Let’s go ahead and acknowledge that Dante Fabbro might have been in a bit of an unfair situation this season. After all, it was the young defender’s impressive stint at the end of the 2018-19 season that gave David Poile the confidence to trade away P.K. Subban, just one year after a Norris-nominated season. That was a lot of trust to put into a (then) 21-year-old who only had 10 games of professional hockey experience under his belt.
And as the season progressed, it became clear that Fabbro was—well—a rookie defender. There were moments that made you cringe, but there were also plenty of reminders of why Fabbro is considered a blue-chip prospect. And you know what? That inconsistency is totally fine for a rookie defender. But against the backdrop of the Subban trade, and the subsequent vote of confidence from Poile, Fabbro wound up under the microscope perhaps more than other Preds had been coming into their rookie years.
Fabbro played in 64 of the Preds’ 69 games this season, scoring five goals and adding six assists for a total of 11 points. In the postseason (or whatever you choose to call that play-in round), Fabbro played in all four games but failed to record a point. The overall output is probably below what the Preds had hoped for coming into this season, especially in a top-four role.
Alternatively, the advanced stats really liked Fabbro’s play on defense.
The amount of expected goals Fabbro allowed while on the ice was 3% less than league average, which is fairly good for a top-four defender playing against some of the more dangerous lines in the league.
Over the course of a 60-minute game, sometimes you miss the more subtle points of the game. I know some of Fabbro’s mistakes have been in front-and-center in past reviews. But after re-watching some of his old games, I was actually fairly impressed with Fabbro’s play around his own net. Fabbro’s instincts as a net protector were well-grounded for a rookie player. His active stick and willingness to play the body in front of the net suppressed a number of good chances from opponents.
Here’s an example from a game against Ottawa. Fabbro is in perfect position to engage the puck-handler, Tyler Ennis, no matter which direction the puck goes.
Ennis goes for a wrap-around, but as you can see, Fabbro’s right where he needs to be and uses his active stick to prevent a shot attempt from happening. Even if Ennis had passed the puck to the circles, Fabbro would have been in a prime spot to either block a shot or clear the rebound.
Here’s another quality example of Fabbro’s active stick preventing a quality chance, this time from a game against St. Louis.
Jay Bouwmeester manages to send a near-perfect pass to the slot, where Jaden Schwartz has a great look at a one-time chance. But Fabbro manages to get his stick in the way of Schwartz’s attempt, leading to an easier save opportunity. He then uses his body to block out Oskar Sundqvist, preventing a second-chance opportunity and clearing the puck from the slot.
Another plus? Fabbro is an excellent skater with the ability to cut through defenses. We saw him get the Preds out of some tight situations by eluding the forecheck, weaving through neutral zone traps, or simply using his balance to fight off aggressive forwards and exit his own zone.
Fabbro’s offensive numbers...oof.
His point total in a rookie season can be excused, especially because...you know... *gestures vaguely towards a Predators offense that was 50 shades of awful this season*
But the concern for Fabbro is that he wasn’t even CREATING offensive chances.
The replacement chart from Evolving Hockey shows how above or below “replacement level” (a.k.a. league average) a player is in a particular category. As you can see, Fabbro was well below average when it came to expected goals per 60 minutes. In layman’s terms, that means when Fabbro was on the ice, chances are the Preds were getting slim to jack on net.
A big contributing factor to this is turnovers. Fabbro struggled to protect the puck this season, especially in transition. That’s an area in which you have to be near-perfect as a puck-carrier; a turnover in transition or a poor zone entry attempt will leave you vulnerable to a rush attempt the other way, like this turnover that led to a goal against by the Rangers in December.
Another big knock on Fabbro was his overall awareness, which, again, is something to be expected of a rookie defender. On several occasions, we’d see Fabbro caught out of position on a great chance by the opposing team. Many times, this was due to Fabbro being perhaps too aggressive in trying to force a play, such as this play against the Coyotes in the playoffs:
In the clip, Fabbro gets caught pinching in at the blue line trying to keep the puck in the Coyotes’ zone. Instead, the puck gets behind him, and Arizona winds up with a two-on-one chance.
Fabbro’s chemistry with main defense partner Mattias Ekholm is a topic that’s been oft discussed throughout the year. To me, that’s not a long-term concern. As Fabbro gets more experience under his belt, and has more time with Ekholm, we’ll start to see improvement in the “you’ve got to know where your teammate is going be” aspect of the game. Like everything else in the “bad” list, this is something that’s easily fixable over time.
Fabbro’s most memorable moment came during the Winter Classic, finishing a feed from Matt Duchene to give the Preds a 2-0 lead. I don’t remember much about what happened after that, but I can only assume everything turned out great, Predators fans went home full of barbecue and great memories, and everyone lived happily ever after.
[Ed.: Checks out!]
There’s a lot of evidence pointing to Fabbro becoming a pretty good top-four defender for the Predators. We just have to remember that he’s still young, and is still going to be prone to those “lol what?” moments from time to time. Barring any unexpected big move this offseason, Fabbro will likely slide in to the same spot he did this past season (next to Ekholm). The expectations will be higher moving forward, especially on offense.
The Final Grade
Again, this was a season we expected from Dante Fabbro. He was a 21-year-old rookie, after all.
How would you grade Dante Fabbro for the 2019-20 season?
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