The Nashville Predators and the rest of the NHL are still waiting to find out exactly when the 2020-21 season will begin.

The latest is that the season will begin on January 1st, but without any training camp dates set or even a game schedule, that seems unlikely.

But have no fear, Preds fans, it does seem like the NHL is determined to make a 2020-21 season happen. Much like last year’s abbreviated, bubble playoff setup, the NHL cannot afford to postpone the season. It needs to bring hockey back and I think they will do everything they can to make it happen.

In the meantime, the Preds are still trying to round out what their roster will look like. David Poile did a lot to upgrade the Preds’ defense, and a little to upgrade the offense, but they still have around $12 million in cap space to spend if they want to.

It doesn’t seem like Poile is likely to spend any of that money, but you never know what players might fall into his lap before the season actually gets going. And you also never know which players already on the roster might exceed expectations next year.

With that in mind, here’s a look at some top breakout candidates for the Nashville Predators next year.

Matt Benning

Matt Benning was a very underrated blueliner for the Edmonton Oilers last year. He provided minimal minutes, but he was very productive when he was on the ice, especially compared to the rest of the Oilers’ defense.

Most Oilers fans would probably have preferred to keep Benning, but Edmonton had cap concerns that made losing him almost a guarantee.

And now he lands in Nashville in a perfect situation.

With Dan Hamhuis retired and Yannick Weber gone, Benning is going to take over a significant portion of the 3rd pairing minutes. He will step in as the right-handed option, probably playing with veteran Mark Borowiecki.

Benning should get around 14-15 minutes a night on defense, and probably net somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 points (on an 82-game season average). He has significant offensive upside, but he’s better seen as a two-way defenseman that can get it done at both ends. He isn’t going to become Ryan Ellis or Roman Josi, but he could easily become what Preds fans have wanted out of Dante Fabbro.

In fact, there’s an outside chance that Benning comes in and outplays Fabbro, taking over his spot in the top four. This would make Benning a cost-effective top four blueliner who could develop a perfect partnership with Mattias Ekholm.

Yakov Trenin

Yakov Trenin is one of the Nashville Predators’ longest developing prospects in recent history. These days in the NHL, if you aren’t contributing to the club that drafted you within about four years, you are likely not going to. But Trenin’s path challenges that norm.

Drafted in 2015, he’s spent most of his pro career in the QMJHL (Gatineau) and AHL (Milwaukee), developing his game very similarly to guys like Colton Sissons, Viktor Arvidsson, Miikka Salomaki, and Frederick Gaudreau. But when the Preds started making playoff runs and developing young players (like those just mentioned) and Trenin wasn’t a part of it, the writing was on the wall.

Then, all of a sudden, a break through.

Called up in December 2019, and then scoring his first NHL goal in his second game, Trenin quickly found a role on the Preds’ fourth line. Playing mostly with Colton Sissons and Colin Blackwell, Trenin played with tenacity on the forecheck and on defense. With the rest of the Preds lineup struggling to stop anyone on defense, Trenin was a force at both ends.

In every start for the Nashville Predators last year, he looked like he belonged on NHL ice… which is more than I can say for several other Preds forwards (some of which are no longer in town).

Trenin finished with two goals and four assists in 21 games last year. That calculates to a .29 points per game average, which is actually quite solid for a fourth line player. Look for him to either continue or improve on that average this season, while also bringing plenty of energy and speed to the Preds’ lineup every night.

Eeli Tolvanen

This is going to be the year, folks.

(Or it isn’t)

If ever there was going to be a breakout year for Eeli Tolvanen, it’s this one. Under John Hynes, and with the current roster as it’s constructed, Tolvanen finally has the one thing he never really got under Peter Laviolette: opportunity.

Based on remarks by David Poile and the Preds’ coaching staff, Tolvanen is going to get a legitimate shot at the roster in training camp. And with Kyle Turris gone and Craig Smith now in Boston, there is a gaping hole on the 2nd line right next to Matt Duchene.

What better situation for Tolvanen than to step into a 2nd line “shoot first” role on the wing of one of the team’s best playmaking centers?

Eeli Tolvanen Nashville Predators
Tolvanen should find plenty of room on the outside playing with Matt Duchene. Image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports

The narrative of Tolvanen’s development needs little context for most Preds fans. He was one of the most highly touted offensive players ever drafted by Nashville in 2017. His debut in 2018, after leaving the KHL at the end of a crazy KHL playoff run with Jokerit, was as decorated as any Preds prospect.

And since then, he’s played in only seven games and scored exactly one goal.

While you can probably attribute most of his stunted development to Peter Laviolette, Tolvanen hasn’t exactly blown up the AHL. He’s scored 36 goals in 121 games for the Admirals, which is the type of production you’d expect from a bottom six, two-way type forward, not an elite shooting winger.

But like I said, now Tolvanen has a real opportunity to show what he can do in the NHL. This will be his biggest test and most likely the season where he shows if he belongs in this league.

Personally, I think he will be great for the Preds this year. He should be able to replace Craig Smith’s production, which would put Tolvanen somewhere in the neighborhood of 180-200 shots on goal and around 20 goals (again, this is on an 82-game average).

Of all the players mentioned in this article, I would give Eeli Tolvanen the biggest chance of breaking out for the Nashville Predators this year. He will finally show Preds fans what all the hype was about and bring another level to the Preds offense that they didn’t see last year.

— Featured image via James Carey Lauder/USA TODAY Sports —
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