Last week, Nashville Hockey Now dove into which Nashville Predators forwards were on the roster bubble heading into training camp. Now, we turn our attention to the defensemen.
While the top four blue-liners are all but solidified, the final two or three spots open room for discussion. The pairings are fluid, but Roman Josi, Luke Schenn, Ryan McDonagh, and Tyson Barrie have their spots already locked up.
Listed below are the remaining defenders vying for a spot in the lineup during training camp:
Fabbro is the most difficult player on this list to place. Like Philip Tomasino, who’s battling for a spot among the forwards, Fabbro was a highly touted prospect after signing with Nashville out of Boston University in March 2019.
Once thought to be the perfect replacement for P.K. Subban in the Predators top four, Fabbro signed his second contract with the club — a one-year, $2.4 million deal — and if nothing else, it’s a prove-it year for the 25-year-old defenseman. He’s a strong skater and his instincts are cerebral, but he has yet to live up to the expectations the organization had for him. He hasn’t been a liability by any means, but everyone involved believes he’s capable of more.
While Fabbro isn’t exactly on the bubble, he’s on this list because his future with the team is very much in question. The Predators have built a solid stable of defensive prospects that includes Tanner Molendyk, Spencer Stastney, Ryan Ufko, Luke Prokop, Marc Del Gaizo, and Semyon Chistyakov — all of whom made Nashville Hockey Now’s list of top prospects.
While he wasn’t the caliber of prospect Fabbro was, Carrier also had high expectations when he finally made his way onto the full-time roster in 2021 following the departure of Ryan Ellis, who Carrier was believed to replace. General manager Barry Trotz has made it known that he admires Carrier’s competitiveness, and he also acknowledged that Carrier had a tough season with injuries in 2022.
Like Fabbro, Carrier also signed a one-year, $2.5M deal with Nashville this summer, and could be fighting for his job next season as well. Both players will most likely occupy the two spots on the bottom pairing or rotate in and out with other players. Nothing is guaranteed, however, and another lackluster year for either can open the door for Trotz to go a different direction with no term left on either’s deal. The potential remains present for both players, but potential can only be written off for so long before tough decisions need to be made.
Lauzon was a polarizing pickup by former general manager David Poile at the 2022 trade deadline. His M.O. is more physicality over skill, and he brings a gritty presence to the lineup. Lauzon won’t do anything spectacularly, but he also won’t do anything that is consistently detrimental to the team’s performance. The less you notice him on the ice, the better he is doing his job.
His physical play and willingness to drop the gloves could be a necessity alongside the other skilled defenders on the roster. Lauzon is under contract for three more seasons at $2M per, so it’s likely that he plays a seventh-defenseman role and jumps in and out of the lineup based on specific matchups and the health of other players.
Livingstone was a top college free agent out of Minnesota State University and a nice pickup for the Predators at the end of the season. It’s still surprising that he went undrafted given his size (6-foot-4, 205 pounds) and his ability to produce offensively, making him a coveted two-way defenseman.
While he won’t replace Mattias Ekholm, Livingstone’s style of play and potential could make him a solid second-pairing option within the coming years. It’s unlikely he will make much impact this season (he will likely start the year in Milwaukee), but he could be a needle-mover once called up.
Everywhere Livingstone plays, he gets better. At Minnesota State, he had 14 points in 28 games as a freshman, 31 points in 44 games as a sophomore, and 35 points in 39 games as a junior. He only has five games with Nashville, but a solid year of development and getting adjusted to the professional game will pay massive dividends for the young British Columbia native. I’d expect Livingstone to earn a more consistent role in Nashville by this time next year.
Stastney is another young talent on the blue-line. Drafted in 2018, Stastney seems like he’s an older player, but he’s only 23. Nashville’s track record has typically been to bring defensemen along slower than usual.
The fact that Stastney isn’t well known just yet isn’t need for concern, but this is a season where he can take one of two directions. He has the leadership skills, but he needs to prove he has all the ability to bring it all together. Already on management’s radar having played eight NHL games at the end of last year, Stastney has an outside shot of making the roster out of training camp.
Best of the rest
Both Kevin Gravel and Jordan Gross found themselves in the Predators lineup at times last season. Both players should be prominently featured on Milwaukee’s blue-line, and they may fill in some gaps in the event injuries occur in Nashville this year as well.
Gravel is more of a physical player with size, while Gross is smaller in stature and more offensively-oriented. They both fill a specific need in the event one of injury or other unforeseen circumstances and they both are on the older side (Gravel 31, Gross 28), which points to the idea that they may not have as much room for growth as some of the other more raw talents in the pipeline.
Follow Clay Brewer on Twitter/X: @ClayBrewer10