The Nashville Predators’ 2016 17th-overall selection Dante Fabbro hasn’t lived up to the expectations set for him when he entered the NHL. His analytical numbers have been in the dumps even after a good start in the Covid-shortened 2020-21 season. Additionally, the play on the ice hardly looks improved for someone who has showcased a ton of skill in other leagues. So when do we start to worry about him, and what could happen if there is not much more improvement?
What Do the Numbers Say?
In short, the numbers aren’t good. At one point in 2020-21, he led the team in goals above replacement (GAR) per Evolving-Hockey, but that didn’t last very long, and he quickly fell down the list. It was a good start, and the tangible improvement seemed to be there, but he fell back to earth once the sample size got more extensive.
From 2018-21 Fabbro has a -0.7 GAR, and it’s because of his defense that he’s not lower down the list. Among Preds players with 1000 total minutes during that time, he ranks 17th out of 19 players, above only Yannick Weber and Kyle Turris. His -8.3 even-strength offense goals above replacement (EVO) is the worst on the team by a wide margin.
The numbers need to be better for a player viewed as a solid offensive presence and wise decision-maker on the blue line. His skill and ability with the puck are why he was brought up straight from college, but he has shown very little confidence making plays at the professional level.
Many of his problems stem from making decisions too slowly or flubbing the puck and turning it over. There have been multiple instances of him passing too late or missing the puck altogether and giving the puck away as a result. It’s certainly not optimal for a player you want to trust with the puck on a nightly basis.
Is it Fabbro’s fault?
No. I don’t think it is. As I just mentioned, Fabbro was brought up straight out of college because the Predators needed someone on the blue line to replace P.K. Subban. Shortly after that, Fabbro began to look overwhelmed in his new role as a top-four defender in the best hockey league across the globe.
It’s a tough gig, especially when the player you’re replacing is one of many catalysts of the franchise’s first-ever Stanley Cup Final trip. They went into the playoffs as the lowest seed and eventually fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. Subban’s larger-than-life attitude and approach to the game made for some huge shoes to fill.
Subban’s personality was unique, and bringing in a young and quiet kid straight out of college makes everything harder. I find it hard to blame a player who had zero professional experience before being thrown into the fire for not living up to the already lofty expectations set for him from the outset.
None of this is optimal. Everyone wants Fabbro to succeed. However, coming into the league with tons of expectations and no professional experience can take its toll on a player’s physical and mental development. It has with Fabbro. Although it has been tough to watch over the past few seasons, the hope is that he will continue to gain confidence with more deployment, which is what he needs.
Is it okay to worry?
Of course, it’s okay to worry. Lack of confidence can be detrimental to a player’s results. However, throwing out the bust label at this point is still premature. Up to this point in the 2021-22 season, Fabbro has been one of the team’s best defenders per the metrics used above. It’s clear that the talent is there, and he’s growing as a player. But we’ve seen this act before. The biggest thing to watch out for is regression in a larger sample size. It’s what happened in 2020-21, and no one wants it to happen again.
As for what could happen if Fabbro doesn’t improve more, it would be a sour note on David Poile’s long resume of drafting defensemen and turning them into studs. It would mean replacing a defender that was expected to significantly contribute to a franchise’s future. Luckily, some other players can step up if needed. David Farrance is the first one to come to mind. It’s not optimal, but there are ways to navigate the obstacles if something needs to be done.
The good news is, right now, Fabbro is playing some excellent hockey. There is still a lot of time left for the young defender to grow more, and it’s important to remember that not every player’s development is linear. Coming into the NHL at an early place in his development may have stunted it. As we work our way through the winding road of his story, it’s essential to keep that in the back of our minds.
I, personally, have complete faith that Fabbro will turn into the defenseman that we all expect him to be. He’s playing with Roman Josi, and it seems to have boosted his confidence. I like what I’ve seen so far, and although some skepticism is still fair given his recent history, there is a lot to like about what we’re seeing from number 57 in gold.