Can Dante Fabbro flourish for the Preds this year?

The Nashville Predators have staked a lot on Fabbro and Carrier.

As we approach the start of the 2022-23 NHL season, On The Forecheck is taking an in-depth look at expectations for each Nashville Predators player for the new season. Today, we’re taking a look at defender Dante Fabbro.

2021-22 Recap:
Regular Season: 66 GP, 3 G, 21 A, 24 P, CF (5v5) 51.5%, 19:03 ATOI
Playoffs: 4 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 P, CF (5v5) 41.4%, 19:40 ATOI

Dante Fabbro, the Preds’ first-round pick in 2016, was once a prospect destined to eventually step into a rich and thriving defense corps; at the time, Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm were joined by Ryan Ellis and the newly-acquired PK Subban. The depth chart was, well, deep. The Preds have preferred balancing the number of left- and right-shot defenders they have, so that blueliners can play across from someone of opposite handedness. It’s a good strategy, and with Subban and Ellis the righties in the top four it meant that Fabbro had big shoes to step into—but, most of us assumed, eventually.

Eventually came sooner than expected, as injuries took a serious toll on Subban’s abilities, and Ellis first missed significant time to injuries and then was traded. It was a great opportunity for Fabbro, and for Alexandre Carrier (who has made the most of it), but how has he shaken out?

At the moment, the answer is that he’s a competent NHL player, but hasn’t looked like a future franchise defender.

During the 2021-22 regular season, Fabbro was a competent traditional defender, who played well if conservatively in his own end and was uninspiring offensively. He was a consistent passer, but lacked the offensive flair that’s distinguished the Predators’ better-known defenders. While the team as a whole struggled badly with discipline, Fabbro kept his head and rarely took penalties, while managing to draw quite a few.

While this was only his third full NHL season, Fabbro turned 24 in June. It’s safe to assume he’s unlikely to change drastically as a player, though he can continue to improve, and further experience is likely to suit his playstyle. It’s not necessary for a defender to be offensively spectacular to be a good player, or to play on a successful team—while offense wins championships, as we’ve seen from most of the recent Stanley Cup champions, there are steady and reliable defenders who set up plays but rarely finish them on all those teams as well.

That could be Fabbro; he’s shown gradual but steady improvement in his playmaking, going from a player who only rarely made passes other players were able to convert on (6 in 64 games in his rookie season) to a more reliable contributor, at least at even strength.

He spent under 11 minutes on the power play this season, and didn’t manage to make any positive impact there in that time. He was a better contributor on the penalty kill, though still hampered by his lack of offensive impact. “Better” is also a relative term; Fabbro was average, while eating up minutes that other defenders didn’t have to (or couldn’t) play, but he was far from the best penalty-killing defender on his own team.

Fabbro’s Expectations for 2022-23

At this point, it seems wise not to set our hopes too high. With David Poile’s decision to let Jeremy Davies, the defensive prospect acquired in the Subban cap dump, go, and with no other young up-and-comers other than Carrier in the NHL yet, it’s tempting to get antsy. Josi and Ekholm are 32, and Josi’s injury history remains a concern. The pressure on Fabbro has to be enormous.

Ultimately, I think that that’s a mistake. Demanding Fabbro become a top defender isn’t going to help and is likely to hurt. There are ways he can improve his game, but hoping he becomes a good second-pair defender feels like a better way to approach the season.

I’d like to see Fabbro work on building off of the offensive vision he’s already shown developing, perhaps moving toward making some of the more dangerous passes that could really galvanize the offense with him on the ice. This would benefit not only his own stats but the team as a whole, if he could manage it, giving the Preds’ second and third lines some more scoring punch. Seeing him strengthen his special teams play, especially on the penalty kill where he’s more often relied on, would also be great.

One Bold Prediction

It’s not that bold, but I do feel like we see Fabbro hit the 30-assist mark this season. The bolder prediction is, with the improvements to team depth that we’ve seen, it’s possible he eclipses it. If he can do that without losing his more shutdown abilities, that would be a huge benefit to a team that needs some of those.