The Russell Report: Questions Heading Into Camp - Part 1
My two-part series looking at the six major questions facing the Nashville Predators during training camp this season.
Pekka Rinne’s hip and the back-up goalie?
In the biggest news of the Predators offseason, two-time Vezina Trophy finalist Pekka Rinne underwent hip arthroscopy surgery on May 8 at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. While Rinne remained on crutches for most of the summer, the 30-year-old netminder recently returned to the ice and began dropping into the butterfly position without issue.
Rinne has been the Predators’ backbone throughout the past four seasons, leading Nashville to consecutive second-round berths in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and back-to-back nominations as the League’s top goaltender in 2010-11 and 2011-12.
Rinne looks to be on pace to start the regular season for the Preds; however, he may need to sit out a couple of preseason games to guarantee his health and conditioning heading into the season. While Preds fans may not like the thought of Rinne seeing only limited action in the preseason, it will give the Nashville brass time to evaluate the back-up goaltender position.
Carter Hutton was brought in via free agency, and despite a solid American League career, he has just one game of NHL experience under his belt – a 3-1 loss to St. Louis in the 2012-13 season finale. Heading into training camp, head coach Barry Trotz has already named Hutton his back-up goaltender.
Hellberg was impressive down the stretch in Milwaukee last season, finishing 22-13-0 with six shutouts, a 2.14 goals-against average and .924 save percentage. While Hellberg fits the Preds mold for goalies – tall (6-6) and Scandinavian (Uppsala, Sweden) – he still has to prove to General Manager David Poile and his staff that he’s ready to take the next step when called upon.
Mazanec is entering his first season in North America after leading Plzen of the Czech Extraliga to the league title last season. The Pisek, Czech Republic native has played well during his first rookie camp, but training camp will give him his first action against NHL-caliber talent. We can expect Mazanec to begin the season in Milwaukee while he adjusts to the North American style of play.
Can Colin Wilson pick up where he left off?
Colin Wilson looked to have finally developed into the player Poile and his staff had hoped he’d become when they selected him seventh overall in 2008. He was leading the team with 19 points (7g-12a) through 25 games before a collision behind the net on March 9 against Minnesota ended the 23-year-old’s season. The injury came just one day after Wilson struck for a career-high four points (2g-2a) against the Edmonton Oilers.
Wilson’s injury required a double-shoulder stabilization surgery during the tail end of the 2012-13 campaign. He has since rehabbed and returned to the ice, taking contact in his most recent informal practices without issue.
Many foresee Wilson as Nashville’s X-factor this season. He has the size, skill and speed to be a top contributor for the Preds and the flashes he showed last season will definitely place him in a featured role with the offense.
Which Predators return to form?
Shea Weber – Although Weber led the team with 28 points (9g-19a) and averaged 25:55 of ice time a season ago, Nashville captain failed to be named a finalist for the Norris Trophy for the first time in three seasons. Weber’s skill set is vital to the Predators’ success and they need their captain to return to an All-Star level with such a young crop of defensemen on the roster.
Patric Hornqvist – Nashville’s most consistent and most recent 30-goal scorer will have to rebound from a couple of injuries that held him out of 24 games last season. In April, Nashville showed their faith in the Swedish winger with five-year contract, and they’ll need Hornqvist to improve upon their 29th ranking in goals per game in 2012-13.
Viktor Stalberg– Nashville’s first signing on July 5, Stalberg is fresh off a Stanley Cup winning season with the Chicago Blackhawks. Just two seasons removed from a 22-goal, 44-point campaign, Stalberg will break out of the third line role he saw in the Windy City and into a top-six role in the Music City. The increased ice time and responsibility should help the 27-year-old flourish with his new team.
Gabriel Bourque – The winger set a career high and tied for the team goals lead with 11 tallies, despite missing 14 games with a knee injury in 2012-13. In just 34 games, the Rimouski, Que., native nearly tied his career output from his first NHL season in 2011-12 (7g-12a-19pts-43gp). Bourque’s speed, skill and tenacity will be a welcomed asset among Nashville’s top-nine forwards.