Through three first-round games against the Detroit Red Wings, three defensemen lead the Predators in total ice-time. You know who two of them are – they wear numbers 6 and 20. The third defenseman in that group is Roman Josi, who is participating in his first playoffs.
Josi has played in all situations and has averaged 21:30 of ice-time in the three games, which is a three-minute spike from his regular season average. He has yet to record any points and has an even plus/minus rating. In the absence of his frequent defense partner Hal Gill, though, Josi has risen to the challenge.
“It’s been exciting,” Josi said Saturday of his playoff experience thus far. “Everybody wants to play a lot of minutes and it’s been really fun to play that much.”
When head coach Barry Trotz was asked how much the ice-time numbers show his confidence in Josi, he said, “It speaks volumes. … He’s been really excellent for us.”
Before the season started, everyone in the organization knew what kind of talent Josi possessed. No one had seen it at the NHL yet, though, due to injuries he sustained at the AHL level. Josi’s training camp was quickly cut short after getting a concussion on the first day.
Ever since being called up to Nashville in late November, Josi, who had 16 points in 52 regular season games with the Predators, hasn’t looked back and has drawn rave reviews as a baby-faced 21-year-old.
“He’s a good player now, he’s going to be a really good player in the future,” Trotz said. “He’s getting better and better with every experience that he has.”
Josi, who admitted to having butterflies before Game One started, said on Saturday that he has liked the challenge of facing Detroit’s upper-echelon talents like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
In Sunday’s Game Three, Josi experienced the brilliance of Datsyuk first-hand.
With the Predators leading 2-0 late in the second period, Josi had his pocket picked by Datsyuk behind the net. A split-second later, Datsyuk deposited the puck behind Pekka Rinne. Josi instantly joined a group of dozens upon hundreds of defensemen that have been the victim of Datsyuk’s thievery.
Josi bounced back well, which was a good sign. As a rookie he could have easily been rattled by the play and let it affect his game. It didn’t. The Switzerland native skated his regular number of shifts in the third period and looked calm and collective in some tense moments. That kind of mental makeup backed up his coach’s remarks from 24 hours prior.
“He has a lot of composure,” Trotz said of Josi. “I know the guys trust the way he plays and defends, and they trust the way he can distribute the puck and move it up the ice. When a young guy comes into your locker room and you can tell guys respect their game, that’s a good sign.”