Predators News & Rumors: Duchene’s Career Year, Josi & More

The Nashville Predators experienced a quiet week with two games on their schedule, but the results could have been better considering the quality of their opponents. Opening up with a 4-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators, the Predators got a pair of goals, including the game-winner, from an unlikely source in Michael McCarron. Juuse Saros looked particularly sharp, stopping 36 of 37 shots and improving to 33 wins on the season. Unfortunately, the Predators faltered against the Buffalo Sabres later in the week, dropping a 4-3 decision. Despite a third-period push to tie the game, Nashville failed to solve Craig Anderson, who stopped all ten shots he faced in the final frame.

The Predators’ next game takes place on April 5, when they host the Minnesota Wild. Coming off three days of rest, they’ll need to be extra sharp against the Wild, who currently sit in second place in the Central Division. To make matters worse, the Predators’ grip on one of the two wild card positions is beginning to loosen, as the Dallas Stars are quickly creeping up the standings, sitting one point behind both Nashville and the Vegas Golden Knights. The upcoming week contains three games in total, with the final four weeks of the season having the Predators playing 14 games in 27 nights.

As Nashville prepares for the final stretch of the season and pushes towards keeping their playoff aspirations alive, here are some of the storylines to come out of the team’s previous week.

Matt Duchene Logging Career-High Numbers

Coming into this season, Matt Duchene had a lot to prove, both to himself and the team. When the Predators signed him to his seven-year deal, they expected the player they saw register 10 points in 10 playoff games with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He was fresh off his second 30-goal year, combining for 70 points with the Blue Jackets and Senators in the 2018-19 season, and the belief was he’d step into the Predators’ top six and become an instant fit. Such was not the case, as he struggled out of the gate by posting his lowest point total since the 2016-17 season, along with a career-low 13 goals.

Matt Duchene Nashville Predators
Matt Duchene, Nashville Predators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The following season, injuries played a factor in Duchene’s downfall, while COVID-19 forced the NHL into a 48-game season. Appearing in 34 games, the lowest in his career, he mustered six goals and seven assists and registered three points in six playoff games. His $8 million price tag started to weigh heavily on him and the organization, especially considering his annual cap hit is tied for the most expensive among forwards, along with fellow forward Ryan Johansen. Something had to click, but what? His salary wasn’t one the team could easily trade, nor did general manager David Poile show any intention of moving the star forward.

Related: NHL Stats News: Maple Leafs, Panthers, Avalanche, Predators, Lightning

Fast forward one year later, and not only is he turning things around, but Duchene is also experiencing a career year. His 35 goals this season are not only a career-high for him, but it also places him in a tie for 9th in the league along with Mikko Rantanen. His 70 points also match his 2018-19 and 2013-14 totals, and with 14 games remaining, it’s fair to suggest he’ll set a new career-high in that regard. He leads all Predators in power-play goals and is second in both even-strength goals and points on the team. Duchene’s rebirth is part of the reason why Nashville is one of the highest-scoring teams in the NHL this year, registering 3.26 goals per game. It’s a refreshing change, especially considering the 31-year-old forward has four more years remaining on his current deal.

Roman Josi Named NHL First Star of the Month

The month of March was not only a good one for Josi but one that will go down in history. Named the NHL’s first star of the month, Josi amassed 28 points (4 goals, 24 assists) in 14 games, averaging a whopping two points per game. Due to this season’s success, he became the Predators’ single-season leader in assists, surpassing Paul Kariya‘s 54-assist effort in the 2015-16 season. In the all-time category, his 392 assists put him atop that list, and the next active player is Forsberg with 236. It may be a stretch to suggest Josi will take over the all-time point lead among Predators players, as he’s currently 39 points behind David Legwand with 14 games remaining on the season, but next season could be all it takes.

