Rinne: Saros is the 'backbone' of the Predators

John Russell / National Hockey League / Getty

Former Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne is having a great time watching Juuse Saros seamlessly fill his shoes in the Music City.

"I knew one day he was going to be the No. 1 goalie, and not only (Nashville's) No. 1 goalie, but one of the best goalies in the league, and he proved that last year," the franchise legend said, according to NHL.com's Zach Gilchriest. "He's the backbone of this team, and obviously, just as a friend, I'm very proud of him.

"It's fun to watch him, and obviously, like everybody else, I'm expecting big things from him this year, and he looks great. I'm just always impressed when I see him skate."

Rinne served as the face of the organization himself for 15 seasons. The Finn retired last July, ending his playing career with 369 wins and 60 shutouts across 683 games. He captured the Vezina Trophy in 2018 and was a finalist on three other occasions.

Now, Nashville seems to have another perennial Vezina Trophy threat on its hands in Saros, who was nominated for the coveted award this past season after logging a .918 save percentage and 2.64 goals against average in 67 appearances - the most in the league.

The 27-year-old's underlying numbers were also stellar: He ranked fourth amongst all goaltenders in goals saved above average (16.9) at five-on-five, according to Evolving-Hockey.

Saros wasn't able to help the Predators fend off the Colorado Avalanche in the postseason thanks to a late-season injury, but the way he handled the frustrating situation impressed Rinne.

"It was a big disappointment for him, for sure, missing out on the playoffs. He had such a strong season and played a ton of games, and right at a key moment, he got hurt," Rinne said. "So, I'm sure mentally it was a disappointing time. But he is a pretty level-headed guy, and he knew that it was just a hurdle, and I knew he was going to bounce back."

Saros told reporters earlier this month that he was "all good" for the 2022-23 campaign.

The puck-stopper's emergence has certainly helped ease the Predators into life without Rinne, who is still serving the franchise as a special alumni advisor.

Saros will be key to Nashville's success this season, as will defenseman Roman Josi and forwards Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg, who both eclipsed the 40-goal mark for the first time in 2021-22.

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Rinne: Saros is the 'backbone' of the Predators
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