No. 1: Nashville Predators
This isn’t all about the team acquiring P.K. Subban in the biggest fleecing of a trade since … Anthony Rizzo for Andrew Cashner? But a lot of it is. Subban is just that good. And he’s just what Nashville needed.
As much as Montreal liked to pretend Subban was a locker room and on-ice cancer, the defenseman is known as a great guy off the ice and one of the game’s better players on it. He’ll bring a win-now mentality to the Preds. He’ll also bring solid speed, great instincts in all three segments of the ice, strong offensive production, strong puck possession, a Norris Trophy … eh, I should just cut it off here.
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But it doesn’t start and end with Subban. Roman Josi was arguably better than now-departed Shea Weber last season, maybe even the last two seasons. He’s defensively stout and turning into an offensive force, especially on the man-advantage. And he’s just 26 years old.
Ryan Ellis will give you some points and some really quiet-but-effective defense. Mattias Ekholm is coming into his own offensively and has no problem turning defensive-zone starts into offense for his team. Yannick Weber has struggled but could benefit from a change of scenery, and the triumvirate of Anthony Bitetto, Matt Carle and Matt Irwin will fill 6D. Not great, but easily overshadowed by what’s above it.
There are two really terrifying parts about the Preds, from an opposing perspective. First, their big guns are all in their mid-20s. AKA, they’re just now reaching their prime, and they’ll hit that after having a season or two to gel together.
Secondly, this group is playing under the go-go direction of Peter Laviolette. The coach isn’t a genius, but his up-tempo direction will make this defense a terror on the offensive side. And it won’t be a slouch defending the goal. The Preds, at this point in time, have the best team defense in the Central Division for 2016-17.