Heading into the 2023 regular season, the Nashville Predators will look much different than they did at this point last year with a new general manager, a new head coach, and some new faces scattered throughout the lineup.
However, the Predators have plenty of returning players are expected to rebound after a lackluster season that necessitated the selling off of key roster pieces at the trade deadline.
Due to injuries, Nashville was without captain Roman Josi, defensemen Alexandre Carrier and Mark Borowiecki, forward Filip Forsberg and former forward Matt Duchene. While inconvenient, it allowed for some younger skaters to shine with late-season call-ups, some of whom are expected to compete for full-time roster spots this year.
With the start of training camp just seven days away, here are three predictions for the Predators this season:
1. Tommy Novak will finish top-five in scoring
After scoring 26 points in 25 AHL games with the Milwaukee Admirals, Novak made the leap to the big club in Nashville.
He went on a tear in a Predators uniform, scoring 43 points in 51 games which led the team from mid-December on. Novak’s first game was the night Nashville broke an eight-game losing streak against the Edmonton Oilers.
The Predators went 30-19-4 after Novak was recalled from the Admirals, and he became a fringe top-six player who’s scoring pace would have netted him 70 points over a full 82-game NHL season.
While replicating his performance isn’t a guarantee anyone can make, this season the expectation is Novak — in my eyes — could score as many as 55 points. At the pace, he’ll likely finish in the top five on the team in scoring and he could help anchor a deep lineup that Trotz was known for fielding during his stint in Nashville as a head coach.
2. Roman Josi will set a new career-high in goals
After kicking off last season in his native Switzerland, Josi scored 59 points but suffered a season-ending concussion in March. The 33-year-old defenseman enters this season as the longest-tenured captain in Predators history (seven seasons), while serving as part of the team’s leadership group for nine years now.
Since joining the NHL in 2011, Josi is the fourth-highest-scoring defenseman from his 2008 draft class with 601 points. He trails only Penguins defenseman Erik Karlsson by 158 goals scored from the 08 draft class.
Josi was on pace for a 72-point season before going down against the Winnipeg Jets on March 18, but taking a big=picture look at his career shows he’s poised to bounce back. The Swiss defenseman has a career average of 60 points per season, and in my mind, he’s due for a career-year in putting the puck in the back of the net.
The captain will score 25 goals this season and total 75 points. He can quarterback the Predators on the power play and run point on five-on-five (he boasted a 7.61 shooting percentage among NHL defensemen during five-on-five play last year). Expect Josi to lead the way from the blue-line this season.
3. Juuse Saros will return to his Vezina-finalist form
The engine that could has been a stalwart among NHL goaltenders since taking over for Pekka Rinne.
Over the last three years, Saros has a 92-59-11 record with a .920 save percentage and a 2.59 goals-against-average in the regular season. In that time, he has the second-most saves (4,857) and he’s coming off a season in which he led the league in the same category (1,928).
He and Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry are the lone net-minders who have skated in at least 200 games from the 2013 draft class.
And don’t forget, Saros also led the NHL with 46.7 goals-saved above expected last year while posting 33 wins in 63 starts. Saros did his best to keep Nashville in contention for a playoff spot over the final two weeks of the season.
“It was a crazy year,” Saros said during locker-clean out day. “It felt like two different seasons packed in one. It was too bad we couldn’t make it (to the playoffs). It was disappointing, but I was proud of the guys with how we pushed in the last 25 games or so with all the trades and injuries.”
This year, Saros returns to form, picking up 36 wins and he’ll have at least 35 GSAE this time around.