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With Top-Four Defensive Role Possible, Dante Fabbro Staying Focused

Preds GM Poile Says Fabbro's Growth, Skill Helped Ease the Blow of Subban Trade

by Thomas Willis @TomAWillis / Digital Manager & Producer

A week ago, not much had changed for Dante Fabbro

The Predators' budding star on defense was just a few days out from attending his fourth Predators Development Camp in Nashville. One of three players with NHL experience on the 40-player roster, Fabbro was ahead of the curve as likely the only individual to have his name at least penciled in for the Preds' Opening Night roster on Oct. 3 against the Minnesota Wild. 

The first-round pick in 2016 signed his entry-level deal on March 27 and logged 10 games with the Predators, including all six in their first-round series with the Dallas Stars. The reviews were quite positive. The expectation was Fabbro would fulfill a similar role during the 2019-20 campaign: on the third pairing alongside Dan Hamhuis, logging roughly 10 minutes a night.

Then P.K. Subban was dealt to the New Jersey Devils on Saturday morning. Preds General Manager David Poile said the move was completed in order for the Predators to have the cap space to improve their team at forward, likely through free agency (opening on July 1). But then he added a fascinating qualifier: 

"I probably would not have made this trade if Dante Fabbro hadn't signed with the Predators and hadn't played at the end of the year and played as well as he did," Poile said following the completion of the 2019 NHL Draft. "That gave me good confidence that our defense, led by our captain Roman Josi, [Mattias] Ekholm and [Ryan] Ellis, and now with Fabbro becoming a very good, young player that we could still have a good defense and trade somebody like P.K."

Should we replace Subban's name with Fabbro's on the second pairing? For now, the answer is yes. Ten minutes a night has become 18 or more. Skating with Hamhuis has likely been exchanged for a role alongside Mattias Ekholm. Fabbro's level of responsibility has been turned way up. 

With the first skate of development camp in the books, how is Fabbro handling the significant shift on the outlook for his 2019-20 season?

"It's definitely a pretty cool thing to hear. It can definitely boost someone's confidence," Fabbro said of Poile's comments. "But at the same time, I never want to take something for granted. I think my mindset going into this week and throughout the summer and training camp coming up here is - I don't have a spot yet. I want to earn a spot. That's my mentality going forward."

Video: Fabbro talks expanded role after Subban trade 

It's rather rare to hear an NHL GM say he felt some assurance in trading a Norris Trophy-winning defenseman because of what he's seen from a rookie, but Fabbro isn't your normal 21-year-old on the blue line. 

"I have always considered myself a big-situation player," Fabbro said. "For me to go in there (to the Stanley Cup Playoffs), a lot of credit goes to what the coaching staff has done and has continued to do with me. To all the players with the Preds, it really goes a long way in welcoming someone to the team and making someone feel comfortable.

"I want to continue to develop and be a player that maybe has a top-four role. At the same time, I want to earn that spot; that is where all the work will come in this summer and continue on into training camp."

Even with last weekend's news, Fabbro says he can't get too far ahead of himself. Step one is being the best player at development camp and helping the other prospects and recent draft picks around him. 

In 2014, a 19-year-old Filip Forsberg was the Predators' best player at development camp, then again at the rookie tournament, and followed that up by standing out at training camp and putting together a 26-goal, 63-point rookie season, which should have earned him more Calder Trophy recognition. The path has been walked before, and Fabbro could already be a few steps into the journey himself. 

The mission leading into the new season remains the same for Fabbro, but the expectations and responsibility seem to be a lot higher - and that's just fine with him. 

"Just the way I have approached the game over the course of this last year, a lot of the experiences I have had in the Spengler [Cup] and being able to come here at the end of the year and [2019 IIHF World Championship]. Using that experience, and bringing that here could definitely help me," Fabbro said. "Just keeping a level head, and making sure I am being the best version of myself every day and treating everyone with respect. I think if I work hard every day, I will get the results I want."

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