Post Season Review: Defensemen


The heart of the Nashville Predators has arguably always been strong defensive play.  For years we were known for having some pretty solid defensemen.  Even back in the expansion draft we had guys like Bill Houlder and Kimmo Timonen holding it down.  Granted Bill Houlder wasn’t the best in the world, but he was a solid stay at home defenseman for us.  Then the Nashville Predators entered the Dan Hamhuis era, and later on the Ryan Suter/Shea Weber era.  Pretty soon we’ll be in the Weber/Josi/Ellis era.  You get the idea by now I hope.  So how did this year’s squad of blue liners stack up against previous years?  Well obviously they weren’t the best, but they did have quite a few bright spots that we’re going to talk about today.  So why don’t we get started?

Roman Josi, 48 games played, 5 goals, 13 assists, minus 7, 31 hits, 73 blocked shots.  Overall Grade: B+

Roman Josi impressed in his sophomore season. (PHOTO: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports)

Coming into the season one of the biggest question marks on defense was Roman Josi.  Nobody really knew how he would perform, but everybody was excited to see.  Surprise, surprise Roman Josi turned out to be a solid player for us.  The 2008 second round draft pick has paid his dues.   Consider the fact he didn’t get on the ice for the Predators until late 2011, he spent another two years developing in Switzerland before growing up in Milwaukee for a year.  He spent the better part of last year switching between the second and third defensive pairings for Nashville before being tabbed as the man to replace Ryan Suter after he left for Minnesota in July.  Talk about a whirlwind of a career for the young man so far.
This year he was solid in his own defensive zone, as well as being strong offensively.  His four point night against Dallas on primetime television showed us this young man has a lot more offensive potential than was originally projected.  Some might say he wasn’t physical enough, and I would argue he didn’t need to be.  That isn’t his game, his game is poke checking and shot blocking, and he did both very well.  It’s easy to look at his -7 and say he wasn’t very good, but to be perfectly honest you’re going to be hard pressed to find many defenseman without a negative +/- on this team.  Good job Josi, you’ve earned your bones…pay the man Poile.

Shea Weber, 48 games played, 9 goals, 19 assists, minus 7, 112 hits, 90 blocked shots.  Overall grade: B-

There is the more physical side we were looking for.  Shea Weber played a game where he delivered bone crunching hits.  He was also tough enough to stand in the way of 90 shots.  He chipped in more goals and more assists than Roman Josi, yet his grade is lower which might have some of you confused.  The reason for Shea Weber’s decline in grade is his penalty minutes.  He played a solid game, but took more penalty minutes in 48 games this year than he took in 82 games last year.  That includes Weber’s two fighting major penalties this year, which took our best player off the ice for at least 5 minutes.  I love the captain, and I agree that he should stick up for the team when it is needed, but when you’re down in a game and your best player is off the ice it isn’t going to do you any good.

Another thing that bothers me is Mr. Weber has had some very cryptic remarks in the media.  I believe Shea is committed to this team 110%, but the fact that he seems apathetic about losing angers me as a fan.  You don’t see other Predators being that apathetic about things.  Does anybody remember when Paul Gaustad told the media losing so much “pissed him off”?  That’s the kind of fire I want to see from Shea Weber, and that’s the kind we need if this team is going to succeed.  Go on Shea, get a little angry and take out your aggressions on the new Central Division next year.

Hal Gill, 32 games played, 0 goals, 0 assists, minus 3, 28 hits, 38 blocked shots.  Overall grade: C-

To be perfectly fair, nobody really expected Hal Gill to end up on the score sheet being as defensive minded as he is.  In another fair note, he was injured quite a bit last season.  When Hal Gill was on the ice he proved to be valuable in terms of his PK ability, however even when he was on the ice on the PK the team still gave up way too many powerplay goals.  Outside of that Gill doesn’t add a lot to the team.  He can play a solid amount of minutes, but in the end he’s very slow and has a bad habit of making terrible passes in the defensive zone.  I wasn’t overly crazy when Nashville resigned him, I knew he was a solid player, but I also knew with his age he would start being injured way more than he was accustomed to.

I hope next season he can stay fairly healthy for a majority of it.  He does provide leadership and direction, which is part of the reason his grade is at a C-.

Jonathon Blum, 35 games played, 1 goal, 6 assists, minus 1, 32 hits, 44 blocked shots.  Overall grade: C

Let me start off by saying Jonathon Blum might be one of my favorite Predators.  He has worked pretty hard to make it back to the roster time and time again, and I think in due time it will pay off.  Maybe even as soon as next year.  In terms of this year he had some good passes that lead to assists, and he had a couple of booming shots on net.  That was the good, now for the bad.  Blum wasn’t extremely solid in his own defensive zone, and did have quite a bit of turnovers.  It’s important to note he spent a lot of time paired with Hal Gill who can’t pass really well, and Ryan Ellis who can pass but still has a long ways to go in his defensive zone play.  The thing I did love about Blum’s game was the fact he did contribute 32 hits and 44 blocks shots, which showed me he’s at least trying to be a bigger force on defense.

