Last season the goaltending for the Nashville Predators was surprising on a number of levels.
Chris Mason, who appeared to be the heir apparent as the No. 1 goaltender after Tomas Vokoun was traded to the Florida Panthers, played inconsistently and lost the starting job at the end of the season to newcomer Dan Ellis. After playing his first full season in the NHL, Ellis signed a two-year deal with the Predators.
Now Ellis is expected to start in goal this season with Pekka Rinne serving as the backup. Mason ended up being traded to the St. Louis Blues to open roster room to sign Ellis.
“I’m excited for Dan,” said Predators goaltender coach Mitch Korn. “He’s another millionaire the Predators have created.
“He’s another guy like Mase, and to an extent like Vokoun, [who] was rescued. All of those guys took the opportunity, did a magnificent job, and at the end of the day have made great livings.”
There have been concerns that Ellis might be a one-season wonder. Ellis led the NHL with a .924 save percentage. In his final 26 games he was 17-6-3. He was the started in all six Stanley Cup playoff games with Detroit, posting a .938 save percentage and a 2.52 goals against average. But Korn is adamant that Ellis is going to be a solid starter in net again this season.
“Dan does too many things well,” Korn said. “And Mase is going to have a great year in St. Louis. He is working on his game right now.”
Korn also thinks that Rinne is ready to play in the NHL this season.
“Pekka has the right temperament,” Korn said. “We just want to make sure we use him right to let him get momentum. Having momentum is so important.
“Think about how Dan started for us last season. Dan started with momentum. I am a strong believer in momentum.”
Jeremy Smith is in the pipeline, but he has to play another year in junior hockey with Plymouth. Chet Pickard, drafted this summer in the first round, also has one more year to play in juniors.
Mark Dekanich, who attended the development camp this past week for the Predators, is expected to fill one of the goaltending spots with the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League. Dekanich played last season for Colgate in the ECAC.
“Dekanich has the possibility of being in Milwaukee along with whoever we sign as our so-called No. 3 goalie,” Korn said. “Dekanich will battle for the No. 4 spot based on whether or not we sign five goaltenders. We signed five last season, but that was the first time we had done that.”
DEVELOPMENT WEEK: The Predators coaches got a close look at their prospects this past week. The development camp is not an audition camp, but it is a chance to the coaching staff and front office staff to evaluate prospects and mark their progress.
“At this point it is all about getting them to understand the National Hockey League, especially the Nashville Predators and our culture. It is real productive week for the players. We try to give them a grasp of what to expect.”
FREE AGENCY: The free agent period begins today, but the Predators probably won’t make a big splash in terms of a major signing.
The needs include a veteran goaltender that would be the No.3 goaltender on the depth chart, but would be the primary netminder with the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League.
The Predators might also add an enforcer of some sort to replace the departed Darcy Hordichuk.
They also need a forward capable of playing on one of the top two lines, but that will more likely be obtained as the result of a trade.