The Nashville Predators are approaching the free agent market this summer the same way many consumers are approaching the grocery store. They don’t see any bargains.
That means most of the improvement for the Predators this next season will have to come from players already in the system or through a possible trade scenario.
Paul Fenton, Predators assistant general manager, stresses that there are a lot of roster moves ahead for the team. But he sees several players who spent last season with the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League as being close or ready to make the move to the NHL on a regular basis.
Two defensemen, Alexander Sulzer and Cody Franson, will have to distinguish themselves in an already crowded field, barring a trade or two. Center Cal O’Reilly and center Rich Peverley are also possible.
“We are not in a situation where we have to rush anybody,” Fenton said. “We are not going to put them in a situation where they can’t succeed.
“We are going to see where we are when the dust settles and see what our needs are. We would like to have a couple of positions available with the Predators that these young guys can compete for this season.”
Peverley got the longest look this season with the Predators, but O’Reilly could also be ready to move to a higher level of competition. One drawback is his size, 6-feet, 187 pounds.
“O’Reilly’s playmaking ability is in a special category,” Fenton said. “You don’t find guys who can make soft touch passes and have the vision that he has in the fifth round very often.
“He has the ability to play in the NHL. Does he have the physical stature? He still has to find that out. We are hoping he continues to put strength on more than size. If he can apply more strength to his game he certainly has a chance to play here.”
Peverley improved each time he was recalled. He saw playing time in the Stanley Cup playoffs before returning to Milwaukee to finish the season.
“I think you saw the real Rich Peverley in the latter part of the season and the playoffs,” Fenton said. “He believes in himself. And until they believe that they belong they can’t take that next step.
“He came up here and was productive. He helped us win games, no question. Hopefully, the mental part is now behind him and he accepts that he is an NHL player and he will come in here and be one.”
Fenton stressed the Predators would have no problem allowing Franson to play another season at Milwaukee. But he thinks that within two years Franson will be wearing a Predators jersey.
“Cody is one of our top prospects,” Fenton said. “He is a 6-foot-5 puck-moving defenseman. His shot selection on the power play is great. We will get by with what we have got until he is ready to play.”
Sulzer injured his groin late in the season. He was drafted in 2003.
“He has matured very well, Fenton said. “He was in our top defensive pairing at Milwaukee. He was our shut-down guy. He came over here from the German League.
“If he had not been injured you might have seen him play some games in Nashville. He is a very well-rounded defenseman with great leadership capabilities.”
GEOFFRION IMPROVING: Center Blake Geoffrion, a native of Brentwood, Tenn., showed marked improvement in his second season at the University of Wisconsin.
“He took another stride towards his goal to play here in Nashville,” Fenton said. “He had a limited role in his freshman year. As a sophomore he was one of the top forwards for Wisconsin. He has been named one of the captains for next year. We anticipate him playing another year or two at Wisconsin.”