May 7, 2012; Glendale, AZ, USA; Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Suter (20) in game five of the 2012 Western Conference semifinals at Arena. The Coyotes beat the Predators 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Nashville Predators Miss Ryan Suter, Developing Replacement In Roman Josi

On Tuesday night, Ryan Suter celebrated his first goal with the Minnesota Wild. As a Preds fan, I was reminded just how good he is and why I miss seeing him in the blue and gold. Suter is a smart, heads-up player, and while the Preds can replace him defensively with only a little loss of overall effectiveness, it’s his abilities as a two-way defenseman that we’re really missing right now.

Former Nashville Predators (and current Minnesota Wild) defenseman Ryan Suter

Ryan Suter will return to Nashville for the first time on Saturday night. (PHOTO: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

After Suter signed with the Wild, I know I had a few choice words. I’ve since thought about it, and I can’t fault the guy. The $98-million, 13-year contract that Suter signed with the Wild is obviously good for him. While it’s uncertain whether or not he has another 13 years of professional play in him or if he’ll even finish out his career in Minnesota, his future seems extremely stable for now.

The contract is good for Minnesota too. My bet is that the Wild were looking for long term veteran leadership, which they made clear by giving both him and Parise the alternate captain positions behind Mikko Koivu. They also sought strong, stand-up defense with capabilities at the other end of the ice. For a franchise trying to bulk up, Suter truly is a package deal.

For a Nashville squad that’s struggling offensively this season, Ryan Suter’s ability to generate points, particularly assists, is something we’re lacking right now. On a defensively oriented team, its important to have forwards that backcheck, clog up passing lanes and generally lend a hand in front of their own net.

On the other hand, having defensemen who can pinch in at the blue line, provide assistance in cycling the puck to generate chances, and even put one in the net is vital. This is exactly what Ryan Suter made his career doing for the Predators, like this play against the Philidelphia Flyers:

While overall it wasn’t a great showing for the Predators, in this play, Suter does a great job of the keeping Erik Gustafsson to the outside, forcing the shot wide. The puck comes out high in the zone, and noticing the open lane on the ensuing rush, Suter doesn’t miss a beat on the forecheck. He floats into the offensive zone just behind the play in prime shot position.

Here’s another great read by Suter for the overtime win against Detroit in 2010:

Here, Suter does an excellent job of watching play unfold. He sees that Joel Ward has drawn two of the Detroit players and takes the resulting open ice. Ward puts the pass right on Suter’s stick. It’s a beautiful thing to watch great positional hockey.

Given his abilities as a two-way defenseman, losing Ryan Suter to the Wild was certainly a blow to the Predators offensive game, but it’s not a loss they can’t back bounce from. Despite having some big skates to fill, Roman Josi is performing admirably this season. Here’s a highlight of his game winner in overtime against the Dallas stars a couple weeks back:

Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi

Roman Josi is still developing but shows a lot of promise. (PHOTO: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports)

The kid has a nice shot, there’s no doubt about that. We also see some good teamwork by the Preds to move the puck and screen Nilstorp. Josi put up two goals and two assists for his first four-point showing in the NHL.

If his performance in this game with Dallas is any indication of his capabilities, I think we can expect great things from Josi in the seasons to come. Sure, he’s made a few mistakes along the way, some of which have cost the team big time, but he’s still just 22 and has a lot to learn. There’s just no substitute for the consistency that comes with experience. Averaging 22 minutes TOI this season, that experience is going to come quickly. In time Josi may prove to be as valuable an asset to the Predators franchise as Ryan Suter was, if not more so.

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Tags: Nashville Predators Roman Josi Ryan Suter

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