The hockey world is abuzz with anticipation as rookie tournaments get going and NHL teams are releasing photos of players getting skates in ahead of training camp. For the Nashville Predators, a new era is about to begin with Andrew Brunette behind the bench and Barry Trotz in the GM chair making the final roster decisions. The weeks ahead will give Nashville Predators fans their first glimpses of veteran additions Ryan O’Reilly, Gustav Nyquist and Luke Schenn as well as seeing how one of the strongest prospect pipelines has progressed over the summer.
There will be many questions to answer as well around Andrew Brunette from how he constructs a lineup to what types of in-game strategies he will deploy. No matter the results from the preseason, it will be a fascinating journey to see what the beginning of the 2023-24 season for the Nashville Predators will look like. While we wait to see how it will all unfold, the Penalty Box Radio team gathered their thoughts for another edition of the PBR Roundtable.
What storyline or roster battle is the most intriguing?
Nick: In general, I’m just excited to see what this team actually looks like on the ice under Andrew Brunette. There’s so much chatter about the new faces and up-and-comers entering camp that we’ve almost forgotten the fact the coaching change might be a reset for some familiar faces too. How is Filip Forsberg going to perform in a more “run and gun” offensive style? Will Roman Josi stay an offensive specialist or would Brunette like to see him used more in a 50/50 zone split like in his Norris-winning season? Does Brunette envision using players like Trenin, Carrier, Fabbro, etc. in slightly different ways than John Hynes? It’s not far-fetched to think there’s some untapped potential with members of the current Preds roster that a fresh set of eyes on the bench and GM box may untap.
Boyd: I am fascinated to see how the bevy of forward prospects shakes out. With so many high end talents in camp there is a lot of intrigue into who shows out and who maybe takes a bit of a backseat. While we all expect to see Evangelista, Parssinen and Tomasino rise to the top of the group, does someone else take a leap and press for an NHL role?
Alex: As usual, Nick crushed this answer. The impact of Andrew Brunette will be the most intriguing thing to watch, especially as it pertains to the veterans on the team. Think about a guy like Tommy Novak… he was excellent last year in an increased role. But will Bruno use him the same way? Does he see Novak as a legitimate two-way threat from the middle of the ice? Or does he prefer Juuso Parssinen in that role? Could Novak see his role diminish? So my answer, which piggy-backs on Nick’s, is how will Tommy Novak look in this new system.
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Who wins this year’s Juuso Parssinen “holy crap that guy is really good” award aka the Eric Dunay “I Told You So” Trophy?
Nick: I’ll let Eric handle the deep cuts in the Preds’ pipeline. Instead, I’ll urge fans to spend some time watching first round pick Tanner Molendyk. Seeing him skate during prospect’s camp this past Summer was something to behold. I’m not saying he’s immediately going to be a camp MVP or compete for a roster spot at 18, but he has some tools to develop into an electric player.
Boyd: I think one of the most fascinating players where we’ll see just how talented he is Fedor Svechkov. In a similar sense with Parssinen I don’t know if we’ll see much flash in camp but a player who will always be in the right places where the puck just finds him.
Alex: Spencer Stastney. Eric called him the best skater the Preds have in their organization, and having watched him last year and through the first week of camp, I would have to agree. He’s very smooth and so quick up the ice. Really enjoy watching him play. There’s an outside chance he makes the roster (depending on where the organization sees him vs. Jake Livingstone) and if he does, I think Preds fans will enjoy what they see.
Who should the fanbase temper their expectations about?
Nick: Okay… hear me out… Joakim Kemell.
I SAID HEAR ME OUT.
I love Kemell. His shot is lethal, and he’s going to become a force to be reckoned with in the NHL. That being said, I’ve already seen a lot of social chatter about Kemell making the team out of camp, some of whom seem to be lowkey planning a riot at Bridgestone Arena if he doesn’t. I think that might be a bit premature. Kemell is certainly going to be a player to watch in camp, and I think he has a chance to have some impressive moments in preseason. But let’s not break out the torches and pitchforks if he gets sent to Milwaukee.
