Updated: January 16, 2013, 1:01 PM ET
Matt Kartozian/US Presswire Shea Weber will have a big adjustment to make this season without his partner Ryan Suter.

Predators: Five Things You Need To Know

By Craig Custance

It was their best shot in franchise history at winning a Stanley Cup. The Nashville Predators had everything last spring. A defensive duo in Ryan Suter and Shea Weber better than any in the league. They had goaltending in Pekka Rinne, who was impenetrable in the first round against the Detroit Red Wings. There was playoff experience and trade deadline additions like Hal Gill and Paul Gaustad, who strengthened Nashville's weaknesses.

"To this point, I thought that was as good a chance as any," coach Barry Trotz told ESPN The Magazine.

They beat the Red Wings in the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, so it wasn't a complete failure.

"We sort of slayed that dragon," Trotz said.

But expectations have evolved in Nashville under the careful direction of Trotz, GM David Poile and assistant GM Paul Fenton. There's one mandate now in Nashville, and that's to win a Stanley Cup. It made the upset loss to the Phoenix Coyotes in the second round tough to swallow. A summer in which Shea Weber signed an offer sheet to leave and Suter actually left didn't make it any easier.

It brings us to this season and the challenge that comes with falling short of lofty goals and finding the reserve to continue plowing ahead. That's the biggest challenge in Nashville, but not the only one.

1. Roman Josi Replacing Ryan Suter
It won't be a seamless transition to a world without Suter and Weber shutting down the opposing team's best players, but Nashville is optimistic Josi is ready for the extra responsibility. During his rookie season, he had five goals and 11 assists, although he was held without a point during the playoffs. Like all young Nashville players, he's prepared with seasoning in the AHL. He also has loads of international experience in Switzerland. "Roman is comparable to [Suter]'s style of play," Trotz said. "[At the same age], Roman and [Suter] weren't too different in terms of overall effectiveness." It's on a much smaller scale than Suter, but the team will miss the quiet contributions of defenseman Francis Bouillon, who was reunited with Michel Therrien in Montreal.

2. Pekka Rinne Ready For Workload
There were many goalies who opted to wait out the lockout rather than play in Europe, but Rinne kept busy. He played in the KHL, then returned to Finland to train. He led the NHL with 73 starts last season, then played in another ten during the playoffs. Nashville certainly rode him down the stretch, which is what he prefers. "He's a high workload guy," Trotz said. Nashville brought back Chris Mason to serve as his backup and, during a condensed and travel-heavy Western Conference schedule, he'll get time, but Rinne is now the biggest strength of this team, and Nashville will ride him again if it has to. "We're going to go by the seat of our pants a little bit," Trotz said.

3. More Youth Needs To Emerge
At the start of last season, the Predators were one of the youngest teams in the league, and Rinne helped carry the team through some of the growing pains. For the Predators to remain in the playoff mix, one of the young players like Colin Wilson or Ryan Ellis has to emerge as a consistent contributor. Ellis got more seasoning during the lockout in Milwaukee, where he played 20 games, but missed time with a wrist injury. He put up nine points in the AHL, and Trotz singled him out as a guy who was helped by the extra development. "He really benefited from that," Trotz said. There's always one player in Nashville who emerges from Milwaukee to make contributions, and Trotz mentioned Mattias Ekholm, Taylor Beck, Austin Watson and Michael Latta as players who stood out to him at different times during the lockout.

4. Familiarity A Plus
Buffalo's Lindy Ruff is the NHL's longest-tenured coach, but Trotz isn't too far behind. He's created a culture in Nashville in which every single player on that roster knows what to expect and how to play the Predators' way. With no exhibition games and a shortened camp, there's an early advantage for the Predators, who had very little roster turnover from last year to this year. They re-signed two of the players acquired at the trade deadline in Gill and Gaustad, so that further eases the transition. They're also very experienced down the middle with Mike Fisher, David Legwand and Gaustad. While other teams scramble to learn new systems and develop chemistry, that won't be an issue for the Predators.

5. Sneaky-Good Power Play
When you think of the Predators, you don't think of offensive firepower, but Nashville's power play was No. 1 in the league last year, converting at a rate of 21.6 percent. Their PK also snuck into the NHL's top 10, giving them a nightly special teams advantage during the regular season. Now, you can't ignore the departure of Suter, who led the team with 291:46 in total power play icetime during the regular season, but there's obvious chemistry among some of the other regulars like Weber, Patric Hornqvist, Legwand and Martin Erat. "We have everybody back on our two units other than Ryan Suter," Trotz said. "He's a pretty good player and made things happen for us. Hopefully, Josi and Ellis -- they can pick up some of the offense that [Suter] provided."

Craig Custance covers the NHL for ESPN The Magazine.


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