Nashville Predators Grades: An Uneven Start For Dante Fabbro

UNIONDALE, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 17: Pekka Rinne #35 and Dante Fabbro #57 of the Nashville Predators defend against Ross Johnston #32 of the New York Islanders at NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum on December 17, 2019 in Uniondale, New York. The Predators defeated the Islanders 8-3. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
UNIONDALE, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 17: Pekka Rinne #35 and Dante Fabbro #57 of the Nashville Predators defend against Ross Johnston #32 of the New York Islanders at NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum on December 17, 2019 in Uniondale, New York. The Predators defeated the Islanders 8-3. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

It was a bit of a mixed bag for the young defender Dante Fabbro of the Nashville Predators, but not an awful first full year, either.

I personally wasn’t sold on Dante Fabbro slotting right into the top four on defense for the Nashville Predators.

What we’d seen in a limited sample size was promising, but as anyone who evaluates players knows, sample size is pretty crucial in accuracy. While P.K. Subban had clearly lost a step physically, I felt that the Predators choosing to ship him out for a minimal return and then not adding another defender in the offseason was a bit of a flawed process, sacrificing some logic in the never-ending pursuit of Matt Duchene.

In spite of this relatively harsh criticism, I wanted Fabbro to succeed, and his flashes of early potential had me excited for what he could become with a great partner like Mattias Ekholm, who was coming off of a career year.

The initial returns? Less than flattering.

Young players are usually inconsistent

Fabbro’s style of play rarely changed much. While he had problems with consistently executing (there were a number of games where he looked completely incompetent with the puck on his stick), he always played a conservative, positioning-focused role on the back end, aiming to focus solely on defense while rarely stepping up in the offensive end.

Despite his solid, accurate shot and above average hands, Fabbro racked up just 11 points in 56 games, for those of you who love counting stats.

The lack of drastic changes to his play and movement in the lineup despite some glaring mistakes speaks volumes to how comfortable Fabbro is with the staff, and vice versa, so that was a good sign for his first full NHL season.

Grading stickwork, positioning and hockey IQ

Stickwork: B-

I liked a lot of what I saw from Fabbro in terms of having an active stick. He’s very accurate with standing poke checks and especially excels at breaking up plays at center ice, probing with his reach to win battles back on a pretty consistent basis.

Where I got a little leery was his occasional lack of movement during plays; if the game got a little too fast for him, his feet would lock up and he’d try to make a play with the stick that ended up causing a penalty.

This happened too often for me to ignore it; it’s currently a flaw in his game that he needs to correct, especially considering how awful the penalty kill was.

Positioning: C+

I really didn’t like Fabbro’s ultra-conservative approach to the game across the board, but where it really crushed him was in his decisions with body positioning and stepping up in the play.

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The problem with Fabbro and Ekholm, which I’ll break down more in depth in my grade for No.14, was that both of them chose to back all the way down when pressed by forwards.

Usually, this would work for Ekholm, who had Subban playing the offensive role while he covered back, but instead it gave the other team easy chances to enter the zone uncontested, set up, and eventually pin the Predators on defense. Combine this with a rookie who sometimes struggles to follow the play, and you have an infuriating pairing where neither player is maxing out their ability.

Fabbro would frequently give players too much space in relation to how his partner was playing, and I can think of a number of times where he inadvertently widened a seam in the coverage that could have cost a goal.

Despite his billing as a player who was “never out of position,” his lack of chemistry with Ekholm cost him heavily in this department. If he wants to improve, he likely needs to either join up with Ryan Ellis/Roman Josi, or bump down to the bottom pair.

Hockey IQ: B

Despite the occasional bonehead play or defensive lapse, Fabbro largely had good instincts for a 21-year-old. He frequently read plays preemptively or made smart decisions with the puck on his stick in his own end.

While largely lacking in the offensive department, he flashed some smooth ability to weave through players a number of times.

Given what I saw from him while he was in college, this doesn’t surprise me; the most outstanding part of his game as a prospect is absolutely his smarts.

If Fabbro gets slotted into a lower-stakes roster spot (which seems unlikely) or gets paired with someone who can help him develop on the offensive end, he could see some massive improvement due to his strength in this category.

Driving Play: D-

Let’s have a look at some numbers, y’all. It might help explain why I gave Mr. Fabbro such a bad grade here. The stats we’re going to be covering here are RAPM (regularized adjusted plus-minus) and from even strength play.

To start, let’s look at this pretty chart, courtesy of

As you can see, Fabbro’s season has been less than ideal from an analytics perspective.

Now, we’re going to break down some more numbers. Our first group we look at is going to be the Predators as a whole (anyone who played more than 50 minutes for them this season).

Among all Nashville players (25 eligible), Fabbro ranks last in xGF/60, 14th in xGA/60, 23rd in CF/60, and 20th in CA/60. In short, the advanced stats say his play was mediocre at best.

This is largely a product of how conservative Fabbro is; he never really carries the puck up the ice, generates shots, or makes aggressive enough reads to really be a difference-maker on defense.

While I think he has the ability to be a good play driver in the future once he comes out of his shell, he really isn’t doing the crucial things to be a good two-way defender just yet.

Let’s look at some numbers from another subset: among eight eligible defenders, Fabbro ranks eighth in xGF/60, fifth in xGA/60, seventh in CF/60, and seventh in CA/60. He’s in the same range as guys like Dan Hamhuis for a lot of those stats, to put it into perspective.

Finally, let’s compare him against some similarly aged defenders. Our players in this group that I’ve chosen are Vince Dunn, Cale Makar, Quinn Hughes, Philippe Myers, Mario Ferraro and Fabbro himself.

Among these six defenders, Fabbro ranks dead last by a significant margin in xGF/60, with -.308.

The next lowest? Myers with -.075. Fabbro ranks fourth in xGA/60, last in CF/60, and third in CA/60.

So, what does all of this mean? Fabbro is adequate in shot suppression, but he allows quality chances and absolutely craters offensive output when he’s on the ice. This lines up pretty well with my eye test.

. Defense. Nashville Predators. DANTE FABBRO. C

Fabbro had a passable first NHL season, but he has some glaring flaws. However, don’t be too concerned despite the low grade; I have full faith that the Predators know what they’re doing when it comes to developing homegrown defenders.

Fabbro has ample talent and should only improve with time. This doesn’t change the fact that he should be bumped down to a lesser role until he can handle top-four minutes reliably.

Ideally, he’d be paired with a guy like Dylan Demelo or Vince Dunn, who would help him grow his offensive game, but we’ll see what happens with the roster in the offseason.

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It’s doubtful that the organization will reduce his role, but again in this specific case I trust them to do the right thing; he obviously has their vote of confidence, which is nice.