As our player reviews wind down, we move on to another Predators defender, Yannick Weber. How did #7 for the boys in gold fare this season?
In grading any player’s season, it is crucial that there is an understanding of how we are evaluating him. Similar to how I evaluated Dante Fabbro and others, there are five pieces of critera that will be used to determine Weber’s grade: development, decision making, footwork, positioning, and offense.
In grading his development, the main consideration is going to be how far Weber has come over the past season. How close was he to meeting what expectations were set forth for him?
For decision making, the focus is going to be on how well Weber 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 Weber in the correct position in the defensive zone?
Positioning relates a little to both decision making and offense, but primarily we are looking at what spots on the ice Weber sees and maybe fails to see. Is he taking advantage of open ice? Is he failing to mark his responsibilities?
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 defender’s grade, this category is going to evaluate Yannick Weber’s offensive instincts. Does he jump into play at the right moments? How helpful is he when joining the rush?
As a 30-year-old defender, Yannick Weber’s production is likely going to trend lower and lower each season. Nonetheless, the third-pairing defenseman suited up for 62 games this season, a whole 15 games more than the previous season. He shuffled partners a little bit this season depending on who was healthy at the time, sometimes playing with Matt Irwin, other times Dan Hamhuis, and, towards the start of the season, had a number of games with local legend Tony Bitetto.
However, while providing strong defensive-zone presence, Yannick Weber never offered much in the way of driving the Predators’ offense. Head coach Peter Laviolette loves for his defensemen to be active contributors on the rush, and Weber simply is not that guy. Over those 62 games, Weber only managed to scrape together 6 points. Not surprisingly, once Dante Fabbro was called up to join the Predators, Weber found himself relegated to the press box.
While not the greatest at breaking the puck out or moving it down the ice, Weber actually was a stable presence in the defensive zone for the Predators. He did an good job at recognizing when he needed to change who he needed to cover and did very well at clogging shooting lanes without blocking shots and putting himself in harm’s way. Unlike Ryan Ellis, I never found myself screaming at my TV for any defensive mistakes regarding Weber, so I knew he did well. The numbers just prove it.
The one glarring issue with Weber’s defensive coverage, and honestly the Predators' defense as a whole, was his inability to communicate well with his partner to cover the back door of the net. Countless times throughout the season, Rinne would be completely helpless as the defense would seemingly drift around the defensive zone and be overaggressive on the puck, leading towards opportunities in front of the net. Weber was no different.
In a way, Yannick Weber should score very well in positioning, because he never took offensive risks. He never put himself in position to be caught out and always seemed ready for incoming rushes from opposing teams.
However, that would be an archaic way of evaluating positioning, because defensemen need to be involved in the offensive rush. The fact that Weber never took risks to jump in and get involved with the play shows that he failed to play the modern style that Peter Laviolette asks of his defense. Weber takes so few risks that his play offers nearly no upside. He’s always in position because he’s never in position to aid the offense. Yes, his defensive zone position is solid, but it is the only area of his game where positioning aids him. That does not earn him a great grade.
Part of the reason why Yannick Weber does not participate in the offensive rushes as much is that, compared to his peers, there are some issues with his footwork. Namely, if you watch the Predators' defense, Weber is not the world’s fastest backwards skater. He has issues if he gets too far forward on a rush and can find himself making awkward backward-to-forward transitions when the other team counterattacks against the Predators. On the one hand, Weber realizes that this is not his strong suit, and is aware enough not to jump too far into a play. However, it is undeniably a major flaw as a defender which spills over into other facets of his game: Weber is just not that strong of a backwards skater.
With only 6 points in 62 games, Yannick Weber was an offensive black hole. We have talked ad nauseum about how he does not join the offense, but he provided so little last season that it’s almost remarkable.
Weber barely averaged more than one shot per game in a system where the defenders are relied upon to shoot the puck all of the time. He only averaged 1.08 shots per game. It is almost hard to evaluate Weber’s offense because of how little he was involved with it whatsoever. Once again, comparing what Weber could contribute compared to Dante Fabbro, it makes sense why Fabbro beat Weber out for a roster spot.
Final Grade: D+
Weber was not necessarily bad this season: he performed how many expected he would. However, similarly to my grading of Zac Rinaldo and my thought that he simply is not a modern NHL enforcer, Weber is not a modern NHL defender. Not only is he subpar as a backwards skater, but some of his footwork issues mean that he cannot accelerate and change his stride quick enough to be an effective part of the rush.
Honestly, if he could work on his stride and break some of his bad habits, I think Weber could be relevant and positive for the Predators again. Take Joe Pavelski for example. Pavelski had long-documented issues with his stride (I want to say there was a whole feature on it in an old USA Hockey magazine article), especially upon reaching the NHL level. He took some time one summer and focused almost solely on teaching his body to break its bad habits regarding his skating motion, and he became such an impact player. I’m not saying that working on his stride would make Yannick Weber a Joe Pavelski level player, but Pavelski is an example that proves issues regarding stride and footwork form are fixable. Weber just needs to take the steps to do so.