It only took Nashville Predators head coach John Hynes until this third season with the team to finally have a full training camp.
As camp and the preseason came and went, Hynes and the Predators coaching staff had to evaluate which players will be invited to take part in Nashville’s so-called competitive rebuild.
Following the Predators 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes in their preseason finale at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday, Hynes said any roster questions he had before the game were answered during it.
“We had a couple decisions to make, so we have them made up now,” Hynes said. “I think it’s best when you’re making difficult decisions to sleep on it and then make final choices.”
On Sunday, the Predators reassigned forward Egor Afanasyev and defenseman Jeremy Davies to the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League, inching the team closer to the NHL’s 23-player limit.
Afanasyev began camp as a longshot to make Nashville’s roster, but as the preseason wore on, the 20-year-old forward made Hynes think long and hard about keeping him around. Afanasyev had three goals and four points on five shots while averaging 13:25 of ice time over four games.
No one would have thought twice had the rookie forward been included in Thursday’s season-opening lineup against the Seattle Kraken.
Davies was merely there for the experience. Although young and talented, there are simply too many blueliners ahead of him on the depth chart to receive serious consideration for the NHL roster right now.
The Predators currently have 26 players left, although it’s expected to be 25 if goaltender Connor Ingram clears waivers and reports to Milwaukee. Now, the final question that needs to be answered is who are the final two cuts?
“I think [the preseason] gives you an opportunity to really evaluate where guys are at offensively, defensively and with what roles they can fill,” Hynes said. “The best thing is, I don’t think any player that we’ll have a meeting with [about not making the team] at this point in camp, has had a bad camp. I think that’s why they’re still here and I think that in itself is positive…Unfortunately, not everybody can make the opening night lineup.”
The tough decision — the one that surely seems like splitting hairs at this point — is deciding whether to keep an extra forward or defenseman. Last season, the team went through a lot of both.
But given the new “Predator way” Hynes and General Manager David Poile keep trying to sell the fanbase on, it would make sense — at least in this scenario — to keep an extra blueliner for matchup purposes.
“I think [we have] some [defensive] combinations and line combinations that we like,” Hynes said. “I felt like we were able to give guys good opportunities and then look at some [defensive] pairs and some lines even that we feel would be good and I think that there’s some chemistry between the group in general, but also in specific pairs.”
Listed below is our projected Nashville Predators opening night lineup:
Filip Forsberg – Ryan Johansen – Matt Duchene
Eeli Tolvanen – Mikael Granlund – Luke Kunin
Nick Cousins – Cody Glass - Philip Tomasino
Yakov Trenin – Colton Sissons – Tanner Jeannot
Extras: Rocco Grimaldi
*Note: Mathieu Olivier does not have to go through waivers to be sent to the AHL
Roman Josi – Alex Carrier
Mattias Ekholm – Phillippe Myers
Dante Fabbro – Matt Benning
Extras: Mark Borowiecki, Ben Harpur
Juuse Saros, David Rittich
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