 5-on-5 play better than almost anyone. As he has gotten older, he’s gotten less concerned with putting up points and more with taking care of his own zone first. He’s a strong skater still and will jump in for a splash play occasionally, but he’s not the one-man breakout he used to be. Pairing him with Josi made sense on paper, as McDonagh can still be effective with taking hits and killing the play along the boards so Josi can scoop the puck up, but there is only so much you can do as a defenseman playing this style. You’re making the first play, but everything else is out of your control, so the downside is you might have a season like McDonagh where you spend most of the time blocking shots and preventing damage in your own zone. There’s a role for these players, but it’s a taxing style on their bodies and McDonagh already has a lot of miles on his tires at 33-years old. His skating is still strong enough to keep him a viable option on the penalty kill and the top-four.

Alex Carrier - D

The young defenseman suffered two setbacks, first was having his season derailed by an injury, second was losing Mattias Ekholm, Carrier’s defense partner for most of his brief career. His game isn’t too different from top-pairing defensemen around the AHL or in other leagues, just needing a chance to finally get a chance in the AHL. He’s a good skater that uses his stick to disrupt plays without taking penalties and was a great fit for John Hynes’ system where the right defensemen step up in the neutral zone regularly. Very good with the puck even if it doesn’t translate to a lot of points, as exiting the zone with control is a strength of his. Could be in a tough roster situation this year with Nashville having four right-handed defensemen under contract and his regular partner now playing for another team. Mobility and willingness to play anywhere in the lineup should be enough to keep him a regular, although maybe with a different role depending on how the roster shakes out.


Juuse Saros - G

The Nashville Predators missing out on the postseason last year was hardly goaltender Juuse Saros’ fault. The undersized – but remarkably well-positioned and hard-to-shake – number one put up one of the league’s best performances last year, despite the raw numbers showcasing nothing more than an overworked (but better than average) starter on an underperforming team. No goaltender in the NHL made more saves above expected last year than he did, with the 28-year-old keeping his team not just in games, but close to the playoff hunt quite literally down to the bitter end. The Predators missed the postseason by a mere three points last year, and it’s hard to believe they would have been anywhere but the league basement without Saros’ steady presence in more than two-thirds of their games.

Of course, there’s only so long that the team can continue to trot out Saros for over sixty games a year. It’s hard to imagine they don’t want to split the workload more evenly, and there’s a chance that he’ll be able to take some breaths of relief with prospect Yaroslav Askarov looking more and more ready for regular NHL action. But ultimately. Saros is a smaller goaltender who has to rely on picture-perfect precision in his game to keep the team from backsliding; if they keep playing him with the kind of workload they’ve asked of him for the last few years, it’s hard to imagine it won’t start to show up in the form of fatigue errors before they’re ready to get Askarov into regular game action. The Predators have to find the balance between treating their current starter right and avoiding any kind of rush job for their goaltender of the future – and right now, they’re toeing that line a little too closely for comfort.

Projected starts: 60-65