Depth is a big reason why the Nashville Predators had such a successful regular season, and Matt Irwin’s season provided that.
You have to look further down the roster to really understand why the Nashville Predators are so good. It’s players like Matt Irwin that make this squad difficult to contend with for any team in the NHL. They ran into a buzzsaw in the playoffs with Winnipeg, but their depth helped get them a Presidents’ Trophy and a division title.
Irwin is a rotational guy for head coach Peter Laviolette. He fits in nicely when his number is called. You can count on him to be on the third or fourth defensive pairing and put in productive shifts. I think Irwin is usually overlooked, and that’s understandable considering what he’s asked to do. Here’s my main thought about Irwin’s season and importance to the Predators:
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Irwin played in just 50 games last season. That’s a big drop from his first season in Nashville when he logged 74 games. His average time on ice dropped considerably as well from over 16 minutes per game to just over 13 minutes. He’s a healthy scratch often as he’s on the last defensive pairing and doesn’t offer a lot of scoring threat.
Even in brief action, I like a lot of things Irwin does. He’s a solid passer, works hard on the forecheck and his shooting isn’t that bad. He just doesn’t take a lot of shots and isn’t really needed to. There are other weapons out there who pose bigger threats to the opposition.
Irwin’s two goals and six assists are low production totals even for a player who gets limited action. I would like to see those numbers up a bit more, but you can’t worry too much about that. The Predators aren’t relying on his scoring output. They are relying on him to be a smart player who can provide production in other areas of the game as a third and fourth line player. We may see Irwin’s time on ice increase with Alexei Emelin not returning next season.
Winning in the dirty areas
It’s hard to sometimes measure what a player does in the trenches of the game. Not the flashy areas that Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson thrive in. Irwin provides his spark in areas on the ice that fans don’t notice at times.
Irwin is a superb shot blocker and showed that in his 2017-18 season. His 54 blocked shots are a nice boost from a player near the bottom of the depth chart. However, that pace is down from his previous season when he racked up over 100 blocked shots. Again, it’s my belief that the Predators just didn’t need him as much as he was needed in his first season with the team.
Another area where Irwin is obviously important is how he forechecks and takes possession away from the other team. He’s very valuable in this area and continued that trend this past season. His 78 hits are good for tenth on the team, and ahead of such players as Mattias Ekholm and Yannick Weber. He also comes just behind team-captain Roman Josi in his hits total. How he’s not afraid to get physical and take possession of the puck is his most valuable asset to the team.
Judging by this past season, you hope the Predators can hold onto Irwin as a rotational player. He’s coming up on age 30 and is due to be a free agent after next season. He’s important to what the Predators are trying to build, which is a Stanley Cup contender who can beat anyone in the league thanks to their depth.
Irwin is easily glossed over because he doesn’t cover up the box score. If you look deeper into it, you’ll see how important Irwin actually is. His Corsi-for percentage of 51 is a luxury to have from a guy who doesn’t even play full-time. With that said, I’m not optimistic that Irwin is the type of player that sticks around after next season. He’s a journeyman that will probably go to the highest bidder who can give him more playing time.
There’s nothing flashy about Irwin’s game or what he did in his 50-game season. However, he brings a lot of value to a team with quality depth.
I’m hoping that Irwin can increase his production just a tick to take a little more pressure off the top of the roster. He might have to if his role increases with other player departures, like Emelin. Other than that criticism, I’m really pleased with Irwin’s season in limited action.