Last season, the biggest story for the Nashville Predators was rookie goaltender Pekka Rinne. Despite starting the season in a limited role, Rinne outplayed starter Dan Ellis and earned himself the starting position in late December. Throughout his rookie season, Rinne posted stellar numbers. He finished the year with a 29-15-4 record, .917 save percentage and a 2.38 goals against average. He also posted 7 shutouts in his 49 starts. This season, Rinne will start between the pipes, and should help the Predators get off to a strong start.
Along with the young goalie, Nashville returns their same top line of Martin Erat, JP Dumont, and Jason Arnott. Last season, the trio combined for 66 goals, 106 assists and a total of 172 points. In order for Nashville to improve this season, these guys are going to have to increase their productivity.
After struggling recently with a back injury, the Predators are also hoping for a healthy season for winger Steve Sullivan. His age might soon become a factor in decreased production, but last season Sullivan proved that if healthy, he can still be counted on for some big points. In 41 games last season, he recorded 11 goals and 21 assists for 32 points. Not too shabby after missing the entire 2007-08 season, and the first half of last season as well. Sullivan is fresh off a brand new two year contract as well, and can definitely play around a point per game average if he stays healthy.
Defensively, the Predators are in need of a couple stronger players for added depth. The first defensive pair will be relatively strong with Shea Weber and Ryan Suter leading the way. Weber should prove to be quite effective on the power play again this season. Last year he chipped in 10 goals and 9 assists on the power play. Beyond that, the Predators will feature Dan Hamhuis on the second defensive unit, and two rookies, Cody Franson and Alexander Sulzer, on the third unit.
Success this season for the Predators will be largely based on the play of rookie goaltender Pekka Rinne. If he plays as well as last year, Nashville might be able to overcome their defensive and scoring deficiencies to squeeze into a playoff spot during the end of the season.