With the National Hockey League requiring all teams to submit their final 23-man rosters at 4pm Central today, the Nashville Predators have made their final decisions. Players are listed in alphabetical order, grouped by position:
Nick Bonino (non-roster)
Ryan Ellis (non-roster)
Gaudreau and Kamenev were the only players who could be assigned to the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL without having to clear waivers first. Also, Bonino and Ellis have been designated “non-roster.” The Preds are carrying 22 active players, one shy of the maximum, allowing for flexibility headed into Thursday.
The biggest surprise is that blue-chip prospect Samuel Girard has made the team. He was the last cut last year and followed it up with a dominating season for the Shawinigan Cataractes, tallying 75 points in 59 games and winning the Emile Bouchard Trophy as the QMJHL’s Defenseman of the Year. Girard is 19 and, due to the NHL-CBA agreement, isn’t eligible to be assigned to Milwaukee. He must either make the big club or be returned to his junior team. Also of note, once the Preds send him back to junior, he’s stuck there until the end of his season, whether that comes as soon as possible by Shawinigan not making the playoffs or as late as possible by winning the Memorial Cup. That said, they can play him up to nine times without burning a year of his entry-level contract.
Keeping a 19-year old is an interesting move. Does he have anything left to prove in junior? Probably not but it raises other questions. Are they trying to see what they have in Girard? Considering the limited roster space, did he really earn a spot over seasoned NHL veterans like Weber or Bitetto? Or is it something else entirely?
Nashville has long been rumored to be interested in Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene. Could they be showcasing Girard for a possible trade? Playing him for (up to) nine games elongates the window in order to make that trade, assuming Colorado only wants a piece who can play for them now because, once they send him back to junior, he’d be unavailable for the majority of the season.
One of the veteran guys considered on the outside looking in when training camp started was Salomaki. Not only did he play well in every game he appeared in during the exhibition but he also potted four goals, leading the team. His status may be surprising as he was on the NHL roster last year around this time but the 2011 second round pick suffered an injury in the second game of the campaign and then again during a reconditioning stint in Milwaukee.
“He’s been great,” Austin Watson said. “After being injured all last year, to see him come in and have the jump that he has, scoring goals and being effective, it’s great to see.”
Another guy attacked by the injury bug was Bitteto. Like Salomaki, he got hurt early last season and rarely saw action afterward. By all accounts, his being on the bubble had nothing to do with performance but, more so, the sheer volume of NHL defensemen on the roster. With Josi, Subban, Ellis and Ekholm making up the top four and the acquisition of Emelin from the Vegas Golden Knights to take Ellis’ place while he’s out, Bitetto was one of five vying for the final available spots.
“Last year was obviously tough,” Bitetto said. “I went through a lot. I learned a lot. I think my biggest thing coming in was try to be confident and play my game. I can’t try to be anybody but myself and I think I’ve done that.”
Aberg, another guy with a strong performance in the playoffs, appears to have made the roster but probably won’t see ice time on opening night. He did not exactly get glowing reviews from Laviolette after today’s practice.
Laviolette describes Pontus Aberg as a player “who needs to work to show he belongs in the lineup.” #Preds
— Thomas Willis (@TomAWillis) October 3, 2017
Opening night is Thursday, October 5 in Boston as they take on the Bruins. You can hear all the action, all season long, on 102.5 The Game, the flagship of the Western Conference Champions.
PHOTO CREDIT: Brooks Bratten // Nashville Predators Hockey Club