As we inch closer and closer to actual live playoff NHL hockey, the Nashville Predators are putting the finishing touches on their training camp in preparation for the Arizona Coyotes.

To preview this series, I’m bringing you the top 5 players from each team based on talent alone. Part one featured everyone’s favorite Swedish winger, and today will feature the Preds’ highest paid free agent acquisition in history.

Preds #4: Matt Duchene

Strangely enough, in Matt Duchene’s 11 year career, he’s only made it to the postseason three times. His most successful run came last year with the Columbus Blue Jackets, where he scored 10 points in 10 games and he played a huge role in the Blue Jackets’ shocking upset of the Lightning in the first round.

If that trend continues for Duchene, the Preds are in for a real treat. A point per game player in the playoffs would be a God-send for a team that struggled to score against the Dallas Stars last year.

But Duchene’s regular season this year was a bit disappointing, considering his price tag.

He finished 3rd on the Preds in points with 42, scoring 13 goals and 29 assists. That’s not exactly top line center numbers. He came out of the gate hot, scoring 17 points in the Preds’ first 20 games, but then cooled off considerably, scoring only 25 points in the final 46 games.

Between December and March, a huge three and a half month chunk of the Preds’ regular season, Matt Duchene scored only six goals. For a guy that was brought in to provide offense, that’s a disappointment.

Duchene did finish with a career low 9.6 shooting percentage, which could indicate some poor puck luck. His individual expected goal rate per hour this season was .63, which was good for 7th best on the team and three spots ahead of fellow high priced center Ryan Johansen.

So if the Preds want to get their money’s worth out of the $50 million they paid for Matt Duchene last summer, they need him to put up some points quickly in this series. He’s been training on a line with Kyle Turris, another guy who has to prove his worth to the Preds, so maybe both players can capitalize on an important opportunity.

Prediction: 1 goal, 2 assists in the series

Coyotes #4: Oliver Ekman-Larsson

Arguably the Coyotes’ best defenseman ever (I doubt Chris Pronger counts?), Oliver Ekman-Larsson has been a force on the blueline for Arizona since around 2011. He’s a very well balanced defenseman: great offensive skills, good size, excellent defensive awareness, and good speed.

If there were an award for most underrated defenseman in the league, Ekman-Larsson would be a finalist every year.

Even though he hasn’t been a huge part of the Coyotes’ offense this season, finishing with only 30 points and behind fellow blueliner Alex Goligoski’s 32 points, he’s still a huge talent on the Coyotes that the Preds need to worry about.

Ekman-Larsson is 2nd on the team in even strength minutes behind Goligoski, 4th on the team in power play minutes (1st among defensemen), and 4th on the team in penalty kill minutes (2nd among defensemen). With such a well balanced approach to the game, Ekman-Larsson is relied upon to do everything. He’s the Coyotes’ Roman Josi equivalent, and he’s not far behind Josi in overall talent.

Prediction:  3 assists in the series

— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —
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