That means a number of Predators defensemen will compete to fill, at minimum, 20 minutes of ice time per night. And there’s no shortage of players that are looking to step up.
During the Predators’ first preseason game, a split squad game against the Florida Panthers, Alexei Emelin put together his audition tape for extra ice time. Emelin was acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights this summer, and has the chance to reunite with his old Montreal teammate, P.K. Subban.
The two of them got to play together on Tuesday, and they showed how they can complement each other on the ice. While Subban was showing off his slick skating moves, Emelin was banging bodies and keeping opponents’ heads on a swivel.
“He’s exactly the player that I played with in Montreal, and that’s a physical presence and just steady back there,” Subban said. “You saw the physicality, I mean, he doesn’t need to do that in preseason, but that’s his game. He doesn’t have to prove that to anybody, but I love it when he does it.
“When he steps and initiates contact, he’s probably in the top three guys in the league in terms of stepping up and catching guys like that. He’s done it his whole career, I’ve watched him do it for a lot of years, and I can’t wait to see him do that in Gold this year.”
Subban could have talked forever about Emelin after the game.
“I don’t want to talk about it anymore because you guys will see it as the season goes on,” he added.
Head coach Peter Laviolette was also impressed with Emelin’s first performance in a Predators uniform, and lauded his ability to quickly adjust to a new system of play.
As far as Emelin is concerned, after being selected in the Expansion Draft and then quickly traded, he’s ready to settle in and play the game.
“This is hockey, you know,” Emelin said after practice this week. “It’s part of my job. Vegas picked me and in the next couple days Nashville traded for me, so it’s a pretty good team and I have a good chance to win the Stanley Cup.”
Another name in the mix to step up in Ellis’ stead is Yannick Weber, who already has a year under his belt with the organization. He spent most of last season paired up with Matt Irwin, but with Ellis’ absence, he may have to rotate in and out of the lineup with the Predators’ gluttony of defensemen.
After seeing last season’s merry-go-round of defensemen early in the season due to injury, he’s ready to play with any partner as this season begins.
“I think we had that situation a lot last year, and I think last year, everyone of us D-men was out at some point, and I think every d-man played with each other,” he said. “We know coming in that Ryan is going to be out for a little while, we definitely have a replacement with Emelin. He’s a veteran D-man who played in the league for a little while, so he’s going to give us a lot of help as well.”
While plenty of veterans duke it out for minutes, some young prospects could work their way into the fold. Alexandre Carrier has looked sharp in training camp, and could compete for a spot. Samuel Girard could also start the season with the team before his nine-game junior limit is up.
Laviolette noted that Carrier, Girard and Dougherty all impressed in the team’s second preseason game of the evening against Florida.
Anthony Bitetto, who missed extended time last season due to injury, will also throw his name in the hat for extra minutes, and thinks much of the defense corps will have the same attitude.
“It’s obviously the mindset,” Bitetto said. “I think anyone’s going to think that. Obviously, Elly is a huge part of our team and for him not being around is going to hurt us, but that’s why the depth of the organization showed last year, and it’s going to show again this year.
“I think we’re all excited and whoever that person is going to be is going to be in a good position to succeed and they will.”