Nashville Predators: Offense under pressure due to Ellis’ injury

PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 11: Ryan Ellis
PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 11: Ryan Ellis /

Ryan Ellis’ absence for the next four months isn’t a deal-breaker for the Nashville Predators. A certain half of the roster will need to earn their keep.

The Nashville Predators will start the 2017-18 season without one of their key leaders, Ryan Ellis. Missing one of the top four defensemen until at least January isn’t ideal. Especially Ellis, who had a coming out party last season. He’s also one of the most beloved Predators. You never hear anybody say a bad word about the guy.

I’m not here to scream about the sky falling, though. You might recall that Nashville acquired Alexei Emelin from the Las Vegas Golden Knights over the off-season. We thought it might have been to facilitate a trade, but perhaps Predators management knew Ellis wouldn’t be available as soon as fans hoped. Emelin isn’t the threat on offense that Ellis is, but he’ll do the job on defense. Matt Irwin & Yannick Weber are still under contract. Anthony Bitetto is back & looking to earn a place. Alexandre Carrier had a good 2016-17 season in Milwaukee & might earn a spot in Nashville for 2017-18.

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The Predators hallmark has always been having a long list of defensemen at the ready. Nashville’s defense will be fine, even though losing Ellis will hurt.

Ellis brings more than defense to the table.

One thing that makes Ellis hard to replace: scoring. He had a career-high 16 goals last season, which was first among Nashville defensemen. It wasn’t Roman Josi or P.K. Subban, two defenders known for putting the puck in the net. Ellis is a force on offense and Emelin isn’t a suitable replacement.

The Predators have always gotten a good amount of scoring from their defensemen. Shea Weber was one of Nashville’s top scoring threats for most of his time as a Predator. Josi has followed in Weber’s footsteps in that regard. Subban plays a similar style, which makes him a good fit. We saw what Ellis did last year.

None of the defensemen that take parts of Ellis’ minutes will replicate his offensive performance. Irwin, Weber & Emelin aren’t great offensive contributors. The scouts say Carrier can be effective on offense, but only six AHL goals last season tells me that he won’t do much of that in the NHL right now.

The Nashville Predators’ offensive players are going to have to step their game up.

Peter Laviolette‘s offense has seen improvement each year in Nashville. The Predators went from fourteenth in the NHL in 2014-15 to twelfth, then eleventh last season with 2.90 goals scored per game. That was their highest total since the 2006-07 season.

They’re heading in the right direction. They need to keep it moving up. Consider the fact that the defense are playing hurt. Consider the fact that Pekka Rinne isn’t getting any younger. The Predators offense has been able to count on superior defense & goaltending for most of the last decade. That won’t be the case forever.

Ryan Johansen needs to prove he’s worth his new contract. Viktor Arvidsson needs to show he isn’t a one-year wonder. Craig Smith‘s shots need to find the net. Young guns like Frederick Gaudreau need to earn their spots by scoring consistently.

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We won’t notice that Ellis is gone if the offense steps up and does their job. Well, his beard will be gone too. Somebody needs to be working on theirs right now. I nominate Cody McLeod.