Mattias Ekholm may not be a name that springs to mind in this category. However, I’d argue that he is Nashville’s most valuable defensive asset on any given night. He doesn’t have P.K. Subban‘s slapshot or Roman Josi‘s puck control. That said, as a stay-at-home NHL defenseman, he is nearly infallible.
Unlike many players in this list, he is having a relatively good scoring year. After 46 games, he has already surpassed his point total from last season.
Unfortunately for Ekholm, his expected goals for percentage has decreased pretty dramatically from last season. More worryingly, the value has dropped below the 50% mark. This indicates that, with Mattias Ekholm on the ice, the Nashville Predators are expected to concede more even-strength goals than they produce.
This downward trend exists in spite of a more favorable zone start ratio for Ekholm. He’s taking nearly 1% more of his faceoffs in the offensive zone compared to last season. It’s not a big difference, but it’s usually not good for those lines to show opposite trends.
A potential contributor to the poor numbers is simply time on ice. He currently has the team’s second-highest average time on ice at 24:23 each night. It’s certainly not uncommon to see top defensemen play 23 or 24 minutes a night, but with Nashville’s blue line depth, it will only benefit the team to decrease Ekholm’s minutes slightly. His health and performance down the road will certainly benefit.