Continuing with our season previews, our hot button topic will be the Nashville defense or the “what will Nashville be like without Suter?” column.
The quick turnaround for a training camp has David Poile very pleased with the Predators chances this year since there is hardly any turnover from last season, except for the departure of Ryan Suter being the biggest factor. Poile enlisted a new member of the Gold-clad warriors in Scott Hannan while you should look for Ellis/Blum to fill in the final defensive spot of the opening night roster. Here’s our preview of what to expect from the D-core of the Predators.
SHEA WEBER – (2011-2012 stats: 19G, 30A, 49P, +21, 46PIM)
A huge contract and being without his long time defensive partner has put the responsibility of keeping Nashville a defensive stalwart solely on the shoulders of Weber. The feared blueliner was a Norris trophy finalist last season and his 19 goals tied for the league lead for a defenseman (with Erik Karlsson).
It currently looks like his partner will now be Roman Josi, a very skilled player with a likeness in play to that of Ryan Suter. It is this season that Predators fans will finally see if Shea made Ryan a better defenseman or vice versa. I’d put money on Weber to show why he’s considered a generational superstar the likes of Scott Stevens.
ROMAN JOSI – (2011-2012 stats: 5G, 11A, 16P, +1, 14PIM)
Josi will have to man up pretty quickly from last season as it is almost certain he will be the balance of the top defensive line for the Predators. It’s sink or swim for the young defensive prospect and Roman Josi seems up to the task. He has been playing overseas and in interviews appears to be very comfortable with being called upon for the yeoman’s work with Weber.
KEVIN KLEIN – (2011-2012 stats: 4G, 17A, 21P, -8, 4PIM)
Klein became a monster after his bout with the flu midway through the season last year. His play in the playoffs would have put him high on the MVP balloting if the Predators would have made it past the second round. Klein has been the whipping boy for far too long but if he can continue his solid play coming off last season and the playoffs, look for Klein to be one of the best value defenseman in the NHL. And yes, that does say only 4 PIM. Pretty impressive.
SCOTT HANNAN – (2011-2012 stats: 2G, 10A, 12P, -10, 38PIM)
Hannan will more than likely start out with Klein on the second D pair. He brings loads of experience and a hefty workload of shot blocking, something the Predators sorely miss since letting go of Zanon. Hannan is the definition of a utility defenseman and can take on some heavier ice time helping out to fill the vacant spot of Suter.
HAL GILL – (2011-2012 stats: 1g, 12a, 13p, -3, 37PIM)
Hal Gill has been an absolute joy to watch and possibly the best role model that the Predators could have for tutoring the younger players in the system. He plays excellent defense and uses his size to push people off the puck. He has Stanley Cup experience and his demeanor is a locker room attribute. Gill will head up the 3rd line on defense, but the bigger question will be who gets paired with him.
The Admiral Possibilities
RYAN ELLIS – (Current 2012-2013 stats: 2G, 7A, 9P, +2, 6PIM)
The top prospect and the one many feel will crack the opening night roster due to his play with the Predators last year, Ellis has all the potential in the world. His play is that of a Letang or Gonchar: great ice awareness, using his speed to make up for his size and a classic slap shot that finds it’s mark.
JONATHAN BLUM – (Current 2012-2013 stats: 1g, 11a, 12p, -3, 16PIM)
Blum started out last season very poorly with the Predators posting a horrendous -14 before being sent down for the rest of the season to Milwaukee. Blum is doing so-so for the Admirals this year but his numbers have yet to impress. Notice how Blum’s stock started to slip after the trade of his defensive partner Cody Franson. I still think if the Predators could have hung onto Franson that Blum/Franson might have been a forthcoming version of Weber/Suter.
MATTIAS EKHOLM – (Current 2012-2013 stats: 4g, 10a, 14p, -2, 16PIM)
Ekholm is on the shelf right now with an injury but many expect Ekholm to be with the Predators in the very near future. Tons of upside to this prospect and he continues to develop his game overseas and in the AHL. When he gets healthy, expect him to be the first call-up if the Predators get hit with any defensive injuries.
VICTOR BARTLEY – (Current 2012-2013 stats: 6g, 12a, 18p, +7, 16PIM)
While it doesn’t look like Bartley will get a sniff at the Predators training camp, he has been one of the best blueliners in the Admirals system. He plays great defense, is a nightmare for other teams on the PP, and has a great way of sneaking down the opponents boards for the odd shot on net or a rebound (sounds like Ryan Suter). However he may get another look as an injury call-up. It’s worth mentioning that he has stayed the healthiest of all the defensive core in Milwaukee.
DEFENSE PRE-SEASON GRADE: B
The Predators defense is solid through all three lines. The only reason they don’t get the full on “A” is due to the loss of Suter and the uncertainty of Josi and in turn the rest of the defense stepping up to cover the absence of a great defenseman. The tools are there for Coach Trotz, but in this shortened season where points will come at a premium, it’ll be a trial by fire to see if Josi, Ellis, Blum etc. can further their development and rise to the occasion.
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