By Amanda DiPaolo
Just four days before the puck dropped on the Nashville Predators 2010-2011 season, first round draft pick Ryan Parent and Jonas Andersson were traded to the Vancouver Canucks for Shane O’Brien and minor league player, Dan Gendur.
Nashville fans are used to General Manager David Poile signing players and making trades at the end of the off season. Take last year for example. On August 20th, 2009, Marcel Goc signed a one-year deal with the Predators after spending four seasons with the San Jose Sharks. Francis Bouillon came to training camp on a professional tryout after Montreal chose not to offer the 5’8 defenseman a contract. Bouillon didn’t sign his one-year deal with Nashville until September 30th, just days before the start of the regular season.
Usually these late off-season moves are low-profile and low-risk. And fans are usually pleasantly surprised with the results.
At the time of the O’Brien trade, there was nothing low profile about it. Questions arose about whether or not O’Brien would be able to play Predators hockey. There were also questions as to why the organization would get rid of Parent after making such an effort to get him back earlier in the off-season. Parent also played solidly during training camp and appeared to have won the role of the sixth defenseman playing alongside Cody Franson. Drafted in the first round of the 2005 draft by the Predators but later traded to Philadelphia in the Peter Forsberg deal, the rights to the defenseman were reacquired in exchange for the rights to Dan Hamhuis.
When American Olympian, and Predators Alternate captain, Ryan Suter got sidelined with a lower-body injury on October 19th against the Calgary Flames, the Predators were left looking for defensemen down the line to fill the void. All of a sudden, the O’Brien trade started to look like the best off-season move.
“Obviously you never want to see anyone to get hurt, especially a guy like Suter who is one of our go to guys,” O’Brien said about Suter not being in the lineup. “When injuries happen it is an opportunity for, like you said, others to step in.” And that’s what O’Brien has done. He has stepped up and into a more prominent role for the Predators.
When looking at the career of O’Brien before arriving in Nashville, it was one filled with penalties, both on and off the ice. Contrast this with the first 19 games of the Predators’ season and you start to see a picture of two O’Briens.
In 299 NHL games prior to this season, the 27 year old amassed 605 penalty minutes. If O’Brien was unable to check his undisciplined play at the door, careless penalties could have been detrimental to a Nashville team that struggled on the penalty kill last year.
Throughout the first 19 games of the season, O’Brien has been assessed only 4 minor penalties, including one on Monday to stop a for an empty net goal. It wasn’t until game 8 that O’Brien received his first minor penalty. With a total of 13 penalty minutes so far this year, including a major fighting call, during the first 19 games last year, O’Brien had 11 minor penalties and a total of 32 penalty minutes.
Ice time is also something O’Brien is seeing more of playing a low of 12:18 minutes and a high of 23:49 averaging just over 17 minutes per game. At the 19 game point last season, O’Brien’s high total ice time was 18:21.
A season ago, Parent was minus 14 through 48 regular season games. During the playoffs, his ice time went down from the mid-teens to usually less than 10 minutes a game, sometimes less than five minutes. Had Suter been injured and the Predators were expected to rely on Parent’s inexperience to fill a top 4 role, Nashville could possibly be in worse shape in the standings.
As for O’Brien, not only has he flawlessly developed a style of play consistent with the Predator-way, but he also has found a little offense that was previously missing in his game. O’Brien has two goals and one helper in 19 games. In 299 games, O’Brien only had 8 goals total.
When asked to explain why the O’Brien playing for Nashville has an offensive touch to his game this season that has not been explored before, O’Brien says Nashville’s style of play encourages all defensemen to get involved, and that even includes the second and third pairings. “Coming into this situation, they really want their D to jump in the play. In Vancouver it was really only certain guys were given the light to jump up. Here they want all six D to get involved. It’s been fun.”
O’Brien further explains. “We’ve got some good players up front who can find us like Erat, O’Reilly and Sullivan and a few other guys. I’m just getting an opportunity.”
Tuesday afternoon, USA Today reported that it was entirely possible for Ryan Suter to return to the lineup against the Blues on Wednesday night. When Suter returns, O’Brien’s ice time will decrease, but he has proven that the chance Poile took on acquiring him in a trade and parting ways with a former Predators number one pick was quite possibly the best off season move coming into this season.
Matthew Lombardi only played two games so far for the Nashville Predators and the team has had to find ways to win without the former Coyote. Patric Hornqvist was a restricted free agent and always expected to be signed. Sergei Kostitsyn was a low-risk, high-reward acquisition who hasn’t bombed but has yet to show the potential that Montreal also was always waiting to see, though the year is still young and the Belorussian has time to grow as a player under the Predators system and to continue to get better.
This leaves the Shane O’Brien deal. Given the injury to Suter and the disciplined play of O’Brien, it may be a fair statement to say that trading for Shane O’Brien was the best off-season move on which Poile pulled the trigger.
The Nashville Predators take on the St. Louis Blues at Bridgestone Arena Wednesday night at 7 pm. The game will be televised nationally on Versus. Tickets are still available.
Are you looking for tickets to an upcoming Predators home game? Follow this link for discounted tickets. Make an account and then use the word Preds as the code for the discount. The next Predators home game is Wednesday, November 24th when the Preds take on the St. Louis Blues for the third and final time at Bridgestone Arena. The game is going to be televised nationally on Versus. You do not want to miss it!