Predators defensemen not worried about new additions to blue line
The Nashville Predators are back in action on Wednesday night when the Washington Capitals visit Bridgestone Arena. Last week, Nashville shutout the Caps 2-0 in Maryland at the Baltimore Hockey Classic.
As cuts to the roster continue to be made, there is one area where the Predators brass are taking extra consideration and time when determining who to keep and who to send to Milwaukee.
Through the first couple rounds of cuts, 11 defensemen remain with the Predators at training camp: Teemu Laakso, Jonathon Blum, Francis Bouillon, Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, Jack Hillen, Roman Josi, Kevin Klein, Tyler Sloan, Ryan Suter, and Predators Captain Shea Weber.
With Francis Bouillon out of the lineup still recovering from a concussion sustained last season, Nashville only has four returning blue liners who will be ready for opening night. There are two or three open roster spots on defense, depending on whether or not Nashville goes with six or seven defensemen.
After Bouillon, Kevin Klein is the oldest member of the returning defense corps at the age of 26, just a little over a month older than alternate captain Ryan Suter. Klein notes that it isn’t usual for their to be a battle for roster spots on defense in Nashville. “That’s unusual. But there are a lot of guys who can be here. It will be fun to see,” he said.
Drafted 37th overall in 2003, Klein says he isn’t paying too close attention to the competition. “Not really,” Klein explains, “We have a lot of guys. Anyone at this camp can play on our team. We have a lot of good young prospects and a few guys moved in during free agency.”
Suter acknowledges watching the competition, but only a little bit — and he has no doubt about the strength of the Predators defense this season. “You watch, but you are mainly focused on preparing yourself for the season. Our scouts and our coaching staff have done a great job in the past. I expect this year to be no different. They are going to find the right guys and the right fit for our team,” he said.
Like Suter, Klein is not concerned about inexperience on the blue line. “Blum got a feel for the League last year, playing half the season and the playoffs. He knows what he has to do to be a good player,” he said.
The Kitchener, Ontario native also noted that you can’t be fooled by the age of Shea Weber and Suter. “We’ve got Sutes and Webs who have been in the League for a number of years. Even though they are only 26 years old, they have that leadership presence,” he said.
As for himself, Klein offers a modest assessment. “I fit in when I can. If someone asks me something, I’ll lead. I try to lead by example on the ice.”
Teemu Laakso, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, Jack Hillen, Tyler Sloan, and Roman Josi all entered training camp with hopes of making opening night roster.
Josi suffered an injury during practice and has not had an opportunity to play a pre-season game. Right now, Teemu Laakso seems to be a lock for one of the positions. Not only has his play been steady and he has looked comfortable in the pre-season games he has played, but because Laakso has had a contract with an NHL team for longer than three years, he is not exempt from waivers and the Predators would risk him being picked up if they tried to send him to Milwaukee.
Jack Hillen has been paired with Laakso during a lot of the pre-season action the two have seen. The pair say they are already comfortable and have developed a chemistry playing with one another. Hillen played 175 games in the NHL with the Islanders.
Canadian Junior’s most decorated defenseman will try to spoil the party. Ryan Ellis is trying to crack the roster during his third training camp with Nashville. Like Ellis, Ekholm has never played a regular season game in the American Hockey League. It is likely Ellis and Ekholm will start the season in Milwaukee, despite fan anticipation for both blue liners to make the NHL roster.
Then there is Sloan, potentially the Predators 7th defensemen. Sloan split time between the Washington Capitals and Hershey Bears of the AHL. If Sloan makes the team, the 30 year old will bring with him 99 NHL games experience.
While the players might be new to playing for Nashville in the NHL, the only way the Predators will have an inexperienced defense would be if in a surprise move, the organization took a chance on Ekholm and Ellis and sent Hillen and Sloan packing. An unlikely move, but with only three more pre-season games, the Predators have some tough decisions to make in the days ahead.
Tickets remain for tonight’s tilt against the Capitals. There are two home games remaining before the season officially gets under way on October 7th when the Predators open the season with back-to-back games on the road in Columbus and St. Louis.
Photo credit: AP
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