Things are about to change a bit in Nashville next season. While the Predators signed up forwards Niclas Bergfors and Zack Stortini, the one area that might see the biggest change is on defense.
While Shea Weber and Ryan Suter aren’t going anywhere, Shane O’Brien isn’t being brought back by the team and Cody Franson was traded to Toronto. The Predators still have a youthful guy like Jonathon Blum and veterans like Francois Bouillon, Kevin Klein, and Brett Lebda, no one’s job is truly safe outside of that top pairing. The answers for where to fill out ranks along the blue line might be coming from within and the guys that earn the jobs might be awfully young.
Taking an in depth look at who might make the Predators more dangerous on their defense is Jeremy Gover from Section 303. Gover sifts through what the Predators have in the pipeline because Predators GM David Poile says their third defensive pairing next season will be, “…all new kids. New to the NHL.” Four players grab the attention of Gover.
Those four players? 2009 first round pick and emerging Canadian national treasure Ryan Ellis, Elitserien Rookie of the Year Mattias Ekholm, Milwaukee Admirals veteran Teemu Laakso and Milwaukee’s fourth leading scorer, the dynamic Swiss blueliner Roman Josi.
Of the four leading candidates, only Laakso has seen NHL action. He’s suited up for the Preds eight times in the past two seasons. Ekholm has played professional hockey but in Sweden. The fact that he posted 33 points in just 55 games in what is regarded as the second best league in the world, Ekholm has the inside track on the other three. Laakso has paid his dues in a system that believes in promoting from within. And then there’s one of the most decorated junior players in history: Ryan Ellis. Ellis still needs to prove that his small 5’10″, 175 pound frame can hold up against professional forwards. Once he does that, he should make the jump to the NHL and never look back.
The one standout name there is Ellis. Ellis was the Predators top pick in the 2009 NHL Draft taken 11th overall. After finishing his last year in the OHL with the Windsor Spitfires and spending last season as the captain of Team Canada’s World Junior Championship team he’s got quite the résumé for a kid that’s just 20 years-old. If he can evolve into the NHL stud defenseman the Preds hoped he would be, fans would quickly forget about the trade that sent young Cody Franson out of town. If he’s not ready, however, things get dicey for Nashville as the guys like Ekholm, Laakso, and Josi don’t quite come with the same.
One way or another, Poile seems ready to have coach Barry Trotz go with the homegrown youth movement and if there’s a coach that can handle it, it’s Trotz. The Predators always seem able to handle anything that happens with their roster and just keep motoring along. After losing Franson, Steve Sullivan, Marcel Goc, and Joel Ward they’ll have their fair share of new bodies to move in there. Things might be rough early on, but if nothing else we’ve learned from Nashville it’s to never count them out.