Coming off a season where they had given up only 190 goals, third best in the entire NHL, the Predators would try to continue their usual defensive success again during the 2011-2012 campaign. Would they be just as efficient? Nearly. Only allowing 15 more goals than they did in the previous year (205), which put them in a tie for 8th overall in the NHL.
There were surprises and disappointments for Nashville this season, however the one thing that seemingly always remains a constant factor for them is their stout defensive prowess. While some teams don’t seem to have any consistency there, the Predators’ blue-line never seems to have any problem at all.
1) Kevin Klein – The usual “whipping boy” for the entirety of Nashville’s fan base, Klein had has breakout season this year, playing the best hockey of his career in my opinion. Scoring 21 total points in the regular season (4 goals, 17 assists), including 4 points in the playoffs (2 goals, 2 assists), Klein’s offensive contributions sometimes overshadowed the fact that without his defensive play the Predators would have been in trouble on more than one occasion.
And here are some great examples:
While most of Klein’s defensive decisions aren’t perfect, he slowly became the one player on the ice who you forgot was out there, which is exactly how a great defensive player should be. When he contributed offensively it was great. When he stopped a defensive lapse it was great. Yes, he had his own moments, but this year was Kevin Klein’s best season, hands down.
2) Roman Josi – For a rookie, Josi was head and shoulders above what Nashville could have expected from him this season. Becoming a mainstay on the Predators blue-line (so much so that fans expressed their sincerest displeasures when he was injured and out of the lineup), Josi tallied 5 goals and 11 assists in his rookie campaign. He averaged the 4th most ice time out of all defensemen for Nashville with 18:23 average a game, only below Klein/Weber/and Suter. That’s saying something.
1) Teemu Laakso – Boy, this guy had his chance and effectively blew it. 9 games, 0 points, a -1 overall, and averaging 11 minutes a game. Laakso was sent back to the minors early in the season. While he collected 20 points in 55 games with the Milwaukee Admirals in the AHL, it wasn’t enough for him to break back into the lineup for Nashville, not in the least.
Laakso signed a 2 year deal with Severstal of the KHL a couple days ago. Whether he still wants a chance to prove himself in the NHL, Laakso will be taking his “talents” to northwest Russia now.
2) Mattias Ekholm – Yikes, this was a laugher. Ekholm spent a few game with Nashville early in the season and performed badly enough that Coach Trotz went on the record saying he was “horrible, absolutely horrible”. After being chewed up by the associated Nashville media, he was sent back to the his Swedish Elite League team, Brynas IF.
Now, I’m not saying Ekholm isn’t a good defenseman, because he definitely has the potential/talent to be one, but his time early in the season with Nashville wasn’t a good indicator. Hopefully we’ll see leaps and bounds of improvement this upcoming year at training camp.
3) Jonathan Blum – Now Blum, in my opinion, is the one player I almost didn’t put in the “disappointment” category, however I just couldn’t simply ignore what happened this season. After playing in nearly half the season for the Predators, Blum was summarily sent back to the Admirals early in December. He was, for lack of a better term, ineffective after such a prosperous end to his season in 2010-2011. Scoring 3 goals and 4 assists in 33 games and garnering a -14 overall, Blum saw his ice time slowly dwindle for the Predators until he eventually was re-assigned back to the minors.
Blum, in my mind, is the one player I expected to REALLY play better than he did this year. I’m not sure exactly what happened, however I look forward to seeing what kind of fiery passion Blum plays with come time for training camp this year. Depending on the defensive situation for Nashville this season, he could easily break the lineup. Plus, he’s always a easy guy to interview, which is a bonus of course.
1) Ryan Ellis – I can’t say too much about the Human Rocketship, however he didn’t impress me, but he didn’t disappoint me either. Is that good? Not really, but it isn’t bad either. I still think Ellis is going to be a great defenseman in the NHL one day, however I’m not so sure if it will be for the Predators or not. Hopefully it will be, but I could easily see Ellis being traded off this summer to 1) get back into the first round of the draft or 2) become packaged together with something else in a larger trade [of sorts].
I know that’s not very elaborate thinking, however what Nashville could get from dealing off Ellis could be a very large return…if it’s done sooner rather than later.
Overall, I was thoroughly pleased with the majority of Nashville’s defensive play this year. As usual, they had the defensive stalwarts of Suter and Weber to anchor the top line for the Predators (and hopefully we’ll have them for many years to come), and they had the added play of Franky Bouillon, Jack Hillen, and Hal Gill (later on in the season) as well. I’m grading them with an A-. They played great, but there is room for improvement.