Mattias Ekholm Season Review: Better, Just Better

Preds defenseman Mattias Ekholm takes down Winnipeg Jets forward Devin Setoguchi during the third period on October 24, 2013 at Bridgestone Arena. - Mike Strasinger-USA TODAY Sports

The Swedish blueliner showed marked improvement in his game during the 2013-2014 season.

The Stats

GP Goals Assists Points +/- PIM Shoot %
62 1 8 9 -8 10 1.7
5-5 Pts/60 CF% CF% rel Sh% Sv% PDO Pen +/- per 60
0.52 50.10% +1.3% 7.80% 89.50% 97.3 -0.2

Season Review

The big question I asked about Mattias Ekholm back in September was whether the young Swede would (a) finally establish himself as an NHL regular, (b) spend another season in Milwaukee like he did in 2012-2013, or (c) simply flame out and repeat his "horrible, just horrible" 2011-2012 campaign. 86% of us who participated in the poll attached to that piece last September thought Ekholm would play fewer than 60 games for the Nashville Predators this year. Well, as you can see from the stats above, most of us were wrong.

While he's no Shea Weber, Ekholm scored all nine of his career points at the NHL level this season, including his first NHL goal, a blind backhand shot past the far side of San Jose Sharks netminder Antti Niemi at 7:16 of the second period at Bridgestone Arena on January 7, 2014. On the defensive side, Ekholm was positionally sound, and much stronger on the attacking bodies than his younger, more slender frame would allow. He also saw minutes against some of the top talent in the Central Division, like the St. Louis Blues' T.J. Oshie and Chicago Blackhawks' Patrick Kane. That's quite a reversal of fortune for Ekholm in the trust department with defensive detail-oriented former head coach Barry Trotz, who once publicly excoriated the youngster's play. Ekholm played quality second-pair minutes in a heavily defensive system, averaging almost 17 minutes per game, with a few glimpses on the power play.

Highlight Moment

Welcome to the bigs, Matty — finally.

The Road Ahead

The 2013-2014 campaign was a contract year for Mattias Ekholm, and he played the best hockey of his North American pro career (albeit he had a low bar to clear). According to CapGeek, he earned a salary of $900,000 in the final year of an entry-level contract, and General Manager David Poile will now have to decide whether or not to extend a qualifying offer. While Ekholm's development in the U.S. has been stunted for various reasons, his performance this year was worthy of at least a short extension -- probably not too much more money, though. If new head coach Peter Laviolette is serious about ratcheting up Nashville's speed and scoring, and activating the defense on a regular basis, Ekholm's positive Corsi-for percentage means he is probably an option Laviolette will want in his toolkit, at least relative to, say, Victor Bartley.

Speaking of how Ekholm compares to other defensemen, here's what OTF Editor Emeritus Dirk Hoag said in an email over the weekend about the Swede's game looking forward.

For my money, I like Ekholm's potential even more than Roman Josi's.

How does that claim strike you? Sound off in the comments below!

OTF Staff Grades

Dirk B
Jon C
Jason B
George C+
Jeremy C
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