Two days into training camp, and it’s apparent there’s a high level of competition among the Nashville Predators defensemen.
While not too much can be gleaned regarding about the regular-season lineup just two practices in, it’s expected that Predators captain Roman Josi will be paired with free-agent addition Luke Schenn, who he spent most of his time skating with during Friday’s scrimmage at Ford Ice Bellevue.
“It’s a pleasure to play with guys like that,” Schenn said. “The first day was with Roman, who is very similar to those types of guys that are elite offensively and good skaters. You never know how things are going to shake out, but (I’m) definitely fortunate to have played with guys like that in the last few years.”
Schenn, 33, signed a three-year, $8.25 million deal at the start of free agency — a move that first-year general manager Barry Trotz stated was a way to protect the lineup, but more importantly protect Josi, who has taken his share of questionable hits from opposing teams over the years.
“He’s played with high-end defensemen and we have one of the best defensemen in the National Hockey League right now in Roman Josi,” Trotz said after signing Schenn on July 1. “I don’t like sometimes when Roman takes some big hits. Luke will make sure those hits aren’t coming too often.”
Conversely, there are players who, unlike Schenn, are not penciled into a 23-man roster spot and are fighting to make the team out of camp.
Among them is 24-year-old Jake Livingstone. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound blue-liner made his NHL debut as an undrafted rookie in the spring after three years at Minnesota State University.
“You have to make the right decisions,” Livingstone said. “A new coach and GM, they all have things they’re looking for and what they want. You have to play with confidence and play your game. I was talking to my family and I told them I knew I was brought here for a reason. I have to play to my identity and be myself out there.”
While Livingstone tries to find his footing, several others like Fabbro are tasked with proving to first-year head coach Andrew Brunette they’re worth keeping around.
Entering his fifth season with the Predators, Fabbro, who scored 11 points in 79 games last year, disclosed that he worked on his speed during offseason training sessions in order to prepare for 2023.
“The more you push through it now, the better you’re going to feel come the first game of the season,” Fabbro said.
In Brunette’s system, Fabbro mentioned that he liked how the defensemen can jump up on the plays, be part of the rush, and be relied on to create a little more offensively — something he excelled at with Boston University, scoring 80 points in 112 games, but hasn’t been given many chances to do in the NHL (59 points in 253 games).
“We haven’t seen a whole lot yet, but every day (we’re) just [adding] a new layer of whether it’s O-zone or D-zone,” Fabbro said. “It’s just a learning curve , but I think we’ve done a pretty good job in the last two days to try and comprehend what [Brunette] wants out of us.”
While it’s likely Spencer Stastney begins the year with the Milwaukee Admirals, the 23-year-old really saw his stock rise down the stretch last season, making the jump from the AHL to the Predators for the final eight games of the year.
With the Admirals, Stastney scored 13 points in 56 regular-season games and six points in 16 playoff games, and he was a key part of their deep playoff run that ended in the AHL Western Conference Final.
With his first full season or pro hockey under his belt, it’s clear that things are starting to fall in line for Stastney, who majored in film at Notre Dame. Feeling more comfortable in the Predators system, Stastney appears to be on the road to becoming a full-time NHLer.
“[I’m] just absorbing anything I can and we’ll see what happens,” Stastney said. “Putting my best work out there and having fun.”
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