For Nashville Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm, could a change in number lead to a positive change in his game? The blue-liner has worn 42 before this season, but recently changed his number to 14, the number worn in Sweden. So far in the preseason, Ekholm’s game seems drastically improved. He’s been faster on the ice, making solid outlet passes and contributing on special teams.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve done anything different,” said Ekholm on his training. “I usually workout with my friends back home. I workout hard during the week and have the weekend off. I feel good out there. I feel like I’ve gained a couple pounds. My skating is what I build my game around.”
In Monday night’s 3-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, Ekholm was finally paired with Ryan Ellis. Most are seeing Ekholm and Ellis as the third defense pairing, and with Ellis finally under contract, the Nashville blue line seems set. Working on chemistry in the preseason means mistakes can happen, but that’s what the team works on during this time.
“I think we’re working this new system now,” said Ekholm. “That’s a mindset we have to get set before season starts and have it in our minds every time. Even though we make mistakes, we learn from it.”
Thursday night was also the first time that head coach Peter Laviolette was able to evaluate Ekholm and Ellis together in a game atmosphere.
“Everybody, generally speaking, there were parts that were good in the first period,” said Laviolette. “[There was] just a little bit too much gap and little too much space we gave them to move around. I think those are things we can work on this week.”
In his first game with Ryan Ellis, Ekholm thinks the pair had a decent game.
“I think we had a pretty solid game,” said Ekholm. “We want to be offensive. Hopefully we can continue doing that. We talk a lot on the ice and hopefully we can keep that going.”
Getting work on special teams is fairly new to Ekholm. He didn’t see much work on the power play or the penalty kill last season. While not sure if he’ll remain on these special teams units, it’s been a good experience for him during the preseason.
“It’s new for me, I didn’t play much [on the] power play last year,” said Ekholm. “I was trying to take every opportunity I get and just learn from it. I don’t know if I’m going to start there, but there’s going to be injuries throughout the year and I’m just going to be ready to step up whenever I can.”
With a defense corps being so young, excellent coaching is a necessity in the development of these players. Phil Housley has been paramount in that department to help defenders improve their game.
“Just to see his resume and see what he’s done in the NHL, he has a lot of knowledge,” said Ekholm. “Just to be around him and see how he carries himself, it’s great. He’s trying to teach us and we’re young and work off each other.”
The Predators blue line is now set for the next few years, so it can only continue to improve. With young players such as Ekholm continuing to develop, Nashville should be able to enjoy many years of success on defense.
Full video of Mattias Ekholm:
Full post-game presser with Peter Laviolette: