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2017-18 Nashville Predators Position Preview: Defense, Part 1

Our 2017-18 Predators position preview series continues by looking at this season’s defensemen.

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Nashville Predators at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Over the course of the Nashville Predators franchise, their roster has always been synonymous with “defense.” From players like Kimmo Timonen and Marek Zidlicky to Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, the blue line has always been a strength of the Predators.

This season, their same top four defensemen of Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, and P.K. Subban return. That means that the best defensive core in the NHL is returning to the ice in gold. Although Ryan Ellis will be out with an injury until potentially New Year’s, General Manager David Poile went out and signed free agent Alexei Emelin to shore things up in the meantime.

Furthermore, the Predators have a plethora of options for their bottom pairing, especially once Ellis returns and Emelin presumably becomes the number five defenseman. Yannick Weber, Matt Irwin, Anthony Bitetto, Alexandre Carrier, and Samuel Girard all are hoping for excellent training camp results, because there is nowhere near enough space for all of them.

Regardless of who rounds out the defensive corps, some catastrophe would have to occur for this group of defensemen to not to be the best in the league.

For this preview, we will stick to the top four defensemen AKA the Four Horsemen!

Roman Josi

2016-17 regular season stats: 72gp, 12g, 37a, 49pts, 53.0 corsi%(EV).

2016-17 playoff stats: 22gp, 6g, 8a, 14pts.

NHL: Preseason-Florida Panthers at Nashville Predators
Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi (59) awaits the face-off at Bridgestone Arena.
Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

If the picture above surprises you, Roman Josi was named the eighth captain in franchise history on Tuesday. Following in the steps of Kimmo Timonen and Shea Weber, Josi is the next world-class defenseman in Nashville to wear a “C” on his sweater.

The start of the season will be interesting for Roman Josi, as he will be playing without his partner Ryan Ellis. Josi briefly played with P.K. Subban at the start of last season, but the two did not develop great chemistry on the ice. Subban and Mattias Ekholm became an outstanding pairing through the Stanley Cup Playoffs, so Laviolette is probably loathe to break those two up.

That means that either Alexei Emelin or Matt Irwin will be playing with Roman Josi to start the season. However, regardless of who Josi is paired with, expect him to be the same flawless defenseman that he has always been.

Ryan Ellis

2016-17 regular season stats: 71gp, 16g, 22a, 38pts, 49.3 corsi%(EV).

2016-17 playoff stats: 22gp, 5g, 8a, 13pts.

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Pittsburgh Penguins at Nashville Predators
Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis (4) takes a shot against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second period in game four of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final at Bridgestone Arena.
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

After sustaining a serious injury in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, Ryan Ellis will be unable to play until around New Year’s. An integral component to the defense, he found great chemistry playing alongside Roman Josi last season. While Ellis was always touted as a power-play specialist while a prospect, he bloomed into that role in the playoffs, scoring key one-time goals from the point.

While Ellis will be sorely missed on the ice, his presence will remain in the locker room. Ellis was named an associate captain of the Predators on Tuesday, meaning that he is second-in-command after Josi. Once he returns to the ice, he will be wearing an “A” on his sweater in every game.

It is extremely unfortunate seeing Ellis out for a long time, as he even eclipsed the shadows of Josi and Subban during the playoffs and was one of the most integral members of the Predators’ Stanley Cup run. All we can do is cross our fingers and hope that he returns to the ice sooner rather than later.

P.K. Subban

2016-17 regular season stats: 66gp, 10g, 30a, 40pts, 54.4 corsi%(EV).

2016-17 playoff stats: 22gp, 2g, 10a, 12pts.

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Nashville Predators at Pittsburgh Penguins
Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban (76) celebrates after scoring a goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first period in game one of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final at PPG PAINTS Arena. Reminder that Colton Sissons was not the only one who got shafted.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

After battling a herniated disk for the majority of last season, P.K. Subban looked stronger and healthier than ever for the Stanley Cup playoffs. He was key in picking up a game one win over the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference Semifinal and was a major reason why the Predators had so much success, always being asked to take on opponent’s top lines. He was also the only Predator named to the All-Star Game last season. With a full off-season to further recover and heal up, Subban will hopefully be looking like one of the best defensemen in the NHL from the first game onward.

When I brought a friend of mine to see the Predators play the Blue Jackets in Columbus, he said that he would have paid money just to watch Subban warm up. That is how talented and dynamic Subban is. If there is any defenseman on the Predators’ roster who has the ability to just take over and dominate a game, it is Subban. He is an extremely passionate player who leaves everything on the ice every night.

David Poile and Peter Laviolette acknowledged the powerful voice that P.K. Subban is by naming him to the Predators’ leadership group on Tuesday. It was probably an easy decision to make: there is no player in the NHL who is more outgoing than Subban. From his heart-warming charity work, outstanding charm with the media, and all-star talent, Subban is one of the great treasures of the NHL. With a full season in Nashville under his belt, he will only get better.

Mattias Ekholm

2016-17 regular season stats: 82gp, 3g, 20a, 23pts, 52.8 corsi%(EV).

2016-17 playoff stats: 22gp, 1g, 10a, 11pts.

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Pittsburgh Penguins at Nashville Predators
Nashville Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm (14) attempts to block a shot from the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period in game three of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final at Bridgestone Arena.
Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

With Ellis getting tons of attention during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the title of “most underrated Predators defenseman” probably falls to Mattias Ekholm. Along with Subban, he was asked to shut down the lines of Jonathan Toews, Vladmir Tarasenko, Ryan Getzlaf, and Evgeni Malkin last spring, doing so with astounding success.

With one of the larger body frames on the Predators, Ekholm began taking on the role of enforcer as the playoffs wore on. While sometimes it would result in him taking dumb penalties, his physical presence in the corners was extremely noticeable by his opponents.

Another long-time Predator, Mattias Ekholm was named to the leadership group and awarded the title of alternate captain.

Look for a preview of the bottom pairing defensemen (all four of them!) from Kate later today.