Drafted by Nashville in the 4th round (102nd overall) in the 2009 entry draft as an agile puck-moving defenseman with European flair, blueliner Mattias Ekholm might finally crack the roster as a regular contributor, thanks to Nashville's decision to execute the compliance buyout of Hal Gill. After earning a roster spot out of training camp in 2011, Ekholm played in just two regular season games before Barry Trotz called Ekholm's play "horrible, just horrible," and the youngster was sent unceremoniously back across the pond to hone his skills. Last year, Ekholm spent the year in Milwaukee, posting a very respectable 32 points in 59 games, with a +15 rating. Say what you will about Barry Trotz's insane "defense wins championships" system, but the man appears to know how to motivate his players....
If the numbers hold up (and let's assume they drop if Ekholm breaks into the NHL as a regular, a tougher league than the AHL, or than even the Swedish Elite League), the Swedish defenseman could provide some assistance in a second power play defensive pairing, possibly giving some scoring and TOI relief to Shea Weber (who really should be playing more 5-on-5 minutes than anyone). That's important as Ekholm enters the final year of a three-year two-way entry-level deal that will pay him $900k at the NHL level, but a paltry $67,500 at the AHL level (stick tap: CapGeek). If he wants to be qualified as an RFA next summer, he'll have to give GMDP a reason to think he still belongs in the organization.
The big strike against Ekholm's chances of making the Opening Day roster is that he's exempt from waivers. Unless he really blows the doors off in camp and in preseason game situations, it's not unreasonable to think he'll be destined for another year in a Milwaukee Admirals sweater (or used later in the season as trade bait). Still, if the Preds want to carry seven defensemen on their 23-man roster, Ekholm could beat out Victor Bartley or Ryan Ellis for the final spot.
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