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Feel free to view Part 1 (Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton), Part 2 (Los Angeles, San Jose, Seattle), Part 3 (Vancouver, Vegas, Carolina, Columbus), Part 4 (New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers), Part 5 (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington), Part 6 (Boston, Buffalo, Detroit), Part 7 (Florida, Ottawa, Montreal), Part 8 (Tampa Bay, Toronto, Arizona, Chicago) and Part 9 (Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota) of our 2021-22 season preview series if you haven't already done so.
2020-21 Record: 31-23-2, 64 points
Result: Fourth in the Central Division. Lost 4-2 to the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round.
Strengths: Nashville’s defense corps isn’t as deep as it once was, but it remains the strongest aspect of the team. Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm will anchor the top-two pairs, while Alexandre Carrier and Dante Fabbro have shown flashes of potential. It will be interesting to see how Myers fits into the equation as well and how he develops with a change of scenery. The Predators finished just outside the top 10 in goals against per game played (2.75) and the strong goaltending of Juuse Saros played an integral role in that. Saros also aided the team in tying for the fourth-best save percentage (.912).
Weaknesses: The offense of the Predators was a problem in 2020-21. The team ranked 22nd overall with a goals for per game played of 2.70, while struggling to generate chances and take advantage of the ones that they did have. Josi provided a team-leading 33 points in 48 games, while Jarnkrok and Mikael Granlund topped Nashville with 13 goals apiece. Filip Forsberg was limited to 39 appearances, but he managed to generate 12 goals and 32 points. Getting him back healthy will provide a boost, but it probably won’t help to spark a power play that has been near the bottom of the league for the past few seasons.
Player to Watch: Glass will be an interesting player to watch, as he should finally get a chance to play regularly at the NHL level. However, the player who will likely garner the most attention will be Eeli Tolvanen. He showcased his offensive upside last season, while registering 11 goals and 22 points in 40 outings. Tolvanen also ranked first on the team with six power-play goals and he was third on the Predators with 12 points on the man advantage.
ST. LOUIS BLUES
2020-21 Record: 27-20-9, 63 points
Result: Fourth in the West Division. Lost 4-0 to the Colorado Avalanche in the first round.
Strengths: The Blue went through some ups and downs last season offensively, but still managed to place 13th in the NHL in goals for per game played (2.98). David Perron and Ryan O'Reilly were superb, while Brayden Schenn, Jordan Kyrou and Torey Krug had success on the scoresheet as well. The Blues had problems scoring and generating chances at 5-on-5, but recorded the sixth-best power play percentage (23.2.) in the league. St. Louis brought in Buchnevich and Saad during the offseason in an attempt to add more scoring depth up front.
Weaknesses: St. Louis struggled defensively last season, while placing 19th in the NHL in goals against per game played (2.98) and ranking above just 10 teams in save percentage (.900). Jordan Binnington had some consistency issues in the crease, but holes on the back end were much larger obstacles to overcome for a team that was already playing without Alex Pietrangelo, who left for Vegas as a free agent. Colton Parayko also missed most of the year due to a back injury.
Player to Watch: The Vladimir Tarasenko situation is certainly worth monitoring. He requested a trade and wasn’t protected in the expansion draft, but he is still a member of the Blues at this time. Tarasenko may end up starting the year with St. Louis before he is moved at some point. He has been limited to just 34 games over the past two seasons and it is unclear how his shoulder will hold up. If he is relatively healthy, Tarasenko has the skill to make an impact.
2020-21 Record: 30-23-3, 63 points
Result: Third in the North Division. Lost 4-0 to the Montreal Canadiens in the second round.
Strengths: Winnipeg has plenty of offensive talent on the top-two lines with Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Blake Wheeler and Nikolaj Ehlers. The Jets were 12th in the league in goals for per game played (3.04) and had the seventh-best power play percentage (23.0). Winnipeg has also benefited from the outstanding goaltending of Connor Hellebuyck, who has proven on numerous occasions that he is capable of stealing wins despite the team’s issues defensively. Only five teams had a better save percentage (.911) than the Jets last season.
Weaknesses: As previously mentioned, Winnipeg has had problems in their own end. The team still lacks a top defender who can soak up minutes against the best players of the opposition, but the group did get deeper during the offseason. Winnipeg acquired rearguards Schmidt and Dillon in trades with Vancouver and Washington, respectively. The forwards will also have to be better defensively to help out the blueliners and Hellebuyck. Winnipeg could use some goaltender depth, but Hellebuyck hasn’t had any trouble being a workhorse between the pipes in the past.
Player to Watch: This will be an important season for Pierre-Luc Dubois. He didn’t make much of a splash with the Jets last year after he was acquired from Columbus. Dubois only had eight goals and 20 points in 41 games during the regular season. He also picked up just three assists in seven playoff outings. Dubois admitted afterward that he didn’t live up to his own expectations and he was eager to bounce back in 2021-22. His current contract also expires at the end of the year, so he has some additional monetary motivation.