There was a time, many moons ago, when the Predators did not look like they would become the 2017 Western Conference Champions, let alone make the playoffs. It was very early in the season, and the team needed a hero to emerge and steal points when the opportunity presented itself. I never thought that hero would be Matt Irwin. A third pair warrior, Irwin’s game was a steadying force throughout the year.
Irwin played primarily with Yannick Weber and had brief stints with Roman Josi. With these two offensive defensemen as his D partners, Irwin was able to sit back and play solid defense. He recorded 121 blocked shots in the regular season, good for a spot in the top 100.
Entering the season, many honestly expected Irwin to be AHL fodder, but Irwin upped his game in a big way, earning his 3rd pairing position and keeping last year’s pairing of Bitetto and Granberg in the press box and in Milwaukee respectively.
3 G, 11 A- 14 Pts
Best Moment of the Year
The most impressive stretch of the veteran defenseman’s career occurred from November 1st to November 5th, when he posted three goals in three consecutive games in order to snag 4 of a possible 6 points in the standings.
Irwin was possibly our best defenseman in that stretch, which unfortunately said more about the team’s struggles out of the gates than his individual prowess.
Worst Moment of the Year
This did not look fun. In game 6 of the Western Conference finals, Irwin was caught in front of the goal with Rinne to the side of the goal. When Ryan Getzlaf fed the puck to Ondrej Kase in the slot, he had to play impromptu goalie, and it did not end well. Kase recorded his second goal of the playoffs (both against the Preds), bringing the Ducks within 1 in Game 6. However, we all know how that game ended, so Irwin doesn’t have to remember lying down in the crease like that.
I expect Irwin to be a mainstay on the Preds 3rd defensive pairing in 2017-18. I would not expect him to move up or down the lineup. If Irwin can pot a few more than 3 goals, it would go a long way toward replacing the goal scoring of James Neal, but I won’t hold my breath. Irwin could just as easily score zero goals next year, and it could still be considered a great season for him. He makes his paycheck on Pekka’s end of the ice.
Irwin surpassed all of our wildest expectations. He was consistent, and the team seemed more calm on the ice with Irwin out there compared to some other options. His point production will never be eye-catching, but he earned a well-deserved new one-year deal from the team in January.
How would you grade Matt Irwin’s 16-17 campaign?
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