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Top Shelf: Preds' playoff, B's bright future and where'll Schneider go?

Shea Weber leads an exemplary 'D' corps in Nashville. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Shea Weber leads an exemplary 'D' corps in Nashville. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

One week from now, we’ll all be reveling in the joyous madness of the start of Round 1.

Here are a couple thoughts to keep us warm until then.

• The Nashville Predators are worth keeping an eye on when the post-season begins. There’s a good chance they’ll draw the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round and the Yotes – bless their little overachieving hearts – are probably still the top-four team to face in the West given your druthers.

The perception is Nashville can’t score enough to do serious damage, but its offense actually ranks right in the middle of the NHL pack. The Preds average 2.68 goals per game, just behind Ottawa and Detroit.

Jason Arnott is expected to return from a concussion on Wednesday night in Phoenix and while nobody will confuse Denis Grebeshkov with Mike Green, it looks like the (slightly) offense-minded defenseman could return for Game 1 of the playoffs.

It’s from the blueline back that Nashville really shines. For whatever alterations the post-season has undergone post-lockout, teams that can grind it out will always have a place.

And if any squad screams grind, it’s the Preds.
 
• You’d never get Boston GM Peter Chiarelli to admit it, but he’s got to be more concerned with how the Toronto Maple Leafs fare these days than the Bruins. It would take a sizable stumble for the Bruins to slip out of a playoff spot, but either way, this clearly wasn’t the B’s year.

The revenue from a couple home playoff dates aside, what’s the best-case scenario for Boston in the first round? Push one of the top teams to six games? If you think Nashville doesn’t get enough goals, you should take a look at the Bruins’ last-place offense, which nets just 2.35 goals per game.

Big picture, though, things still look very good in Beantown, largely thanks to the Leafs. Rookie goalie Tuukka Rask, acquired from Toronto for Andrew Raycroft nearly four years ago, leads the league in both save percentage (.930) and goals-against average (1.99).

Thanks to the Phil Kessel trade, Boston also holds Toronto’s first pick in this year’s draft. The Leafs are 29th in the NHL right now and if they don’t climb up from that position, there’s a decent chance Boston drafts as high as No. 1 overall.

But the Leafs are just two points back of both Tampa Bay and Florida with two games remaining. Boston is getting a great prospect either way, (and maybe another one next year), but the difference between drafting Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin in one of the first two slots versus what you’ll get with the third, fourth or fifth pick is pronounced.

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If I’m a Bruins backer, I’ve written this season off as a blip on the development radar and I’m far more concerned with the macro view. From that angle, it’s much more crucial the Leafs finish 29th than the Bruins finish eighth.

• As a person who’s seen Cory Schneider play a handful of times over the past couple years, I’m curious to know what the future holds for the 24-year-old goalie.

With Roberto Luongo on a lifetime deal in Vancouver, it’s hard to believe Schneider’s professional aspirations can be fully achieved within that organization.

He doesn’t have overwhelming American League numbers this year, but they’re solid once again. What I took away most from the last time I saw him play about a week ago is how calm he looks in the net. If you can play fantastic goal without appearing frantic, you’re on to something. Schneider certainly has that going for him.

We’ve just seen Jimmy Howard emerge as an NHL-caliber netminder after four years in the AHL and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Schneider, who’s completing the third year of a minor-league apprenticeship, is the next puckstopper to traverse the same path.

The only question is, with what team?

Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursday and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesday.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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