Nashville Predators: Young Guys Itching to Get Their Shot

(Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
(Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
(Photo by Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Samuel Girard

Did I mention something about the Predators ability to draft good defencemen? Well, they are really good at it. Samuel Girard is no exception. The Predators drafted Girard in the second round, 47th overall in the 2016 draft. So far, it appears the Predators got another steal with him. He was pretty highly regarded for his overall talent level going into the draft but had a major drawback-his size.

Standing at 5’10” and barely carving into the ice at 161 pounds, many teams were hesitant to pick him. They thought he may not be able to play with the much bigger, grown men of the NHL. However, the Predators had to look no further than their own locker room to see that size, although it can help, really doesn’t matter.

Ryan Ellis has blossomed into quite a player in the NHL. He stands eye-to-eye with Girard at 5’10” as well. Ellis has never let his size get in the way of his game. He plays a physical game, backed up with an immense offensive skill. In fact, Ellis led all Nashville Predators defencemen last season with 16 goals.

Girard, like Ellis, doesn’t let his size prevent him from contributing on both ends of the ice. After watching him closely this preseason, his skating ability amazed me. Predators fans have been absolutely spoiled watching the graceful defencemen on the roster, especially P.K. Subban and Roman Josi. However, Girard is even better than those guys in my opinion. He is very fast and his agility is off the charts. He can move laterally against any forward with the puck. There are very few times where a forward has been able to outmaneuver Girard.

Girard has been given more of a chance this preseason than the Predators probably had planned. They will be without Ryan Ellis for at least the first couple of months of the season while he recovers from his offseason surgery. Girard paces all Predators defencemen this preseason with almost nine more minutes of ice-time than the next defenseman. He has done very well. After all of that ice time, he still has only been on the ice for 2 goals and has posted the 4th highest Fenwick score at 60.23. The goal to beat with Fenwick is 50. If you are over

The goal to beat with Fenwick is 50. If you are over 50%, then the puck is going to the opposing net more often than your own. Also, the more ice time you have, the closer you will hover around 50. It’s just the law of averages. So, it is even more impressive when you consider all of the ice time Girard has had.

With Ellis being out for almost half the year, Girard will have a real chance at cracking the NHL roster. His game is perfect for the style the Predators play. He is fast and can skate really well. Also, he score points in bunches averaging over a point per game in juniors the past two seasons. Now, take that with a grain of salt for it is only juniors. However, it shows he is an offensive force. His Fenwick numbers this preseason tell us he is at least competent on defense as well. Most importantly, outside of the top four, the Predators aren’t quite as solid. Take a look at the charts Hockey Viz below:

Those charts show the shots against per 60 minutes of 5 on 5 ice time with and without Yannick Weber last season. The red zones show more shots than the league average in a given zone, and the blue zones are less than the league average. Since we are talking shots against, the more and darker the blue, the better. Look at where shots are coming from when Weber is on the ice. That little gray box at the bottom center is the net. That is way too many extra shots coming in high danger areas.

Now, take a look at the chart when Weber was not on the ice. That major high danger area right in front of the net is about as blue as possible. What does that tell us? Well, one thing it tells us is that our top four defencemen are really, really good. The other thing it tells us is Weber is a below average defender. He also didn’t wow me on the offensive side of the puck either.

Matt Irwin has a similar chart because he played most of his minutes with Weber. In theory, they are both to blame for those shooting zones. Hence, they are both below-average defenders. Irwin plays a better defensive game than Weber. But, he also is not as swift as a skater as Weber, so offensively, he can only really manage in-zone offense. He can’t really create too much.

Alexei Emelin is a pretty solid defender. However, he was aided mostly by having Shea Weber as a partner for the majority of his ice time. That can make up for many break downs he may have had. My biggest issue with Emelin is he is so eager to make the big hit, he pulls himself way out of position and frequently gets burnt missing the guy. It is not worth giving up an odd-man rush just to attempt a crushing open ice hit. It is very exhilarating when he does manage to connect on one. Emelin also doesn’t give the Predators much offensively, either. He managed a very pedestrian 10 points out of his 76 games played last season. His career FF% is 48, below our targeted 50. Also, there is this:

Considering Ellis is missing a lot of time, there are now three spots on defense that are not going to hold a top-tier defenseman. The Predators have a few options they could go with. Convention tells us they have no problem playing Irwin and Weber, since they did so for the majority of last season. That leaves one spot open for either Emelin or Girard (assuming they were not impressed by Anthony Bitetto this preseason, who was?). Convention will also tell us they will most likely go with the experience of Emelin over Girard. However, they should seriously consider betting on their consistent success with young offensive defencemen.