At this time last year, Dante Fabbro was the highest rated defender in the Nashville Predators’ prospect pool. However, he still sat at 8th on the organizational depth chart, hidden away behind the likes of Yannick Weber, Matt Irwin, and Tony Bitetto. Returning to Boston University for another season of NCAA hockey, Fabbro continued to work on his craft and currently is slotted to play on the Predators’ second defensive pairing.
Overall, how was Dante Fabbro’s 2018-19 season? To do that, we will evaluate his whole body of work, not just his short time in the NHL, and do so by grading five key elements.
In grading any player’s season, it is crucial that there is an understanding of how we are evaluating him. For Dante Fabbro, there are five key elements that will be graded: development, decision making, footwork, positioning, and offense.
In grading his development, the main consideration is going to be how far Fabbro has come over the past season. He started the season at point A, and it was expected he reach point B. Did he exceed that goal? Come short? Hit the target?
For decision making, the focus is going to be on how well Fabbro can see the ice. Does he make the right passes? Does he abandon the offensive zone at the right moment or pinch too hard? Is Fabbro in the correct position in the defensive zone?
Footwork is an easy and much more technical element to grade, partially because it manifests itself so clearly in a player’s overall game. Proper use of edges and a quick first three strides are going to directly impact a player’s speed and acceleration.
Finally, there is offense. Rather than just creating a “shooting” category that would unfairly punish a defenseman’s grade, this category is going to evaluate Dante Fabbro’s offensive instincts. Does he jump into play at the right moments? How helpful is he when joining the rush?
With our criteria set, let’s jump into our first category.
While Dante Fabbro was rated extremely highly by many before the 2018-19 season, a coaching change by Boston University last summer raised very reasonable concerns that Fabbro might not take the next steps in his development. The New York Rangers hired Boston University’s coach David Quinn, who had done a phenomenal job improving Fabbro’s game. Taking over for Quinn at Boston University was Albie O’Connell, who was an assistant coach under Quinn and was suddenly a first-time head coach.
While Boston University unsurprisingly disappointed this season under O’Connell, posting a 16-18-4 record, Fabbro was not hindered by a new coaching staff. The continuity from O’Connell already being part of Boston University’s program under David Quinn probably played a role in Fabbro improving once again from his previous season. As captain, Fabbro earned 33 points in 38 games for the Terriers and finished third in scoring by defenders in the Hockey East Conference. Despite Fabbro’s efforts, Boston University ended up losing in overtime to the Northeastern Huskies in the Hockey East Semifinals 2-1, thus ending their pursuit of back-to-back Lou Lamoriello Conference Championship Trophies.
At this point in time, knowing that the Terriers had no chance at making the NCAA tournament, Fabbro signed his entry level contract with the Nashville Predators. Fabbro played four regular-season games and then six more in the playoffs. He made his debut against the Columbus Blue Jackets in a bad 5-2 home loss and then played in every game the rest of the season.
Since the Predators were eliminated by the Dallas Stars in six games, David Poile has praised Fabbro’s development. In trading away P.K. Subban to the New Jersey Devils, David Poile cited that he was able to trade Subban partially because Dante Fabbro proved he belonged in the lineup.
Beginning his collegiate season under some shadows of doubt to undoubtedly becoming an integral part of the Predators’ immediate plans, Dante Fabbro exceeded nearly all expectations this season.
To be up front, grading a player’s decision making is challenging when they split time between the NCAA and the NHL. This is because of the major differences in the time allowed for a player to make a decision in each league, caused by how much faster NHL players are. If a player has half a second to make a decision in the NCAA, that time is probably halved in the NHL. It may not seem that way, but that quarter of a second makes a significant difference and is the reason why so many talented players fail to crack NHL rosters.
Dante Fabbro made excellent decisions in the NCAA and was not only regarded as one of the best defenders in Hockey East, but in all of college hockey. There will be more oozing about his decisions in the offensive zone when we reach our “offense” category soon, but in the defensive and neutral zones he did a great job picking up the correct man while at Boston University.
In the NHL? Well, rookies need time to develop.
In his first game for the Predators at home against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Fabbro started and looked out of his element. He looked a little more comfortable as he got a few more minutes, but over his ten total NHL games he demonstrated a reaction time above what is needed for consistent NHL success. With time and experience, this should hopefully improve.
