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September 30, 2013 | 1:42pm ET
2013-14 Season Preview: Nashville
By Tab Bamford, TheFourthPeriod.com

What a difference a year makes!

Coming off a 2011-12 season in which they finished fourth in the Western Conference with 104 points (the fifth-highest point total in the NHL), the momentum of Nashville's first postseason series victory quickly evaporated when Ryan Suter was introduced as the newest member of the Minnesota Wild.

Fast forward to the summer of 2013, and the Preds had spent the lockout thinking about the loss of Suter and 48 games as a doormat in the Western Conference. Their placement in the standings was flipped; after finishing behind only four teams in 2011-12, they finished ahead of only three in 2013.

But the sting of a hard-luck season brings high draft choices, and a couple trades made by general manager David Poile brought some potential superstar talent into the organization. Things were looking up heading to the draft.

And then the top three teams passed on Seth Jones.

Bringing in the top defenseman in the draft, coupled with other young players ready to take the next step in their careers, have brought optimism back to Nashville. With Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne locked-up long-term, Poile took steps over the last 12 months to make build a stronger future for the Preds.

As the 2013-14 season begins, the Suter-sized cloud that hovered over the organization for 48 games is gone. But how will the youth movement play out on the ice? That is yet to be seen.

FORWARDS

As the 2013 season played out and the Preds stayed in the race for the top pick rather than the playoffs, Martin Erat had asked to be moved. In spite of efforts by the front office to talk him out of leaving, Poile eventually sent the unhappy forward to Washington for young phenom Filip Forsberg.

Forsberg, added at the trade deadline, was only the first domino in Poile’s rebuilding of the team. He was strategically aggressive in free agency, adding veterans Matt Cullen, Eric Nystrom, Matt Hendricks and Viktor Stalberg to provide some depth around a few youngsters they hope begin the renaissance in Nashville.

Forsberg, 19, was the 11th overall pick by Washington in the 2011 Draft. A highly regarded center who had spent three years with Leksands IF in Sweden, he played in five games for the Preds last year. He could emerge as one of the new faces of a rejuvenated group of forwards in Nashville.

Forsberg will join a youth movement that also includes 22-year-old Gabriel Bourque, 24-year-old Craig Smith and soon-to-be 24-year-old Colin Wilson up front. The hope is that Patric Hornqvist, 26, will get (and stay) healthy as the Preds try to build an offensive foundation.

Cullen joins David Legwand, Mike Fisher, Paul Gaustad and Forsberg in giving Nashville solid depth at the dot. With an eclectic mix of young and old, how coach Barry Trotz arranges his lines could be a work-in-progress well into the season.

It’s also worth mentioning that they’re Kostitsyn-free this year as well.

DEFENSEMEN

While Jones will steal headlines, he might not be the most important addition to Nashville’s blue line for the coming season. The Preds added Hall of Fame defenseman Phil Housley to their coaching staff this summer.

Housley coached of the US National Junior Team that won the gold medal at the 2013 World Junior Championships in January, and ranks fourth all-time in regular season points (1,232) among all NHL defensemen.

Last year, the Preds relied on their defensemen to bolster an underwhelming offense, and there were some solid performances. Not only did Weber lead the team with 28 points, but Roman Josi and Kevin Klein also ranked among the team’s top ten point-producers. There is plenty of offensive potential for Housley to work with in Nashville.

With Weber signed through 2026 and a seven-year summer extension for Josi, the Preds have two of their top defensemen locked-up moving forward. Add Klein, Jones and Ryan Ellis to the mix and the Preds feel they are putting together a solid group of defensemen for the coming decade.

Filling out the blue line for the Preds will likely be rookie Mattias Ekholm, the team’s fourth round pick 2009. Ekholm, 23, is already listed at 6-4 and 205 pounds, and had 10 goals and 22 assists in 59 games with Nashville’s AHL affiliate in Milwaukee last year.

GOALTENDING

The Preds will enter the 2013-14 season with a question mark next to Pekka Rinne after offseason hip surgery has him on the mend. He has been cleared to play, but the Preds will undoubtedly try to do a better job of limiting his work load during the regular season.

Backing up Rinne will be former Chicago prospect Carter Hutton, who was the primary netminder for the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs last year. He has one NHL game on his resume coming into the 2013-14 season, which makes the situation a bit more tenuous in Nashville.

One player that could push for time between the pipes if Rinne isn’t ready or Hutton disappoints should be prospect Magnus Hellberg. However, Hellberg suffered a lower-body injury during training camp and the Preds are reportedly going to give Allen York a look.

While the situation behind Rinne appears to be a developing mess, the news that Rinne feels good and healthy is the most encouraging part of training camp for Preds fans.

Special Teams

Looking ahead at the power play in Nashville is hard heading into the new season. Erat was one of the team’s primary PP forwards, but he is gone. Forsberg skated just over ten minutes of power play time in his five games with the Preds and might play a role moving forward, but there’s no question the team needs more from Hornqvist, Fisher and Wilson for their advantages to be effective.

When assessing the penalty kill unit for the Preds, the heartbeat up front will likely continue to be Gaustad while Klein will put in big minutes this year as well.

A potential struggle for Trotz will be limiting his use of Weber on special teams. Weber has one of the biggest shots in the league and is a tremendous asset on the power play, but the team might need him to fill more significant minutes on penalty killing duty this year as well. Scott Hannan and Hal Gill have both departed, however, and each played a major role on Nashville’s PK last season.

Young defensemen Victor Bartley, who averaged over one minute short-handed in 24 games last year, might be asked to fill a prominent role if Trotz opts to use Weber in a more offensive role.

PREDICTIONS

Nashville felt they were close only a couple short years ago, and still have a few of the key ingredients from that team -- specifically Weber, Rinne and Trotz -- still together. The loss of Suter and subsequent offer sheet signed by Weber could have been a death blow to the organization, but Poile has persevered.

The work Poile is doing to jump-start the organization without sacrificing Weber’s prime has been impressive. Obviously having Jones land in their lap at the fourth overall pick was a winning lottery ticket in the eyes of the front office, but the rest of the young core that is being built has impressive promise.

Are the Nashville Predators a playoff team this season? No. But there is plenty of reason for excitement.

The future will look to Jones, Forsberg, Ekholm and Wilson this year, and with them comes hope that the momentum of a postseason series victory will be felt again soon in Nashville.

Tab Bamford is the Chicago Correspondent and a Columnist for The Fourth Period.


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