Nashville Predators defense was shown a little love from EA Sports in their top 10 rated defensemen. But, it is not enough. Here’s why EA got it wrong.
Nashville Predators have arguably the best defense in the entire National Hockey League. It is the driving force of their team. From inception, the Predators have been known for defense. For years they won the majority of their games scoring only two or three goals. It was who they are-at least until Peter Laviolette got here.
Everything changed. The Predators became a team who pushed the rush. They began to involve all five guys in offense. In doing so, they actually strengthened their defense. The personnel the Predators are equipped with on the back-end were made for Laviolette’s system. Their d-men have a lot of speed and puck skills, perfect to play a two-way game. The success they have had over the last couple of years was magnified during their Stanley Cup run last season. It was all the national media could talk about. “Which guy is going to score tonight for them?”
That was the common question referring to the Predators defense. The media was fascinated by how good Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm are. To the outside world, the Nashville Predators had two, really good players in Roman Josi and P.K. Subban. Then the outside world got to see what Predators fans have been seeing for some time now. They have four really good blueliners.
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Top 10 Defensemen
EA Sports continued the release of player ratings yesterday by announcing their top 10 defensemen. Many Nashville Predators fans couldn’t wait to get their eyes on that list. I know I was. I wanted to see if they could get at least three guys on it. To my surprise, I found one, lone Predator-Josi. It is surprising not just because there was only one Predator, but because that one Predator was not P.K. Subban. EA Sports has historically taken a pedestrian approach to ratings. What I mean is they have never been super experts at hockey. They go with the obvious. It is like their thinking is something like this:
Hockey has fights. Put more fighting in there. Oh, hey, sticks seem to break a lot. Let’s make them break almost every shot. You know what? Anytime you hit a player really hard, automatically start a fight. Who are the Predators?
Because of this approach, a lot of solid players in this league get underrated. Conversely, a lot of well-known players get a little boost to their ratings. P.K. Subban is definitely a well-known player. Josi, not so much. I mean, Subban has over a million followers on twitter. Josi has 29k.
Case for Subban
Besides Subban being well-known, he is also a darn good defensive player. The last time I checked, he has a Norris Trophy on his shelf. The fact a top 10 list doesn’t include all of the recent Norris winners still in their prime seems a bit suspicious. Subban can do it all. He can shoot, pass, skate, and play really nice defense. Had Subban not been injured, he was on pace for 50 points last season. That would have been good for 9th in the league and 5th among EA’s top ten.
He also had a Fenwick For% (FF%) of 54.1. Subbans FF% ranks second on EA’s list to Brett Burns (the reigning Norris Trophy winner). It is really baffling how Subban could be left off of the top 10. He has consistently put up these types of numbers or better his entire career. It is not like he was really good for only a season.
Hope for Ellis and Ekholm
I preface this next section by agreeing with EA leaving these two off of the top 10. This is the NHL. There are a lot of really good players out there. Ellis and Ekholm are good. But, they just miss the top 10 for me. That doesn’t mean there couldn’t be a case made for both though.
Ryan Ellis had a breakout year last season. He has been on a steady climb for the last few years. Ellis was highly touted coming out of Juniors, known for a lethal shot. Ellis has one of the top slapshots in the league right now. There was a reason he potted 16 pucks in the net. Laviolette tries to take advantage of this every chance he can. Ellis had the second highest offensive zone start % (oZS%) on the Nashville Predators. He also was a feature d-man on the Power Play. He plays a great two-way game.
Mattias Ekholm transformed his play last year. He has become one of the best true defenseman in the whole league. Ekholm had a FF% of 52.3. That would put him at fourth best out of EA’s top 10. His metrics definitely prove he can play defense. Just take a look at our very own George Matarangas’ analysis on Ekholm’s game.
Matarangas likes to use these cool little superhero charts. They are pretty fun. The crux of those charts say Ekholm is practically the best defensive defenseman in the whole league. His points were a little down last year, but he posted 35 points the year before. He also had to adjust to playing with a player like Subban. I expect his points to go up this year.