Over his collegiate career, Fabbro’s game has been carried largely in part by his footwork. He excels at maneuvering in tight spaces, often utilizing short and powerful backwards crossunders to re-position himself and to generate speed. On the topic of speed, he also has a powerful first three strides. Although his top speed is not by any means elite, he is able to make up for that by his quick acceleration. Additionally, his speed will come as he puts on more muscle, which realistically puts him on track with most 21-year-olds in the NHL.
Unfortunately for Fabbro, when he made the jump to the NHL, he immediately had a footwork gaffe.
Don’t let the position of Boone Jenner’s stick fool you here: Dante Fabbro just trips over his own feet trying to transition from skating forwards to backwards. It was not a great look in his first NHL game, and it still looks pretty awful. Nonetheless, it is also the kind of thing that happens to every NHL player at some point in time. It is extremely unfortunate that it occured in his first game and is part of a very small sample size in NHL experience for Fabbro.
Overall, people should be optimistic about Fabbro’s footwork. The speed will come with more muscle, and while he did embarrass himself against the Blue Jackets, Dante Fabbro has plenty of counter-examples that show he has the footwork to play in the NHL.
Because of his limited time in the NHL, positioning is hard to judge. Tied into similar issues in judging his decision making, the amount of time for Fabbro to react and position himself properly is significantly less in the NHL as compared to the NCAA. Nonetheless, Fabbro still seems to have a pretty solid grip on where he needs to be.
This clip covers a number of the various categories covered here. First, after Fabbro passes to Granlund, he immediately starts backpedaling, as covered in footwork. He then uses that momentum to explode forwards into the slot, positioning himself to receive a pass or to get a big rebound from a shot.
The catch in this clip is that, despite Fabbro’s smart play, he remains covered the whole time. Granlund really lacks any opportunity to pass to Fabbro. This is perhaps where the speed difference between the NHL and NCAA can be seen. Before backpedaling, Fabbro spends a hair too much time waiting on the blue line. He’s clearly covered on the blue line; Granlund has no outlet to Fabbro to begin with. Yes, Fabbro does make the right decision to cut in, but it’s simply too late to be effective.
Unfortunately, there are similar issues on the defensive end of the ice. Going back to Boone Jenner’s goal where Fabbro trips over himself, Fabbro trips because he’s trying to quickly make up for his lack of proper positioning. He was off-balance and simply not prepared for the Blue Jackets’ rush.
We know from his time at Boston University and through glimpses in the NHL that Dante Fabbro can indentify what proper positioning is; now he simply needs to react quickly enough to get into that positioning at the NHL level.
That’s the one word that anyone needs to describe Dante Fabbro’s offensive instincts. Fabbro is an expert at manipulating opponents into creating openings in the offensive zone, faking shots or taking some velocity off the puck to create opportunities for his teammates. While Fabbro’s shot is fine, he uses it more to generate opportunities for his teammates.
Bucking a major complaint of the Predators’ defense, Fabbro shoots to get the puck to the net rather than just trying to shoot it through the twine. Sure, he scores some goals in the clip above, but it’s from him often taking his time to trade power for accuracy, shooting through players screening opposing goalies. While it worked in the NCAA, it remains to be seen if Fabbro will have enough time to take the same opportunities in the NHL.
Referring once more to his excellent footwork, in the above clips Fabbro often receives the puck and proceeds to quickly cross-under once or twice to create a shooting lane. In a way Fabbro’s offensive style is amusing to watch, because the “crafty” nature of his game is typically employed by NHL veterans past their prime. However, Fabbro is already utilizing the cerebral hockey skillset as opposed to relying on raw physical ability, which he slightly lacks, or elite skill.
In Fabbro’s first NHL goal, after receiving the puck in the high slot, he does not try to one-time the puck or immediately rip a shot off like other Predator defenders. Instead, he corrals the puck, holds it, slightly shifts the angle on his blade to mislead the goalie, and fires his shot. In a calculated and collected manner, Fabbro notched his first NHL goal. Whenever his name appears in the goal column, expect these kinds of subtle, poised plays rather than pure talent or raw physical strength.
Final report card
Grading Dante Fabbro’s season is a challenging task due to the small sample size he has in the NHL. In addition, there is the challenge of comparing his short time in the NHL to his college hockey tenure.
Altogether, Dante Fabbro did not disappoint this season. He started the season as a prospect in an organization undergoing a coaching change and ended it as a mainstay on the Predators’ roster. Any way you slice it, Dante Fabbro enjoyed a successful season and, by all means, deserves an A-.
How would you grade Dante Fabbro’s season?
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