Training camp is still almost two months away with the new-look Nashville Predators having a lot to sort out in their starting lineup which has gone through so many changes.
On the defensive side of things, the free agency addition of Luke Schenn, which came as somewhat of a surprise, means that players like Dante Fabbro and Jeremy Lauzon will have battle hard to get an initial starting spot out of training camp.
Alexandre Carrier was re-signed by the team as well, and he should be safely locked into a starting spot. At least that’s the overwhelming assumption, but we really have no clue how new Head Coach Andrew Brunette is going to roll out his line combinations.
To sort all of this out, it may require someone switching sides from their normal side on defense. Fabbro and Carrier are right-shot defenseman, while Lauzon is a left shot defenseman.
When it comes down to choosing between Fabbro or Lauzon for the sixth spot in the starting defense, it brings a difficult dilemma because both players give you different pros and cons.
The Pros and Cons to Starting Fabbro
Fabbro can be a very serviceable bottom pairing defenseman for the Nashville Predators this season. Although he’s never really hit his maximum potential, he definitely does a lot of little things well to be a quality third pairing player.
Fabbro was re-signed to just a one-year deal back in March after a lot of speculation that he was on the trade block. Now he enters a year that feels like “make or break” for his future in Nashville. Otherwise, he’ll be right back in those trade rumors and if he reaches the offseason as a restricted free agent, he’ll be arbitration eligible.
What I like most about Fabbro is he is pretty responsible defensively. He’s usually in position to make defensive stops and get the play back to offense. He set a career high in blocks in 2022-23 with 129, which was third on the team behind Roman Josi and Ryan McDonagh.
Having a third pairing defenseman who you can trust to play responsibly and not be a liability when it comes to taking bad penalties. He needs to clean that up a bit, recording 50 PIM last season which was fourth on the team.
Obviously the problem with Fabbro is his offense has never really taken off. Regressing to just 11 points in a career high 79 games is not ideal for a player in their fourth full season in the NHL. I don’t care if he’s bottom pairing or not, he has to show more upside in this area.
Fabbro also saw his possession metrics drop to a uninspiring number at 44.4 in his Corsi-For Percentage.
Despite some dips in production, Fabbro remains a quality third pairing option for the Nashville Predators that you’re hoping can have somewhat of a breakout year in terms of producing a little more offense.
The Pros and Cons to Starting Lauzon
Lauzon might be the odd one out due to being a right-handed shot, while Schenn and Tyson Barrie are also right shots along with Carrier.
I can’t see the Predators benching Carrier for Lauzon, and Fabbro fits better alongside any of the other right-shot defenseman.
Lauzon might be able to play the left side, making Fabbro the expendable one out of training camp. Both players will get their starts and get swapped out, and who plays better will simply get the majority of starts over the other.
As for Lauzon and his strengths over Fabbro, I actually think he has more offense to offer. Particularly his shot.
Lauzon played 12 fewer regular season games than Fabbro but managed to strike for three goals on nearly 30 fewer shots. However, both players struggled with shooting percentages below four percent.
It’s important to remember that we don’t need either of these players to morph into the second coming of Roman Josi, but it would be nice to get a little bonus offense from one of them. And for that, Lauzon has more upside to me.
What further boosts Lauzon over Fabbro is Lauzon brings much more defensive force and physicality than Fabbro. Lauzon dished out an astounding 250 hits in 2022-23, which was ninth in the NHL.
Schenn led that list with 318 hits. So once again, expect the Predators to be a team that lays the lumber and doesn’t take flack. But clearly they can’t just be a team that plays hard hitting. They have to show more offensive finesse to move up the ranks among the NHL’s best teams.
You do need at least one player in your defensive core that’s just an enforcer type that sets the tone. Lauzon brings that without a doubt. We had that with Mark Borowiecki, who is now a Predators development coach, and Lauzon can overtake that role.
The downside, of course, to that is Lauzon is going to take a lot of untimely penalties that’s going to sometimes put the team in a really precarious situation that maybe Fabbro won’t do to you as often. So there’s that to consider.
Both can serve as players who rotate in and out of the starting lineup based on matchups and recent play, and it is slightly possible they both start together on the third pairing.
Schenn is kind of the wildcard here. Does he get rewarded with top pairing minutes with Josi, or does he get thrown onto the third pairing? Hard to say.
Someone is also going to have to switch sides, otherwise Lauzon might be the odd man out, which is what I’m leaning towards at least to open the season and see how Fabbro responds.
This dilemma adds to the enigma that the Nashville Predators are heading into 2023-24. A team that’s difficult to put a peg on as either a quality playoff contender or a team in rebuild.