Roman Josi Nashville Predators
Roman Josi, Nashville Predators (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Predators’ captain is heating up in the Norris Trophy race as the league’s best defenseman. He currently leads all defensemen in assists and points and is top three in goals, one behind Victor Hedman and six behind Cale Makar. What helps Josi’s consideration is not only his point production but what he’s doing historically. His 28 points in March is the third-most by a defenseman in NHL history, behind Bobby Orr (31 in 1971) and Paul Coffey (29 in 1985). His nod as the NHL’s first star of the month is also the first time in three years a defenseman claims this honor and the first time a member of the Predators is featured since goaltender Pekka Rinne did it in 2016.

He’s currently four points away from tying Kariya’s single-season point record in Nashville history, and he’s placing himself in an excellent position to claim his second Norris. The first time Josi won the Norris two years ago, he registered 65 points in 69 games in the 2019-20 season. It’s fair to assume that should Josi get to the 100-point plateau, he’ll be considered a lock as the league’s best defenseman of the 2021-22 season.

Checking in on the Admirals

The Milwaukee Admirals’ schedule was somewhat of an odd one, considering the team played four times in seven nights, including three games in three nights. They overcame a tight turnaround by going 3-1-0, solidifying their position in the Central Division, and putting 11 points between themselves and the Rockford IceHogs. They also sit two points back of the Manitoba Moose, but Manitoba holds five games in hand and could pad their lead as the second-ranked team in the division.

Alex Biega, acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs at this year’s trade deadline, gave an impressive performance, notching four points in four games. His three-assist night aided Milwaukee to kick off the week strong in a 5-3 win over Rockford, and the veteran defenseman scored late into the third period of their April 3 game against the Grand Rapids Griffins, clinching the 3-1 victory. Cody Glass is also enjoying a good season in the AHL, currently riding a three-game point streak that features two goals and three assists. Celebrating his 23rd birthday on April 1, he’ll be an interesting player to follow this offseason and could challenge for a role next season in Nashville.

Yaroslav Askarov Heading to North America?

According to a source on Twitter, Pavel Lysenkov of Match TV is reporting that Predators goaltender Yaroslav Askarov could be heading to North America next season. A 2020 fifth-round pick by Nashville, the 19-year-old sensation is currently projected to be the future between the pipes. With SKA St. Petersburg this season, he holds a 2-1-2 record, with a .913 save percentage and a 1.88 goals-against. It’s a great leap going from the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) to the American Hockey League (AHL), but Askarov’s numbers over the last three seasons show great promise of what the future holds.

Askarov does have some competition ahead of him in Milwaukee, with both Connor Ingram and Devin Cooley holding spots with the team. Both are two years older and have experience at both the AHL and ECHL levels, but neither possess the pedigree that Askarov contains. Cooley will become a restricted free agent at the end of this season, so eyes will be on what the organization does with him before fans get a better idea of the goaltender situation. It’s possible the tandem in Milwaukee remains the same for next season while Askarov joins the Florida Everblades to start his North American journey.

Predators’ Quick Hits and Rumours

  • Earlier last week, it was reported that the Predators were among four teams pursuing UMass star Bobby Trivigno. The 23-year-old finished his 2021-22 season with 49 points in 37 games. Unfortunately, Poile missed out as Trivigno opted to sign with the New York Rangers.
  • The Predators did sign prospect Spencer Stastny to a two-year, entry-level contract. The team’s 2018 fifth-round pick set career-highs in goals, assists, and points in his final year with the University of Notre Dame.
  • Tanner Jeannot was fined $2,000, the maximum allowed under the CBA, for kneeing Senators forward Brady Tkachuk. It marks the first time Jeannot is hit with a fine or suspension.
  • The Milwaukee Admirals announced the Battle of the Badges hockey game, where local firefighters and police ice their best team to compete against one another. Tickets are currently on sale and include two games between the teams, followed by an Admirals game against the Cleveland Monsters.
  • Announced on the Predators’ Twitter account, Fifth Third Bank will donate $167 for every home assist recorded this season. All proceeds go to the Grades and Blades Program, a wonderful idea that rewards students for receiving good grades with free skating classes every Saturday morning.

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