Imagine being in college when all of a sudden your phone rings, and it’s the NHL team that drafted you saying they need you to play in some games at the end of the season and the playoffs. Thus began the NHL career of defenseman Dante Fabbro.
During the 2018-19 season, the Nashville Predators had one of the NHL’s most charismatic defensemen on their roster in P.K. Subban. At the beginning of that season, defenseman Dante Fabbro was still playing NCAA hockey for Boston University.
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Before the playoffs began, the Predators called upon Fabbro to play in the last five regular-season games. He made his NHL debut on March 30, 2019, against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Fabbro scored his first NHL goal during the last game of the season in a blowout win for the Predators against the Chicago Blackhawks on April 6, 2019.
Fabbro also participated in the ill-fated first-round playoff debacle against the Dallas Stars, registering one assist in the six games.
Fast forward to the beginning of last season. The Predators traded Subban to the New Jersey Devils, leaving defenseman Mattias Ekholm without a partner on the second defensive line.
General Manager David Poile and then head coach Peter Laviolette, bolstered by their confidence in a young Fabbro, partnered him with Ekholm on the second pairing, thus beginning his first full season as a Predators blue-liner.
While Fabbro held his own in his limited appearances at the end of the 2018-19 season, he was no Subban, and understandably so.
The much-maligned 2019-20 season, which had its share of ups and downs, included an all-important second pairing having to get used to playing together. The veteran Ekholm was without his partner in Subban, and the rookie Fabbro was learning the NHL ropes.
Ekholm and Fabbro had their struggles, which was just one issue in a laundry list of issues that plagued the Predators all season.
Did Fabbro have a horrible rookie season? The consensus is no. In 64 games played, he tallied 11 points (5 goals, 6 assists). His Corsi rating for the regular season was 50.7. He also averaged right at 19 minutes of ice time.
Some would argue that the Predators might have thrust Fabbro into the spotlight a little too quickly and that some time on the third defensive pairing would have done him some good. Regardless, he has now cemented his place on the roster.
New Season, New Teammates, New Options
With the Predators now staring at the results of their mini rebuild, defense becomes even more critical to a team looking to up their grit factor.
Adding Borowiecki and Benning gives the Predators some defensive options. Leaving Fabbro and Ekholm on the second line is most likely, but we could see an Ekholm/Borowiecki or an Ekholm/Benning line as well.
Shifting Fabbro to the third line would give him some more time to develop, but then the possibility of Ekholm having to get used to another partner could set him back once more.
Once the season starts, I see the likely defensive lineups as Josi/Ellis (obviously), Fabbro/Ekholm, and Borowiecki/Benning. The Predators would have some formidable options across all three defensive pairings, leaving few gaps in the defense, which is something that they could not boast last season.
All Eyes On Fabbro
Like so many other Predators (I’m looking at you, Juuse Saros), Fabbro will be in charge of his destiny as the season unfolds. He will be a restricted free agent at the end of next season. How he performs will determine his future and future pay with the team.
The upcoming training camp and skating time with Ekholm will be critical to Fabbro’s development. The more time those two can spend practicing together, the better off both will be.
At this point, the NHL will have no choice but to condense next season. According to ESPN’s Emily Kaplan, the latest proposal presents teams with a 52 or 56 game season.
With a shortened season, Fabbro has less time than usual to get into the flow of the game, gel with his defensive partner, and prove to everyone that placing him on the second defensive line was not a mistake.