3 Predators Storylines to Follow Heading Into 2022-23

The Nashville Predators made some noise ahead of the 2022 NHL Entry Draft by landing defenseman Ryan McDonagh for what essentially was nickels on the dime. General manager David Poile took on some cap but maneuvered his way around it by shedding Luke Kunin’s contract and exiling him to the San Jose Sharks. The trade allowed the Predators to not only retain the services of Filip Forsberg long-term but add some sustenance to their depth.

Related: Predators 2022-23 Lineup Projection

July was a busy month for Nashville’s management group, improving the Predators’ core while providing the Milwaukee Admirals some much-needed help on the blue line. With a successful draft that included the selection of Joakim Kemell, one of the brightest spots at the 2022 World Junior Championship, the future is looking bright. As September quickly approaches, training camp is on the horizon, and there are a few looming questions regarding the team’s success heading into the 2022-23 season.

Predators’ Improved Top Six

The Predators’ lack of top-six scoring hurt their chances significantly against the Colorado Avalanche in the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. That’s likely what motivated Poile to sign Nino Niederreiter to a two-year, $8 million contract. A proven 20-goal scorer, the 6-foot-2 winger provides Nashville with some grit and finish to their second line. At only 29, he’s on a respectable contract that carries through until he turns 31, leaving the door open to a return while he still has some juice left.

John Hynes Nashville Predators
John Hynes, head coach of the Nashville Predators (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

One of the biggest question marks is whether the remainder of the Predators’ top six will progress or regress. Hockey fans witnessed the revitalization of players like Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen, but it’s uncertain whether they’ll continue that upwards trend. A fall from grace from either player will damage the Predators’ chances of improving and making a splash in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Predators currently have 13 forwards under contract and a handful of players who could make a push for a roster spot. While the top nine appears to be locked in, with the third line remaining intact, that leaves head coach John Hynes with a fourth-line construction of Markus Nurmi, Michael McCarron, John Leonard, and Zachary Sanford. This doesn’t include the uncertainty of where Cody Glass will play after signing a one-year extension with the club.

Predators’ Defensive Structure

McDonagh’s arrival is perceived as a positive addition to a Predators’ blue line that was heavily penalized and taken advantage of last season. It’s no secret that Nashville was the team to take the most minor penalties in 2022, so their defensive core required some tweaking. After retaining the services of Jeremy Lauzon, whom they acquired for a 2022 second-round pick, it appears the few changes made could pay a dividend in the long run.

Brian Gibbons, Ryan McDonagh
Former Tampa Bay Lightning Ryan McDonagh cuts in front of Ottawa Senators Brian Gibbons (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

After saying goodbye to the likes of Philippe Myers, Ben Harpur, and Matt Tennyson, the new-look defensive structure is poised to take fewer penalties, keep shots to the outside, and limit scoring chances down the middle. Matt Borowiecki, one of the biggest detractors in discipline, serves the team as a seventh defenseman who can slot in whenever the Predators need some toughness in the lineup.

Two players to watch out for are Dante Fabbro and Alexandre Carrier. They enter this season at 24 and 25, respectively, in the final year of their contracts and are becoming restricted free agents. Carrier is on a budget-friendly deal but expects to see a significant pay raise, while Fabbro has something to prove after taking a step back last season.

Who Will Back Up Juuse Saros?

After David Rittich failed to hold up his end of the bargain against the Avalanche, Connor Ingram stepped in and stood on his head. Despite the team failing to earn a win, Ingram was the team’s best player and gave them a chance to win. His efforts were not ignored, and the belief was he’d be backing up Juuse Saros for the 2022-23 season. This theory became more realistic with the departure of Rittich.

Juuse Saros Nashville Predators
Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Poile threw a wrench into the equation with the signing of goaltender Kevin Lankinen, the former backup of the Chicago Blackhawks. His contract of $1.5 million for one year suggests he’ll step in and allow Ingram to take on a starting role in Milwaukee to play more games. Lankinen’s numbers don’t inspire much confidence, but taking into account he played for a terrible Chicago team, it’s not a surprise to see his save percentage dip below .900 last season.

The move allows Ingram and Yaroslav Askarov to play together with the Admirals, while Devin Cooley and Tomas Vomacka will likely start the year in the ECHL. With three goaltending tandems spread out in three different leagues, the Predators’ depth between the pipes is as healthy as ever.

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