In two seasons, Roman Josi has gone from depth defenseman to burgeoning star. After setting career highs in 2013-14, he has his sights set on getting his name into the Predators’ record book and continues to turn heads in Music City.
Much has been said this season about the Nashville Predators’ outstanding play, especially that of rookie Filip Forsberg and goaltender Pekka Rinne. And while the familiar faces in Nashville like Shea Weber and Mike Fisher continue to contribute, there’s a standout on defense, 24-year-old Roman Josi, who for the second straight season is making people take notice.
In 2013-14, Josi had a breakout performance alongside Weber. Taking the spot of the recently departed Ryan Suter, Josi didn’t just find his game, he excelled. He upped his average ice time from 23:31 in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign – Nashville’s first without Suter – to nearly 26:30. He scored 13 goals, a career high, and 40 points. He suited up for 72 games, the most of his career.
Through it all, however, there was the thought that maybe Josi was simply being helped along by Weber. Maybe, in 2014-15, Josi would regress and we could get a better grasp on what exactly he was capable of.
Well, if he was supposed to slow down, Josi, a second-round pick, 38th overall in 2008, didn’t get the memo. This campaign has been yet another where the young Swiss defenseman looks like he’s going to be a mainstay atop the NHL’s premier blueliners and have Predators fans asking, “Ryan Suter, who?”
While many think of Weber as one of the elite scoring blueliners in the league, Josi is having such an outstanding year that he could take Weber’s name out of the Predators record book. Offensively speaking, Josi has been dynamite, scoring 15 goals and 55 points, one shy of the Predators’ single season scoring record for defensemen set by Weber in 2013-14.
At even strength, Josi has registered 10 goals and 32 points, while starting nearly 10.5 percent more shifts in the defensive zone than his teammates. His scoring is more impressive considering that of all the defensemen in the league to suit up for at least 60 games this season, only seven play tougher competition on a nightly basis than him. And of those seven defenseman, only the Calgary Flames pairing of Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie start more shifts in the defensive zone than Josi. That’s not necessarily by design in Calgary, either. While Josi is given defensive starts because of coach Peter Laviolette’s confidence in him, Giordano and Brodie have started in their own end because of the Flames’ poor possession stats.
Speaking of possession, while some would look at Josi’s 49.9 percent shots attempts for percentage at even strength and assume he’s not a supremely skilled defenseman, it’s worth considering just how difficult his minutes have been regardless of the zone starts. At 5-on-5, the ten skaters Josi has played the most minutes against looks like a who’s who of the NHL. Some of Josi’s most common opponents include Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, David Backes, Jonathan Toews, Blake Wheeler, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Josi doesn’t have outstanding possession metrics simply because when he’s on the ice, so are top stars from the opposition, and that he even borders on the 50 percent, break-even mark is incredibly impressive. More impressive yet is that of all defensemen to play at least 1,000 minutes at 5-on-5, of which there have been 120, Josi ranks 10th in on-ice goals against per 60 minutes, watching just 1.73 goals squeak into the Nashville net while he’s on the ice playing against that crop of stars. And that’s nearly a full goal less than 2013-14, when Josi was on the ice for 2.68 goals against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5.
Of the 1,000-minute blueliners, Josi also has the fifth best goals for percentage at 5-on-5. When Josi is on the ice, Nashville has scored 60.7 percent of the goals, a percentage that ties him with Boston’s Torey Krug and Pittsburgh’s Paul Martin.
In an era when the best blueliners play jaw-dropping amounts of minutes on a nightly basis, Josi has only further cemented his role as a top-pairing guy under Laviolette. This season, Josi’s average ice time has increased by three seconds and is a full six seconds higher than Weber’s, his partner and who would be considered Nashville’s No. 1 defenseman. When it comes to 5-on-5 ice time, only three players in the league – Suter, Erik Karlsson and Drew Doughty – have played more minutes. On the power play, Josi remains by Weber’s side, getting first unit duty and plays alongside Weber on the penalty kill as well.
Forsberg gets headlines because he is doing what no other rookie has ever done in Nashville, Rinne is the talk of the league because of his outstanding play between the pipes and Weber is consistently praised for his leadership and steady defensive play. But it’s Josi who has stood out just as much, if not more, than his teammates. That he’s locked up for another four years at a cap hit of $4 million is a steal. No one expected the Predators to find such an incredible replacement for Suter, and especially not so fast.