It will be a special season with some changes. The fact that Roman Josi plays a formative role should remain the same. The Bernese is leading the Nashville Predators as captain for the fourth season. He does so as the winner of the Norris Trophy, which is given annually to the best defender in the NHL. Despite the outstanding performance of Josi, the Predators failed in the pre-playoffs against the Arizona Coyotes (1: 3). Since moving into the Stanley Cup final in 2017, the team from Tennessee has only won one playoff series. Luca Sbisa from Zug, who had previously been placed on the waiver list by the Winnipeg Jets, was brought in as reinforcement.
“Our main goal is to be one of the hardest working teams in the league again,” said Josi. “We have gotten away from this identity in the last few years.” That will be necessary for Nashville to reach the crucial championship phase for the seventh time in a row. The Predators will not only face defending champions Tampa Bay Lightning in the Central Division, but also defeated finalists Dallas Stars. Josi likes the new set-up – the Predators meet the same opponent twice in a row.
The 30-year-old is ready for the new season and has worked with a skills coach on “improving various aspects of my game.” Finally, the eyes are now even more focused on him. The fact that he is expected to become a father for the first time in February should give him an additional boost. In this respect, Josi found it positive to be at home a lot, but now he’s really looking forward to the start of the season.
Kuraschew and Suter: before the debut?
In the same division as Nashville are the Columbus Blue Jackets with Dean Kukan, the Carolina Hurricanes with Nino Niederreiter and the Chicago Blackhawks with Philipp Kuraschew and Pius Suter. The latter two could make their first appearances in the best league in the world. Suter should get a chance right at the beginning. Coach Jeremy Colliton particularly values his versatility – he can be used both as a center and as a wing. Kuraschew also convinced in the short preparation and scored two goals in an internal training game, but he must be patient.
Niederreiter wants to forget the unsatisfactory last season with twelve goals in 74 games. “It was my weakest season in a long time,” said the 28-year-old from Graubünden self-critically. In preparation, he focused on becoming faster and more agile; he mounted smaller blades on the ice skate.
Fiala: on the way to becoming a star?
Kevin Fiala, who works for the Minnesota Wild, and Timo Meier of the San Jose Sharks meet in the West Division. Fiala is one of ten candidates on the German NHL website who could join the league’s stars in the new season. The 24-year-old from eastern Switzerland was the game’s best scorer in the previous championship, although he only managed one assist in the first eight games. He then started with 23 goals and 30 assists in 56 encounters. In the pre-playoffs against the Vancouver Canucks (1: 3) he scored three goals and one assist.
Against Vancouver, however, he also got a foretaste of what should await him now, as the Canucks players tried to throw him off the ground with provocations, which partially succeeded. In this regard, he now wants to take the next step: “I have to be mentally strong if someone tries to get under my skin.” Fiala then wants to keep her concentration high and stay out of the penalty box.
Meier: first game in ten months
Meier and the Sharks look back on a disappointing season. No team in the Western Conference was worse before the interruption, which is why the Californians themselves missed the pre-playoffs. The 24-year-old Herisauer fought the last serious fight on March 11th. He used the long time to work on his physique.
It seems to be paying off, at least Bob Boughner, the Sharks coach, thought he was in great shape when he arrived in San Jose. Meier is now to take on a leadership role in the team, and veteran Joe Thornton finally moved to the Toronto Maple Leafs. “There have to be several leaders in the cloakroom who do their part for success. I’m looking forward to this opportunity,” said Meier.
Hischier: into the NHL playoffs for the second time?
One can also look forward to Nico Hischier, who in his fourth season with the New Jersey Devils wants to reach the playoffs for the second time after 2018. For that to happen, the number 1 draft of 2017 will have to raise its level. Most recently, his average points per game was 0.62, after 0.63 and 0.68 in the first two seasons. In return, the 22-year-old from Valais increased the number of bullys won (51.7 percent, previously 45.2).
With Lindy Ruff, there is a new head coach at the Devils gang. “We need a better start and we have to improve the details,” is Hischier’s recipe for success. He himself would like to be a leader and, if necessary, speak more next to the ice. However, it is questionable whether he will be available to New Jersey in the opening game on Friday night against the Boston Bruins. Hischier sustained an injury to his foot during an ice training session in early December. Goalie number 3 for the Devils is Gilles Senn from Valais.
Haas: absent at the start of the season
Gaëtan Haas from the Edmonton Oilers, who tested positive for the corona virus at the end of December, is certainly not there at the start of the season. Jonas Siegenthaler is also unlikely to be used by the Washington Capitals, he is probably number 7 in the hierarchy of defenders.
Like Sbisa, Sven Bärtschi (Vancouver Canucks) was also put on the waiver list. The 28-year-old from Langenthal had already mostly stormed in the AHL last season. But maybe he will come to NHL missions due to the uncertain situation. In any case, there are four to six reserve players in each team – the so-called “taxi squad”. These players train with the NHL teams but do not count towards the salary cap. If necessary, they can be used at short notice.
Updated after moving from Sbisa to the Predators