Nashville Predators General Manager David Poile arrived in Nashville in 1997 to begin preparing the Predators to start play in the fall of 1998. By that time, he had already been established as a man who built his teams from the back (defense) to the front.
He brought Hockey Hall of Famers Rod Langway and Larry Murphy to Washington by trades and drafted Scott Stevens. Later, he traded for Calle Johansson and Al Iafrate. Those Washington Capitals teams got a lot of offense from their defense.
The same has happened in Nashville, almost from the start. However, this season’s Predators top six on defense is extra special in that they were all drafted (granted, one was reacquired in a trade) by the Predators.
See Preds Defense All-time
Not many teams can make that claim. The breakthrough after the team’s expansion era came in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, held in Nashville. The Predators selected four defensemen in that draft that have played for them.
Ryan Suter (first round, seventh overall) played 542 games for the Preds before his free agent departure to Minnesota. In the second round, the Predators harvested Kevin Klein (37th overall) and Captain Shea Weber (49th overall). Klein played 403 games for Nashville before his (Jan. 22, 2014) trade to the New York Rangers, while Weber has notched 682 and counting. Also taken in the third round was Alex Sulzer (92nd overall), who played in 53 games for the Predators. Weber, Suter and Klein were the core of the Predators’ defense from 2006 through 2012.
Cody Franson, boyhood friend of Weber in British Columbia, was drafted two years later, taken in the third round, 79th overall, in 2005. He joined the other three on the blueline from 2009 through 2011, before he was traded to Toronto in July of 2011.
In 2009, the Predators selected two more members of the current defensemen. Ryan Ellis was a first rounder, (11th overall), taken from the Windsor Spitfires, where his coach was original Predator defenseman Bob Boughner.
Ellis spent two more award-winning seasons at Windsor after his selection, then made his first tentative steps as a pro in 2011-12, split between Milwaukee and Nashville. Last season, the light bulb seemed to fully illuminate for him, and from January 2014 going forward, he has begun to realize his potential.
Mattias Ekholm did not immediately come to North America after he was drafted by the Preds in 2009. He remained two more seasons in Sweden, had a difficult two-game trial with the Predators in 2011-12, and then finished back in Sweden. However, a strong 2012-13 season in Milwaukee prepared him for the transition and he has spent the past two seasons as a regular with the Predators. He has made a very large step forward this season.
At the 2013 Draft, it appeared the Predators were going to draft a forward. Heading into that selection meeting, the Predators had Seth Jones tabbed as the best player available. Poile thought there was no chance to land Jones, as the Preds were picking fourth. However, Colorado took center Nathan MacKinnon; Florida went for center Alexander Barkov, and Tampa Bay nabbed winger Jonathan Drouin.
It was at that point that Poile sprinted to the podium and took Seth Jones with the fourth pick. Poile had told reporters in a pre-draft meeting that he would indeed take Jones if such a scenario worked out, he also said he didn’t think there was anyway that it would.
When the Predators made their mid-February trade with Toronto to reacquire Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli, that gave the Predators six “homegrown” starters on defense. This group of defensemen, along with the play of Pekka Rinne and Carter Hutton, have the Predators in the Top Five defensively in the NHL this season. But as important as they are in their own zone, they are almost as important on the attack.
See Offensive Statistics of Preds Defense
Since the team started, the defensemen have contributed as little as just over 12 percent of the team’s goals to 23.6 percent last season and 23.2 percent (through March 29) this time around.
Shea Weber has been the top goal-scoring defenseman each of the past six years and seven of the last eight. He and Roman Josi are currently tied for this season’s lead following Sunday's game. Last season, Weber (23) and Josi (13) combined for a team-record 36 goals by a tandem. This season with six games left, they have 30.
Weber has been his steady self, and Josi’s offense is on the upswing. And it’s all homegrown!