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Posted by Ryan Porth Labels: Nashville Predators
This is the final post of a three-part series, in which I’ll be looking at the Nashville Predators position-by-position and how they shape up heading into the off-season. Today we take a peak at the last line of defense…
Under contract for 10/11:
Prospects on the horizon:
Back in February while the hockey world was focused on the Winter Olympiad, GM David Poile was able to lock up Pekka Rinne to a two-year, $6.8 million extension. By doing so, the organization made it clear that it is Rinne’s crease for the present and future. Once he returned from vacationing in his homeland Finland, Rinne was a different goalie between the pipes than Pred Nation had seen in the first three-fourths of the season.
‘Peks’ put the Predators on his back and virtually carried them to their fourth postseason bid in the last five years. He compiled a 1.96 goals against in the final few weeks, along with a 12-4-1 record. And while he didn’t have the best playoff debut, ‘Peks’ did all he could against an uber-talented Blackhawks club.
Looking ahead to next season and beyond, you can’t help but think he’s only going to get better. In his first two seasons in the league, he was part of a committee with Dan Ellis for the first half of the season. As we’ve seen down the stretch in his young career, Rinne is capable of being lights-out in net as he settles into a groove of playing every other day.
Assuming Rinne is the clear-cut number one for the bulk of next season, there’s no reason to believe he can’t become a candidate for the Vezina Trophy. Why, you ask? Well ‘Peks’ has 14 shutouts in his first two seasons (which is pretty darn good). Also, like I previously alluded to, he plays much better – and is more consistent – when in the routine of playing every game.
With a team that plays solid team defense in front of him, Rinne should be able to creep into Vezina contention in the next couple years.
The odd-man out of this equation is Dan Ellis. In all likelihood, he will part ways with Nashville as an unrestricted free agent this summer. There is a small chance he could come back, but why bother when Rinne is ‘the man’?
Ellis, who was signed three years back to compete with Rinne as a backup to then-starter Chris Mason, has performed beyond expectations here in Music City. Ellis had only played in one NHL game (with Dallas) prior to signing on with the Preds.
In his first year in Nashville, Ellis stole the starter’s job from Mason with an excellent season. He racked up 23 wins and 6 shutouts as the ‘1B-goalie’, leading the team to a playoff berth against Detroit – in which he performed admirably.
While he didn’t quite take the next step after the 2007/08 campaign, Ellis was a favorite among fans on and off the ice – especially on Twitter! His presence will ‘absolutely’ be missed in Nashville.
So if Rinne is the starter and Ellis takes off for bigger and better things, who slides into the backup role? Good question… one that Poile probably doesn’t even know an answer to yet! The popular belief is that prospect Mark Dekanich will fill that role. Why not? He has put together back-to-back quality campaigns in Milwaukee, and seems to be ready to make the NHL leap.
Knowing Poile, though, he’ll likely bring in a journeyman backup in training camp to push Dekanich. Guys like Yann Danis, Andrew Raycroft, or Alex Auld would make sense if Poile believes Dekanich isn’t ready. Or maybe there’s a Dan Ellis-type free agent sitting there in August – ready to pounce on an opportunity – that would entice Poile.
Whatever the case, the backup job is a bit of a question mark heading into the off-season.
Dekanich is just one of a talented group of goaltending prospects in the Predators’ system. One of the reasons why I’d like to see him up with the big club next year is so Chet Pickard can get more playing time at the AHL level. Pickard was the 17th overall pick in the 2008 draft, and has a ton of potential. He struggled in his first pro season (14-16-3, 2.85 GAA), though, and will need to show progress next year.
Others in the fold are Jeremy Smith (led the Cincinnati Cyclones to ECHL title), Anders Lindback (Swedish Elite League standout), and Atte Engren (led TPS Turku of SM-Liiga to league title). While all three possess solid potential and have had success early on in their young careers, none of them have an NHL-ceiling like Pickard’s.
Poile and his staff have done a fabulous job of drafting goaltenders over the last few years; Rinne, Lindback, and Engren were all selected in the seventh round or later.
Well, Preds fans, I hope you enjoyed the three-rung preview of the team’s off-season. Be sure to come by Friday to check the Predators’ ‘30 teams in 30 days’ feature!
Photo credit: Getty Images
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