The Nashville Predators had a historic season in 2016/17.
Despite being the eighth seed, they went to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history and fell two games short of winning it all.
Coming into the new NHL season, expectations will be a lot higher in Nashville.
Let’s take a look at five questions that surround the Predators heading into the 2017/18 season.
1) Can Nick Bonino take on a bigger offensive role in Nashville?
On July 1st, the Nashville Predators signed Nick Bonino to a four-year, $16.4 million contract. Bonino is coming off back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships with the Pittsburgh Penguins and looks to replace recently retired Mike Fisher.
Traditionally, Bonino is a responsible two-way center, who is a perfect fit in a third-line role on a deep team. He played that role well in Pittsburgh behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Coming to Nashville, it looks like the Predators expect Bonino to embrace a bigger role offensively. He is the team’s second-line center behind Ryan Johansen.
Bonino had a career year back in the 2013/14 season with the Anaheim Ducks, scoring 24 goals and 49 points in 77 games. If he can put up the same numbers next year, it would be a brilliant signing by the Predators.
Especially when you consider that the 29-year-old only comes at a $4.1 million average annual salary.
2) Can the Nashville Predators still thrive without Ryan Ellis?
Not too long ago the Nashville Predators announced that defenseman Ryan Ellis will be out for several months to recover from an off-season knee surgery.
This is obviously a huge loss for the team, as Ellis averaged almost 24 minutes of ice-time per night last season and is coming off a career year, scoring 16 goals and 38 points in 71 games.
Will the Predators be able to keep things in check without Ellis in the lineup?
Barring that no other injuries occur, the Predators should be able to, as they have one of the best defensive corps in the NHL which includes: P. K. Subban, Roman Josi, and Mattias Ekholm.
Meanwhile, newly gained Alexei Emelin will be expected to fill minutes on the top-four defense.
Finally, we can’t forget that the Nashville Predators have one of the best goalies in the NHL, in Pekka Rinne.
As tough as it is to lose a player like Ryan Ellis, the Nashville Predators are probably one of the few teams in the NHL with the depth to manage without him.
3) Can Viktor Arvidsson have another productive season?
Viktor Arvidsson had a spectacular season for the Nashville Predators last year.
He came out of nowhere, notching 31 goals and 30 assists for 61 points to lead the Predators in scoring.
He was also a huge impact player for the Predators down the stretch in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, scoring 13 points in 22 games.
Heading into the 2017/18 season the bar will be set higher for Arvidsson. With the departures of Mike Fisher and James Neal, the Predators will need to look for new players to step up offensively. The departed duo combined for 41 goals last season or nearly one out of every five Nashville goals.
If Arvidsson can have another productive season, and if other names like Calle Jarnkrok and Kevin Fiala can step up offensively, goal scoring might not be a big concern in Smashville next season.
4) Can Scott Hartnell still be effective at 35?
On July 1, 2017, the Nashville Predators signed Scott Hartnell to a one-year, $1 million contract.
Sentimentally, it is a nice story to see Hartnell return to the team that drafted him 6th overall almost 20 years ago in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.
Scott Hartnell has had a wonderful NHL career but is still looking to win his first Stanley Cup, and he has a good chance to do that in Nashville.
However, the real question is how much does Scott Hartnell have left in the tank?
Production-wise he has still scored at a decent level, averaging 21 goals in his last three NHL seasons.
However, Hartnell is 35-years-old and plays a very hard game so there is always the risk that his production will take a dip in the next year.
Being able to add a player like Hartnell for only $1 million is a gamble worth taking, as it has the potential for a big payoff next season.
5) Can Pontus Aberg become a full-time NHL player?
Pontus Aberg spent most of the 2016/17 season in the American Hockey league in Milwaukee. In 56 games with the Admirals, he scored an impressive 52 points.
Despite only appearing in 15 NHL games last year, the left-winger made his mark late in the season during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
With Ryan Johansen and Mike Fisher both going down in the Western Conference Finals, Aberg was injected into the lineup and showed that he belonged in the NHL.
He chipped in with one goal and two assists in pivotal Games 5 and 6 of the series against the Anaheim Ducks. Aberg stayed in the lineup in the Stanley Cup Finals and gave the Predators a solid 14-15 minutes every night in the six-game series.
Aberg has spent the past few years fine tuning his game, and it looks like he is knocking on the door for a full-time roster spot in the NHL.
Could this be the year where Aberg makes the jump?
We will know soon if the 23-year-old will stick with the big club in 2017/18.
How do you think the Nashville Predators will do in 2018? Let us know in the comment section below and be sure to vote in the poll.
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