Boyd: To me it’s Luke Evangelista. Does he have a ton of talent? Absolutely. Did he play well down the stretch in Nashville? Absolutely. Do I think he can put up the 65-70 points a top line winger should be producing? That’s a lot to ask of a player who is essentially still a rookie. Evangelista should make the NHL roster out of camp and will likely spend a lot of time in the top 6 but don’t be surprised if he struggles and goes down in the lineup to find better matchups.
Alex: I guess I will say Yaroslav Askarov? Though I agree with Boyd and Nick on their picks. Askarov is a supreme talent and will be so much fun to watch in Nashville. But barring injury, we aren’t going to see him here until 2024. And even then, it will be in a backup role. By the way, this isn’t me saying “he’s not as good as you think he is” because… he is! It’s more about timing and patience.
Do the Predators make a move during the preseason to clear up the defensive depth or carry 8D into the regular season?
Nick: Unless there’s something that suddenly pops up behind the scenes, like an amazing offer for Tyson Barrie, this is probably the defense you’re going to get to start the season. I would guess Josi, Schenn, McDonagh, Barrie, Carrier, Fabbro, and Lauzon is the rotation barring an overly impressive camp from Spencer Stastney or Jake Livingstone.
Boyd: I’m just curious to see how long Brunette lets the battle for playing time go on, especially between Carrier and Fabbro. Feels like a game of king of the mountain where we’re just waiting to see who comes out on top.
Alex: They will start with these seven defensemen: Josi, McDonagh, Schenn, Barrie, Carrier, Fabbro, Lauzon. Stastney and Livingstone will be in Milwaukee and be the first call-ups when needed. Also, I don’t think they make a trade until they have to. They believe they are a significantly better team than last year and can push for a playoff spot.
What do you want to learn about Andrew Brunette as a head coach?
Boyd: Given the Predators fanbase’s collective PTSD around line blenders, I would say lineup construction but we probably won’t really see that until the regular season starts. However we will get a glimpse into what kind of system Brunette will run, especially with the power play. Creating space and lanes for the Predators’ skaters to get high danger shots has been a consistent issue and Brunette will have a tall task to better utilize the talent on the roster.
Alex: How will he distribute the power play duties? Previous power play coach Dan Lambert was let go along with John Hynes. His de facto replacement is Derek MacKenzie, who, to my knowledge, has never been a power play guy. Brunette himself coached the New Jersey Devils’ 13th ranked power play last year, but he is now the head coach in Nashville… does he manage that unit himself? Or does he delegate it to someone else? I’ll be curious about that.
For the record, I asked Barry Trotz if Derek MacKenzie would have a role with the power play and he declined to give a specific answer. MacKenzie’s role on the team has not been made publicly available yet.
Who will be the fanbase darling through training camp?
Nick: CAL O’REILLY COMEBACK TOUR, BABY!!!
Boyd: Now that he is hitting the Milwaukee-Nashville pipeline, I could see Zach L’Heureux becoming a fan favorite. He’s skilled, pesky and has a lot of personality which always endears a player to a fanbase. If he comes into camp flying, chirping other players and bringing some life to camp then he’s going to draw a lot of eyes.
Alex: Two-time training camp darling Egor Afanasyev makes it three in a row! He is just one of those guys that will linger with fans for whatever reason. The promise and potential is there, but he has yet to make a significant leap in development since being drafted in 2019. Is he running out of time?
Phil Kessel? Why not?
Nick: Have you watched a Phil Kessel game within the past two seasons?
Boyd: I consider 2023-24 to be a vibes year as much as anything so… as long as Kessel coming in has an associated move so he doesn’t block a young player? Why not, let’s have more vibes.
Alex: I think this team needs to conserve as much salary cap as possible going into this season. Weaponizing that space at the deadline will be their best asset, not Phil Kessel’s 10-12 goals. It would be an enjoyable and altogether useless free agent adventure for a team that’s still weary from previous free agent moves that didn’t work out.