With opening-night rosters set to be finalized by Monday at 4 p.m. CT, the Nashville Predators have to decide which of their remaining 25 players will remain in the NHL and which will be sent the American Hockey League.
Marc Del Gaizo, a 23-year-old defenseman and 109th pick in the 2019 draft, is among them. At 5-foot-11 and 188 pounds, Del Gaizo is a respectable size but not a terribly imposing figure on the ice. Yet, his cerebral nature on the point, in tandem with his offensive prowess, earned him high accolades during his tenure at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and is becoming progressively known at the professional level.
Of the eight Predators defensemen remaining on the roster, four are opening-night locks: Roman Josi, Luke Schenn, Ryan McDonagh, and Tyson Barrie. The remaining four are fighting for those last three spots, assuming Nashville opts to carry seven defensemen into the season.
Del Gaizo, a New Jersey native, is believed to be the odd man out — an assumption that has more to do with the physical nature and contract of Lauzon, plus the high hopes management still has for both Carrier and Fabbro.
“I’m just trying to compete every day and show how much I’ve grown the last two seasons out of Milwaukee,” Del Gaizo told Nashville Hockey Now. “I know I had a good stretch in the playoffs there (with the Milwaukee Admirals) and whatnot, so I was just trying to carry that momentum and confidence into this training camp, and I think I have, so I’m just trying to compete and work hard and be coachable every day.”
Earning a spot in the NHL is no small feat, especially for a player as young as Del Gaizo who’s competing with three players who have two or more full seasons of NHL experience on top of the fact that the Predators are known for churning out top-tier defensive talent.
Del Gaizo sought out to prove to first-year general manager Barry Trotz and head coach Andrew Brunette that his style of play and success in Milwaukee can translate to Nashville on a consistent basis.
“I think, you know, it’s kind of a fresh start for everyone with (Trotz) coming in and (Brunette) and (assistant coach Derek MacKenzie),” he stated. “You know, it feels like a fresh start for everyone, so you know for me, I’m just trying to put my best foot forward and then just compete and you know, show that active player.”
Del Gaizo led all Admirals defensemen with 31 points in 71 games last season, and he finished second on the team in points during Milwaukee’s run to the AHL Western Conference Final with four goals and 12 points. He also logged 20 goals and 58 points in 90 games across three seasons at UMass as well, developing a reputation as a point-producing blue-liner.
So, the offensive, high-possession style that Brunette wants to implement is very favorable to Del Gaizo’s game.
“Yeah, I think it’s great,” Del Gaizo said. “[Brunette is] you know the kind of coach that I think sees my game really well, you know, jumping up in the rush and making aggressive reads. I think that’s really you know my attributes from skating and my puck moving and my shot and my offensive ability. Yeah, he’s been awesome and just been super fun to work with.”
While there’s plenty of competition in the locker room, Del Gaizo says there are positives he can take away from it while watching and learning from those veteran players that surround him.
Among those that he admires, Del Gaizo specifically made sure to mention McDonagh. They are not the exact same type of player, but Del Gaizo says he can take a lot from McDonagh’s two-way style of play that feeds off his bigger size (6-foot-1, 215 pounds) and defensive prowess.
Del Gaizo wants to mesh his offensive style of pushing forward and playing a bit more aggressively to develop his own version of McDonagh’s game.
“Everyone in this organization and in this locker is awesome,” Del Gaizo remarked. “The older guys and whatnot, just kind of watching guys, like I mean all of the defensemen, but in particular McDonagh. Just watching that his details and how solid he is defensively and everything. He’s just an all-around great defenseman, so [I’m] kind of just learning and soaking all the information you can.”
Del Gaizo’s developmental track and the way in which he plays makes him a favorable addition to the new “Predator way” that Trotz and Brunette are building. Entering the final year of his entry-level contract, the opportunity is Del Gaizo’s for the taking. He’s outlasted 10 other defensemen, and he’s just two preseason games away from potentially making his NHL debut.
“It’s been a very competitive camp, and I think a lot of the players that are in those positions (for roster spots) have put their best foot forward,” Brunette acknowledged. “So, it’s been extremely difficult for us. It’s [going to be] some hard decisions (to make). … All the guys that we needed to be competitive and needed them to play their best hockey, they’ve played their best hockey.”
Follow Clay Brewer on Twitter/X: @ClayBrewer10