Mattias Ekholm emerged as an elite shutdown defenseman for the Nashville Predators last season. A role not many thought he would play.
Mattias Ekholm seemingly came out as an offensive defenseman for the Nashville Predators in the 2015-16 season with 35 points in 82 games. And many people thought that he had a disappointing season in 2016-17, posting 23 points in 82 games. But not so in my opinion. Head coach Peter Laviolette most likely asked Ekholm to switch his focus from an offensive role to a more defensive one.
Ekholm played most of last season with noted offensively gifted defenseman, P.K. Subban. Playing with Subban meant that Ekholm couldn’t jump into the play as much as he’d like. In addition to not jumping into play, Ekholm was put up against top talent. Laviolette measured Ekholm not by the goals he produced, but by the chances he squashed. The question that is on everyone’s mind is, can Ekholm continue his brilliant play for the Nashville Predators?
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What do the advanced stats say?
Ekholm finished off this season with a 52.3 Fenwick score, good for second on the Predators defense. His score was down from his average 53.3, but looking at context it’s pretty simple. Ekholm played on average 23 minutes a night, up from his average 20 minutes. Those three extra minutes came against first line competition. Also, Ekholm started in the defensive zone 45.7% of the time, once again down from his average. It’s inarguable that Ekholm posted worse possession scores, but the context proves that Ekholm was better than ever.
What do the less advanced stats say?
As previously states, Ekholm posted three goals and 20 assists in 82 games. Not exactly great numbers to the naked eye but there is some explanation. Ekhom had an absolutely abysmal shooting percentage of 2.5, down from his career average of five per cent. Even more abysmal when you consider the NHL average shooting percentage is about nine. Expect his goal totals to take a hike next season, maybe not too high though. He’ll definitely eclipse his career high of eight goals.
Goals aren’t the only stat will increase this season, expect the assists to rise. When Ekholm was on the ice in five on five situations, his teams shooting percentage was below average. The Nashville Predators shot at 7.1 while Ekholm was on the ice in even strength situations. Ekholm’s numbers will rise if he continues his style of play.
All in all, can Ekholm continue his excellent play?
Not only will it continue, it’ll actually get better. The good news is that Ekholm only scored four points on the power play. Meaning that most of his offense came in even strength situations. All the sights point to the 2017-18 season being a bounce back year. I think that 35 or more points is easily a possibility. Even if Ekholm does produce those incredible numbers, his biggest contribution will be on the other side of the puck.
The Nashville Predators need Ekholm to be a defensive stalwart who will allow Subban to play his dynamic style of offense. Any points that Ekholm can score is just gravy.