The Nashville Predators 2021-22 regular season was one for the ages, but it came crashing down with the injury to Juuse Saros and a crushing first-round exit against the Colorado Avalanche in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The loss was inevitable, but the Predators crew left the playoffs with their heads held high, surpassing expectations in a season that most considered lost before it even began.
After selecting Joakim Kemell at 17th overall and improving their roster at every position, the city of Nashville has reason to believe their team will make another strong push for the postseason in 2022-23. However, it hangs in the balance whether these new additions will mesh well with the current locker room chemistry. Also, can Saros stay healthy enough throughout the season and can they depend on newcomer Kevin Lankinen if he doesn’t? Only time will tell.
The anticipation of the 2022-23 season is reaching all new levels of excitement. Filip Forsberg is back with a new contract, keeping him with the team for at least the next eight years. All of the new faces, and those returning for another run, have reason to be hopeful of not only a repeat of their success but an improvement on last season’s overall finish. Here are some bold predictions on three players who could help shape another season worth remembering.
Prediction 1: Niederreiter Will Score 25+ Goals
Over the last nine seasons, Nino Niederreiter has built a reputation as a dependable 20-goal scorer in the NHL. Achieving the feat in six of those seasons, he combines an excellent mix of grit and sandpaper with finish, something the Predators lacked during their first-round exit in last year’s playoffs.
At 30, Niederreiter still has many years of quality hockey left to play, as proven by his 24-goal performance last season. Just one goal shy of matching his career-high of 25, set in the 2014-15 season with the Minnesota Wild, the expectation now shifts to him repeating that performance in a top-six role with some of Nashville’s best playmakers. On a two-year deal that will pay him $4 million per season, he’s in a perfect place for this stage of his career.
Niederreiter is likely to play the wing with one of Mikael Granlund, Ryan Johansen, or Matt Duchene, three players who turned things around last year and either came close to matching career-high numbers or, in Duchene’s case, surpassing them. The opportunity for him to slide into a top-six role also grants the Predators a top-nine rotation that can cause chaos around the crease.
Over his career, Niederreiter has averaged 0.25 goals per game in the regular season, but that number jumped to 0.36 in 2021 and dipped slightly to 0.32 last season. Statistically, his shot percentage is likely to drop as a percentage rate of over 15 isn’t sustainable long term. Considering all factors involved, Nashville will welcome a top-six winger that can hit and has the potential to set a new career-high in goal production.
Prediction 2: Fabbro Will Bounce Back
It’s easy to forget how young Dante Fabbro is, but at 24, he’s quickly piling up the number of games played in the NHL. Having stepped into an elevated role with Nashville at the age of 20, his trajectory as a top-four defenseman hasn’t panned out due to a lack of an offensive-minded game. Defensively, he delivered an average performance and was a liability more often than not.
The outlier to his criticisms is the notion that his advanced stats numbers tell a slightly different story. While Fabbro gave the puck away more times compared to his 2020-21 campaign, his puck-possession metrics remained on par with his performances over the past two seasons. Offensively, he amassed 24 points in 66 games, but it’s easy to lose sight of that with Roman Josi’s unbelievable performance.
Now, more than ever, Fabbro is in an excellent position to succeed. With the signings of Ryan McDonagh and Jeremy Lauzon, the blue line has the potential to throw out three quality pairings at any given moment. He’ll likely start the season on the bottom pairing with Lauzon, as McDonagh will occupy a top-four spot alongside Mattias Ekholm, but there’s plenty of ice time to divide between the six defensemen.
Prediction 3: Saros Will Win 40 Games
Had it not been for an ankle injury to end his regular season, Juuse Saros may have been a difference-maker in the postseason. In his first complete season, the 27-year-old rose to the occasion in his first year as a number-one goaltender and finished with a 38-25-3 record, earning a trip to the All-Star Game and finishing third in voting for the Vezina Trophy. By all accounts, Saros’ regular-season performance was one to remember and a measuring stick for him to surpass in 2022-23.
Following the retirement of long-serving netminder Pekka Rinne, the crease in Nashville had a monumental hole to fill in his absence. Saros filled the role of a dependable backup and, in some cases, a quality 1B goaltender but was never fully granted access as the sole starter. When that changed during the 2021-22 season, he grabbed the bull by the horns and commanded respect around the league.
With an improved defensive core that boasts more discipline and a deep offense compared to last season, fans can expect the Predators to play with the puck more often than not. There’s also a feeling in the city that this team won’t be at the top of the league in taking penalties, which means ample time at even strength and less time defending against a terrifying Central Division. With that in mind, Saros stands an excellent chance at surpassing his 38-win mark from last season and climbing to 40 wins — possibly more.
Do you agree or disagree? Let’s hear what your bold predictions are for the Predators in 2022-23.
Covering the Nashville Predators. I work for a company called SPORTLOGiQ and have loved the game of Hockey for over three decades. I’m obsessed with advanced analytics and pair that with my love for the eye test – i.e. watching the games (I DO that too!)