After arguably the most important offseason in franchise history, the Nashville Predators are kicking off the Barry Trotz-Andrew Brunette era Tuesday in Tampa Bay.
With several questions lingering about the team’s lineup, the future and more, I try to answer them in this week’s Nashville Hockey Now mailbag:
Who are you most excited to see in a Preds sweater this season?
1 mid season call up & 1 day 1 starter
— Nate Moorehead (@GoBlueRaiders1) October 8, 2023
MG: I think it will be fun to not only see Luke Evangelista get a full NHL season but also play on a line with a playmaker like Tommy Novak and a high-end scorer like Philip Tomasino. If that line gels like they did in the preseason, Evangelista and Tomasino could both push the 50-point plateau.
The feeling is that the Preds undoing may be lack of "pop"—I was hoping that Gurianov was going to be the shooter that they needed—so that being said, will Joakim Kemell be the first call up—and how long should they wait?
— Johnny Drummond (@ThatJohnnyD) October 8, 2023
MG: I’ve seen quite a few people say the same thing about Gurianov, and honestly I don’t understand why. Aside from one 20-goal season nearly five years ago, he’s never flashed much offensive upside at any point in the KHL or AHL. But I digress. I can actually see Kemell being among the first call ups this season. How long he stays depends on the nature of why he’s called up. He’s so talented that I believe if he’s recalled for longer than a five to 10-game stretch, he could make it difficult for the team to send him back to Milwaukee.
I know the c won’t come off of Josi but is O’Reilly the unofficial captain or leader now?
— Brad Johnson (@spiderface101) October 8, 2023
MG: No. Josi is the unquestioned captain and that won’t change as long as he’s still a member of the Predators. However, O’Reilly and Ryan McDonagh were named alternate captains on Monday. O’Reilly is definitely a locker room leader, and that’s why Barry Trotz signed him.
How are you defining “success” this year? Bubble playoff team? Or demonstrable growth from the young guys, but still end the season with a top-5 pick?
— Jacob Smith (@jacobleesmith) October 8, 2023
MG: This is a tough one because, obviously, success is subjective. With the state of the franchise after undergoing a regime change, I don’t think success this year is necessarily quantified by making the playoffs. I think after all of the changes the Predators underwent this offseason, success means a tangible buy-in from the players plus steady growth from youngsters like Tomasino, Evangelista, Parssinen and others.
Judging by what you’ve seen. What is the ceiling for a guy like Parrsinen? The eye tells me he’s just got the it factor and could be really good. Which makes me excited
— Tanner Irvine (@TannerIrvine3) October 9, 2023
MG: Parssinen has been one of the standout players from camp and the preseason, and if he sticks on the top line with Forsberg and O’Reilly, 2023 could be a breakout year for him. He’s got skillset to be a 20-goal, 50-point player, and he does all the small things right. Parssinen has impressed both Trotz and Brunette, and it’s clear they’re going to give him every chance to be a top-six forward.
Despite a ridiculously conservative Hynes’ offensive system the Preds were also uncharacteristically bad defensively, ranking 27th in shots against. How does HC Brunette’s system address our defensive woes?
— PO (@BraddPro) October 8, 2023
MG: While Hynes was considered more of a defensive-minded coach, his system relied more on being physical, grinding other teams down and getting under their skin as opposed to the actual X’s and O’s of defensive hockey. Hynes’ teams often sat back and waited for an opportunity to lay a hit or engage in a puck battle rather than cutting off space or taking away shooting lanes. With Brunette, the goal is simple: attack the puck, regardless of which zone you’re in. Theoretically, if the Predators possess the puck more and turn more of their scoring chances into goals, it would ease some of the pressure to keep the damn from breaking that Saros and the defense often shouldered with the Predators playing from behind more often than not under Hynes.
Can @NSHhockeynow buy a local radio station and provide good quality daily talk shows that actually talk and discuss the Predators, the NHL and hockey?
This market is seriously lacking good hockey talk on the radio.
— ShagDaddy (@Grumpy_Ol_Shag) October 8, 2023
MG: While I love your enthusiasm, buying a radio station simply isn’t in our budget. And you’re not the first person to point out the lack of quality hockey talk on the local radio stations, who rarely invite us on to talk Preds. Strange, huh? The best I can offer you is to listen to the Gold Standard Thursday mornings where Braden Gall and I discuss the weekly goings on with the Predators and try to provide insightful, unbiased analysis.
Where do you see Fagemo fitting in once he finds his footing?
— Bowtie Guy (@bvinson23) October 9, 2023
MG: Fagemo is such an interesting case. He had just two team practices before his first preseason game with the Predators, but he did enough to impress Brunette and beat out Gurianov for a spot on the opening-night roster. The offensive skills are apparent and he fits in well with the Predators’ new identity. Once he gets fully up to speed, I’d expect Fagemo to rotate in on the second, third or fourth line likely swapping in and out with Kiefer Sherwood and Cole Smith.
How do the Preds choose their captains? Do the coaches/management decide or do players vote? Who will be wearing the A’s on opening night?
— Catherine (@MegsDaughter24) October 8, 2023
MG: In year’s past, David Poile always valued input from the players on who they thought should be in the team’s leadership group, but he made the final decision. I believe that will continue with Trotz and Brunette, who seem to really value the opinions of their players. That said, O’Reilly and McDonagh were announced on Monday as the alternate captains along with Josi, who is heading into this seventh season wearing the “C.”
Will Trenin fight Jeannot in Game 1? Who wins?
— Rockets (@Rockets160) October 9, 2023
MG: Oh, I see someone loves chaos. This would be a highly entertaining bout if it happens, but given that these two spent considerable time as linemates, I would think they’d want to avoid dropping the gloves with each other. But let’s say it did happen, then my money would be on Jeannot, but only slightly. Trenin has a degree in boxing, and he’s one of a few people who were crazy enough to fight Zdeno Chara, twice. He doesn’t fight as much as Jeannot, but he’s equally as terrifying when he does.
Have the Preds got a plan for moving on from diamond? Arizona and Vegas have both announced local options and the Penguins just bought their RSN. All I've seen so far is the fubo announcement but that's really just Bally on Fubo
— Rob Delles (@OrangeRob29) October 9, 2023
MG: Things aren’t looking great for Diamond Sports Group, but sadly, there’s no news on the Predators’ relationship with Bally. Teams like the Coyotes have found new local broadcast partners (Scripps Sports), while the Golden Knights launched their own streaming service for the team’s 2023 season. Right now, the Predators can still be watched on Bally Sports, but that will likely change sometime soon. I’ve heard the team has been bracing for this, so we’ll see if any news comes out in the next few weeks.
Let’s say today you can pick their fate at game 82: 1) Step back season, get high lotto pick 2) Overachieve and squeak into playoffs as big underdog. Which and why
— kostitsyn mode (@burneridk3) October 9, 2023
MG: I remember having this exact debate on the Gold Standard several times last season. My line of thinking is simple: if you don’t have a legit shot at getting to at least a conference final, what’s the point of making the postseason as a fringe playoff team? Yes, the 2017 Cup run is typically the rebuttal to my question, but that team wasn’t in the midst of a regime change and looking to find a new identity like this team is. I’d argue missing the playoffs isn’t the end of the world and securing a higher draft pick is better for the long-term success of the Predators. While the 2024 draft class isn’t as loaded as the 2023 one was, there’s still plenty of great, top-of-the-lineup players to be had in the top 12. If Nashville can land one of those selections, it’d have a great trio of future building blocks along with Matthew Wood and Tanner Molendyk.
Follow Michael Gallagher on X/Twitter @MGsports_