Overall I feel like Blum is poised to have a breakout year, but he’s likely stuck on the 3rd line with Hal Gill until further notice.  He might be able to snag the 2nd line spot with Klein if he has a good camp, but it is almost certain an offensive defenseman will be lining up next to Gill next year.

Kevin Klein, 47 games played, 3 goals, 11 assists, minus 1, 66 hits, 89 blocked shots.  Overall grade: A-.

Kevin Klein doesn’t play a very pretty game, but Kevin Klein does play a very effective game.  The Klein hawk got a nice extension in the offseason, but in turn lost his long time defensive partner.  He also played very consistently for a man who kept switching defensive partners.  For a couple of games he was with Scott Hannan, for a couple more he was with Roman Josi, for some he had Jon Blum by his side, and to finish it out he was with Victor Bartley.  During that whole time he made whoever he was paired with look a lot better.  He was solid in his defensive zone, he made sound passes, he had a lot of blocked shots, and even contributed physically.  On top of all that, he took over playing the hard minutes on the penalty kill when Hal Gill wasn’t around, and while it wasn’t pretty it wasn’t for lack of effort.

Kevin Klein and Jonathon Blum remind me of each other.  For years Klein was the scapegoat of the Predators defense, and now he’s one of the more solid pieces we’ve got going now.  I think next year whoever he’s lined up with is in for a solid season, especially if it’s Victor Bartley or Ryan Ellis.  Good job Klein, you’re worth every penny.

Victor Bartley, 24 games played, 0 goals, 7 assists, plus 2, 35 hits, 28 blocked shots.  Overall grade: B.

The road to Nashville runs through Milwaukee.  How many times have we heard that over the years?  Well, in the case of Victor Bartley it’s true.  Everybody was curious about this AHL All-Star in camp, and some were disappointed when he was sent down to Milwaukee again.  They soon found out that Victor can, and will play in the NHL on a regular basis.  Bartley came in like a house on fire, and sure enough when he got to Nashville he fit like a sock.  He was blocking shots, delivering hits, and he was making good passes.  He got himself 7 assists in only 24 games, which translates well to a longer season.  He didn’t have many flaws in his game, and that’s what earned him the B.  Had he chipped in a goal or two he would have been even higher on the grading scale.  I’m sure that will come next year, no doubt about it.

I love hearing stories like this, undrafted free agents finding a team and turning into solid players.  Keep up the hard work Victor.

Ryan Ellis, 32 games played, 2 goals, 4 assists, minus 2, 22 hits, 29 blocked shots.  Overall grade: C.

Mark my words, Jonathon Blum and Ryan Ellis are going to blow it wide open in the near future.  Will it be next season?  Highly doubtful, because I am predicting one of them will be in Milwaukee.  Both have the offensive skill, but Ellis is more of a rocket shot and Blum is more of a passer out of the two.  It’s times like this I really miss Cody Franson, because thinking about him, Josi, Ellis, and Blum all on the same hockey team is just downright scary.  Back on point, I feel like Ellis needs to get better in his own zone, in the offensive zone he’s amazing, but defensively he leaves a lot to be desired.  Even though I will admit, at his frame him getting 22 hits is pretty impressive.

Terry Crisp once answered the question “What should the Predators do with Ryan Ellis?”, he responded with “Move him to a forward position.”   Crisp was joking of course, but it’s not a farfetched idea.  I think Ellis stays put on defense, and I expect him to either light it up in Milwaukee or provide that extra spark for Nashville.  Just please Ryan, no more fighting…it makes you look crazy when you smile in the middle of a fight.

Future projections

First thing is first, Jonathon Blum and Roman Josi have to sign new deals.  If I’m not mistaking I think Bartley may have to do so as well.  If I am Nashville, I consider adding a veteran blue liner to the squad while keeping Ellis and Blum in Milwaukee.  A lot of people seem to want Sergei Gonchar, which wouldn’t be a terrible pick considering he’s likely to retire in 1-2 more years.  Him along with Hal Gill would provide pretty good leadership for Victor Bartley and Roman Josi, it might also help Shea Weber since he wouldn’t be the main veteran defender to ask questions to.  I think year two without Suter will be less of a transition for Weber knowing he can count on Josi to be there for him, and for Josi I expect he’ll break out and become more of the X-Factor Ryan Suter once was.  Should Jonathon Blum or Ryan Ellis start the season with the Predators, it wouldn’t hurt them to be paired with Hal Gill.   I wouldn’t mind having one of them up with the big club as they both have offensive potential, however I will say they both need to get a lot better in their own defensive zone.

Overall, the 2013 season was a period of growth for the Predators blue line.  And come the fall, we will get a chance to see exactly how much they’ve grown.  I will say this, the next couple of months will be pivotal in determining which direction our defense will go in 2013-2014.  That’s all I got for now.


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