By taking defenseman Seth Jones with the 4th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, the Nashville Predators are setting themselves up to have one of the more talented defense corps in the league for the next several years, but how do all the pieces fit together for the 2013-2014 campaign?
When talking about players currently under contract (plus Jones), here's how the depth chart looks right now:
Roman Josi - Shea Weber
Hal Gill - Kevin Klein
Victor Bartley - Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm - Seth Jones
Mikko Vainonen - Taylor Aronson
In addition, you have Jonathon Blum and T.J. Brennan, who could become restricted free agents if the Predators wish to qualify them. Blum is a right-handed shot, Brennan a leftie.
As general manager David Poile states in the following interview aired on 102.5 The Game this afternoon, the team intends to give Jones every chance to earn an NHL job this fall:
There is a bit of a logjam there on the right side, however, as there's not enough ice time to accommodate Weber, Klein, Jones and Ellis, and moving a guy over to the left is far from optimal - it makes all sorts of basic plays more difficult, such as keeping pucks in at the offensive blueline, or making a simple D-to-D lateral pass. Even Barry Trotz admitted as such after some initial exuberance:
Trotz indicates the fact that both Jones and Weber play the right side will make it hard to play them on a pair— JoshuaCooper (@JoshuaCooper) July 1, 2013
Maybe for a while they could shift one of the righties over to the left side, but it's not a tenable long-term solution, which leads us to the idea that either Kevin Klein or Ryan Ellis may need to go.
Who To Trade, Ryan Ellis or Kevin Klein?
Some would assume that Ryan Ellis should be the one to ship out - concern about his ability to compete physically at the NHL level has always been out there, and he has yet to put up the kind of eye-popping offensive results that he did in junior hockey. Kevin Klein, on the other hand, has matured nicely into a solid 2nd-pair defender who carries the load on the penalty kill.
While he will never develop into a feared bodychecker, however, Ellis provides tremendous value as a puck-mover. On a team which regularly comes out on the losing end of the Shots For & Against battle, Ellis has been one of Nashville's best in that area in each of the last two seasons (see 2012 & 2013 results from Behind the Net).
Klein basically treads water in the puck possession game, which is OK, but I would think that Jones is destined for the spot just behind Shea Weber on the right side.
Admittedly, there is still a job on the left side of the second defense pairing which needs to be addressed, but that's the case no matter what situation works out here. Jones is not the answer to that question for the long term.
Given the right circumstances, Klein could bring a healthy return in trade, too. He's a proven commodity signed to a reasonable 5-year contract, the kind of asset which teams covet as the playoffs approach. Nashville sorely needs help up front, and Klein could prove to be the key to acquiring it.