Nashville Predators Ekholm makes a name for himself after a breakout performance in 2016.
2016 was a banner year for many players of the Nashville Predators as they battled their way to their longest and most successful playoff run to date, and Mattias Ekholm is no exception to that trend. The Swedish blueliner played his way up the depth chart after beginning the season on the bottom defensive pairing and emerged as a premier two-way defender by season’s end. Let’s take a look at the highlights.
Ekholm Shatters Old Career Highs
No other Predator experienced the kind of personal growth that Mattias Ekholm did this season. For the second consecutive season, Ekholm managed to double his offensive production from the year before, well that’s not entirely true, he missed that mark by just one point. I think you get the idea, Ekholm grew by leaps and bounds in his last two seasons.
Ekholm Seizes An Opportunity
With the departure of Seth Jones to Columbus, Ekholm was given the chance to make a name for himself on the Nashville Predators 2nd pairing with Ryan Ellis. Prior to Jones departure, Ekholm was regularly playing 16-19 minutes per game and he rarely ventured into the 20 minutes and above territory. Upon being promoted to the 2nd defensive unit, Ekholm would thrive with the extra playing time that he inherited, regularly patrolling both ends of the ice and averaging 21-23 minutes a night.
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Ekholm’s overnight transition to a Top 4 defender was almost seamless as if the added responsibilities of his new position were more of a blessing than a burden. Ekholm’s defensive game never faltered as the Swedish defender posted the 2nd best plus-minus rating on the team, a strong +14, and still managed to be an offensive threat when not defending his own end of the ice.
Ekholm’s 35 points (8g,27a) were 7th best on the team and 3rd among all defensemen, exceptional numbers for a second tier defender. It was this complete and dynamic two-way style of play that would later garner Ekholm recognition from Team Sweden, both at the World Championships after the Nashville Predators were eliminated in Game 7 of the 2nd round of the playoffs, and for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey as well.
Mattias Ekholm: Playoff Performer
Mattias’ level of play in the post-season was almost a mirror image of his regular season success as the dynamic duo of Ekholm and Ellis thrived in the playoffs and often looked like the dominant defensive pairing in favor of Shea Weber and Roman Josi.
Ekholm would finish the playoffs fourth in team scoring with 7 points (3g,4a) but more importantly, his ability to score crucial goals when his team needed him the most is really what made Mattias stand out in the post-season.
"You can't stop the Swedes"
So now that we’ve covered the many highlights of Ekholm’s season its time for the final evaluation. Survey says…
Mattias Ekholm Final Grade: A
Just in case I missed anything.
- Exceptional offensive and defensive growth.
- Excellent transition to a more demanding role within the team.
- Strong performances in both the regular and post seasons.
- International Recognition – Team Sweden
Without a doubt, this was a banner year for Mattias Ekholm. Even after an exceptional season, there is still plenty of room for growth considering Ekholm is only 26 and likely hasn’t hit his full potential yet.
Now that the Swedish defender has effectively solidified his spot on the Top 4 of the Predators defense, a 40 point season should be entirely within his reach next season if he can stay healthy.
An exceptional season next year would also go a long way in regards to Ekholm’s future with the team. With the very real possibility of an expansion draft taking away a Nashville defender in the near future, another good year from Ekholm could warrant Dave Poile’s consideration when it comes time to decide on which players to protect from being selected by an expansion team.
Mattias Ekholm is only 26 years old and could be a very productive member of the Nashville Predators for a very long time to come.