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Nashville Predators 2016-17 Season Preview: The Top 4 Defensemen

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We continue our preseason positional previews. Up next are the 4 main guys who will be Pekka Rinne’s first line of defense.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-San Jose Sharks at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The previews of the Nashville Predators continue! Here is the breakdown of our preseason coverage:

Today we have the undeniable strength of this team: the top pairing defensemen, which includes four players, of course.

Position Strengths

Speed, mobility, and scoring

The addition of P.K. Subban gives the Predators more mobility than they had last season with Shea Weber. Nashville’s top four can straight up fly down the ice and should give the Predators more flexibility in the offensive zone.

Both Josi and Subban are capable of putting up big numbers offensively. Over the last three years they have averaged 52 and 55 points respectively. Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm both set new career highs last year scoring over 30 points each.

Position Weaknesses

Age

There are not many, if any, weaknesses of this group. But if pressed, I would have to say the main weakness is how young the unit is. The average age of the Predators top four defensemen is 26. There is no veteran, anchor of the defense such as a Brent Burns or Mark Giordano.

Catalyst of the Group

Roman Josi

With the trade of Shea Weber to Montreal, it is now Roman Josi’s time to shine. Josi is the longest tenured defensemen on the Predators roster. The past few seasons Josi has played the Ryan Suter to Shea Weber. This is the season Josi should start receiving the recognition he deserves. With all of the attention Subban will surely get, Josi should enjoy a career year. Sure, Subban is the shiny new toy in Nashville, but Josi is the backbone of the Nashville defense.

Breakout Player

P.K. Subban

Subban has the potential to be, if he is not already, the biggest star in Predators history. He has the charisma, skill, and dynamic personality to bring the Predators to new heights. Peter Laviolette’s system works best with mobile, puck moving defensemen and Subban personifies that. Roman Josi is perhaps the most offensively gifted defense partner Subban has played with, and the threat of both in the offensive zone should help them both put up big numbers.

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Roman Josi

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-San Jose Sharks at Nashville Predators Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

What he adds to the mix:

Scoring and leadership. With Weber in Montreal, Josi is the new leader of the defense. He logs heavy minutes and puts up big offensive numbers. Last season he broke Weber’s team record for points in a season with 61, good for fourth among all defensemen in the NHL.

Expectations this season:

There is no reason why Josi shouldnt have another 15-goal, 50-point season. Playing next to Subban those numbers could be even higher. Peter Laviolette’s system flourishes with mobile defensemen who can join the rush and play in the offensive zone, which just so happens to be Josi’s bread-and-butter. A Norris Trophy nomination isn’t entirely out of the question this season either.

What does the future hold?

Look for Josi to finally be recognized as an elite, top-five defenseman, whether it be this year or next. Josi has always been looked at as the second best defenseman on his team, whether it be true or not. The next few seasons are crucial for Josi to be looked at in the same category as Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson.

P.K. Subban

2016 NHL Awards Nominees Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

What he adds to he mix:

Where do we start here? Charisma, personality, offensive skill, superstardom, and the list goes on. Nashville has never had a superstar the caliber of Subban before. He has a larger-than-life personality and is more outspoken than any other player to wear a Predators uniform. Nashville has what is considered the best defense in the NHL, good luck going into the Music City and scoring goals.

Expectations this season:

Subban saw a dip in his goals scored last year with six after averaging double digit goals the previous three years. Expect Subban to get back to the 15-goal range playing in a system better suited for his skills that will allow him to score more often.

What does the future hold?

The sky is the limit for Subban in Nashville. His offensive numbers should see a spike playing with a better line mate and a system that is tailor made for his style of play. It would not be surprising to see Subban named captain when Mike Fisher decides to retire in the next few years.

Mattias Ekholm

NHL: Arizona Coyotes at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

What he adds to the mix:

Ekholm plays with a nastiness and edge that makes him a perfect compliment to Ryan Ellis. He enjoyed a breakout year in 2015 and should only improve from there. Ekholm averaged around 20 minutes of ice time and proved to be a defender Peter Laviolette could depend on.

Expectations this season:

Ekholm is not afraid to join the rush and finds himself in the middle of plenty of scoring chances. Last year he nearly doubled his point total from the season before. It would be unfair to expect that from him this season, but the 40-45 point range seems plausible for the Swede.

What does the future hold?

With Subban and Josi being anchors of the Nashville defense for quite some time, its hard to see Ekholm making it on to the top defensive line, barring injury. However, he and Ellis should form one of the better second pairing defensive units in the NHL for the next few years.

Ryan Ellis

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-San Jose Sharks at Nashville Predators Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

What he adds to the mix:

Ellis has always been referred to as undersized. That does not stop him from playing bigger than his size may indicate. Ellis has a booming slap shot which should come in handy given the man with the hardest slap shot in the league was just shipped out of Nashville.

Expectations this season:

It has been said that Ellis is great at quarterbacking the power play, so with Weber now in Montreal he should see some increased time with the man advantage. Ellis plays his best hockey when paired with Ekholm, so expect to see them stay together and score somewhere in the 35-40 point range.

What does the future hold?

As mentioned with Ekholm, it is hard to see Ellis cracking the top pairing in Nashville with Josi and Subban both being young and in their primes. He could be a player to keep an eye on next year with the expansion draft, it may be interesting to see if Ellis is protected by Nashville.