NHL.com continues its preview of the 2013-14 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.
The Nashville Predators will open the season in the new Central Division of the Western Conference with a relatively new look on offense, and a defensive unit that has the potential to rival divisional foe and the reigning Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
The selection of Seth Jones in the 2013 NHL Draft gives coach Barry Trotz two first-round picks, along with Ryan Ellis, and a three second-round choices -- Shea Weber, Kevin Klein and Roman Josi -- along the blue line in 2013-14.
In order to return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Trotz knows the team must get back to basics and its culture as an organization. The Predators finished two games over .500 on home ice and were 5-14-5 on the road in 2012-13.
"[In 2011-12] we finished in the top 10 in four categories -- goals for, goals against, power play and penalty kill -- and we didn't finish in the top 10 in any of those last season," Trotz said. "We need to be relentless and hard to play against … that's a cultural thing. We want to turn home ice into the Roman Coliseum."
In addition to making life difficult on the opposition at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, it would also help if the team could give goalie Pekka Rinne some offensive support. That remains one of the biggest areas of concern that Trotz will have to correct to open the season. Here are three items sure to gain headlines during training camp in Nashville:
1. Defenseman Ryan Ellis is working toward a rebound season. Ellis will have assistant coach and seven-time NHL All-Star Phil Housley showing him the ropes. Ellis, the 2009 first-round pick (No. 11), has five goals and 17 points in 64 NHL games spanning two seasons. Trotz told NHL.com he felt Ellis was pressing too hard in 2012-13 but is more determined entering this season. Housley will help provide the confidence Ellis may need to turn things around this season.
"He's a winner, so I'm not too concerned," Trotz said. "He's getting challenged a little bit, and I know he'll respond in the right way. I expect him to log pretty good minutes for us this season."
2. There's an outside chance Colin Wilson spends time at both wing and center. The 6-foot-1, 216-pound left-handed shot was leading the team with 19 points, including seven goals, through the opening 24 games of the 2012-13 season before a shoulder injury ended his run March 9. He had stabilization surgery on both shoulders within a span of a few weeks in April and has looked good in camp. The acquisition of center Matt Cullen gives Trotz a veteran player who is capable of moving to wing. Wilson played center at Boston University for two seasons, so he is accustomed to the role, just not on the NHL level.
"I could move Wilson and Cullen," Trotz said. "If there was an injury to one of our four centers, he would certainly get a good look. If we played an 82-game season last year, I think Colin would have went to the middle a little bit, so at some point we'll put him there."
3. Don't expect the defensive pairings to remain the same very long. Trotz acknowledged his top seven along the blue line entering preseason are Ellis, Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Kevin Klein, Seth Jones, Victor Bartley and Mattias Ekholm.
"[Joonas] Jarvinen is a big, physical kid who could push for time this year, as will Bryan Rodney," Trotz said. "I think with the three veteran guys we have (Weber, Josi and Klein), you might not see Josi and Weber playing together all the time (as was the case in 2012-13). They'll have to move around with different partners. Some nights you might see Josi and Klein together, and then it might be Josi with Jones or Ekholm and Ellis with Weber."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer
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