Everyone has a friend with an annoying little brother. He’s always there, wanting to play whatever game is currently occupying you and your friend.
It’s an inconvenience, but usually one that can be overlooked. The issues arise when the little brother starts playing equally as well as you and your friend. Then things get serious.
Nashville Predators defenseman Yannick Weber, who signed a one-year deal with the club on July 1, saw this scenario play out first hand in his home country of Switzerland. He and his teammate, also named Yannick, skated together for years until his friend’s little brother leveled up and started playing hockey with them.
Maybe you see where this is going.
“It was always a little weird having two Yannicks on the same team spelled exactly the same way. He had a younger brother, Roman, so that’s how I knew him first,” Weber said via phone from Switzerland this week.
“When we got older, [Roman] was pretty good, so he played a few levels up, so we ended up playing a little bit of junior together and World Juniors together, and through that we became really good friends,” Weber said. “We are from the same hometown (Bern), we have been training together the last five, six years. We’ve become good friends, so it’s definitely exciting to be on the same team again. I know how good he is for the team.”
The circumstances are a little different as Weber and Josi reunite this time. It won’t be first Yannick Josi and then Roman who will join Weber on the ice, but instead, solely the younger brother. Training partners during the offseason for the past half dozen years, Weber has heard good thing after good thing about the Music City and the Predators organization from Josi; now he’ll get to experience it for himself.
“He really speaks highly of it, and has enjoyed his time there, so for me, it’s always been an organization that is really high on all the standards, so I’m definitely very excited,” Weber said. “Personally, I always enjoyed playing in Nashville as an opponent. I always thought the fan base is incredible, the arena is very fun to play in. The arena’s atmosphere is great, and now being a part of the Predators, I’m very excited.
“Now being on the other side, it’s going to be a fun 41 home games for us.”
Weber joins Josi and the Predators at something of a transitional time for their roles as defensemen. Exemplified by the Pittsburgh Penguins during their run to the Stanley Cup, team speed, and specifically, quick puck movement from the defensive zone have become a required element for those hoping to be among the NHL’s finest. Nashville General Manager David Poile set about upgrading the Predators mobility on the blue line this offseason. A few weeks into it: enter P.K. Subban and Yannick Weber.
“We’re looking for more skill, more speed on the backend. That’s our theme in everything that we’ve been doing,” Poile said at the Preds recent development camp. “[Weber is] now a veteran player, he’s 27 years of age. He’s played for a couple different teams. He can skate, he’s got a terrific shot. He’s really good on the power play. He’s Swiss, he trains with Roman Josi, they know each other really well. He just seems like a fit.”
Weber sees the recent evolution of the game in the same way:
“If you look back around the League, if you look at the top teams that made it far, you see how their defense helps with creating offense. If you look at Pittsburgh or even Nashville the last couple years, or Washington, it definitely starts with their defense making quick plays and their D being a part of the rush and a part of the offense,” he said. “The way I know Nashville plays, I think that’s their style, and I think by adding Subban and myself - that are that style of players - it’ll be even more beneficial. We all know that you have to be good defensively to win, but it helps the forwards to know that the defense is so creative from the backend.”
Together with Subban in Montreal for four years and with Josi at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, it’s been clear to Weber what the superstar blueliners can do for their teams.
“If you look at Roman and what he has done the last few years, I think that shows it is the new trend of the new defenseman that’s most effective and will help you win. Subban did the same thing in Montreal and both of those guys play high minutes while being good defensively as well,” Weber explained. “Growing up with both of them, we’ve always been similar in that way. It’s definitely what I like to do and what the coaches expect from me: to carry the puck and be creative when it comes to the offense.”
So maybe things aren’t so bad if you end up playing with your friend’s younger brother. You may just end up on the same team. And you may find yourself on the cusp of something significant.
“It’s always great when you know the organization you’re with is a contender,” Weber said. “With Nashville, looking back a couple years, they’ve really made a push. They were really close. If you look at this past year and the year before that, it could have gone either way. They definitely have all the pieces needed to win the Cup. If you look at the D corps, if you look at the goaltender or up front, the pieces are there.
“Now with adding Subban who brings another piece to an offensive game, it’s definitely exciting to be a part of it. Our goals are going to be high this year.”