Most 22-year-old NHL players are just finding their way into the NHL and struggling to be a consistent contributor at the highest level of hockey during the first part of their career. Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi is taking on a whole lot more than most 22-year-olds.
Josi, in just his second NHL season, plays alongside two-time Norris Trophy nominee and three-time all-star defenseman Shea Weber. Those two form Nashville’s top defensive pairing, and Josi has shown over the course of this season that he’s very capable of playing alongside Nashville’s captain.
“You always dream about that as a kid. You want to play in the NHL and you dream about it, and now I’m here and it’s great. I can play next to one of the best defensemen in the league right now, and for a young guy like me that’s a dream come true,” Josi said.
Weber and Josi started the season as a defensive pairing with a minimal amount of training camp to try and develop some chemistry. They weren’t a bad defensive pairing in the first part of the season, but both players were having trouble getting things going offensively.
The decision was made to separate Weber and Josi for a few games. Josi went back to playing with Kevin Klein, which is who he was paired with for a large portion of the 2011-12 season, and Weber was paired with Scott Hannan. Both Weber and Josi have now found that offensive part of their game, and they have been playing extremely well together since being reunited.
“It takes time to get used to playing with a guy. We’re still learning every day, learning new things about each other and different situations, but it’s come a long way from the start of the year,” Weber said.
“We’re still trying to gain more chemistry every game and every practice. It’s good so far. For me, it’s great to play next to him. He’s obviously one of the best players in the world and for a young player like me it’s great. I think we did well so far,” Josi said.
Everybody knows what Weber can do. He’s the highest paid defenseman in the NHL for a reason. He’s the sort of defenseman that has a combination of assets that no other defenseman in the league can approach. Weber has size, speed, a great hockey mind, an intimidating physical presence, great passing skills and and ability to unleash fury on a hockey puck with his booming shot. There’s no other defenseman in the league that has that type of repertoire.
Coming into this season, a lot of pressure was placed upon Josi’s shoulders at a young age. Would he be able to fill the void that Ryan Suter left behind with his departure? Perhaps that question coming into the season was a little unfair. After all, Suter is a world-class defenseman, and he’s proving that with his play in Minnesota so far this season. However, Josi has played about as well as anybody could have possibly expected. His personality and attitude toward the game are big assets for him that have contributed to that stellar play.
“I just try to play my game every time and not get nervous. Mistakes are going to happen, and I’ve had some mistakes this year, too. You’ve just got to play and stay with it and forget about those things. Just play the way you want to play and not think about too much stuff from the outside,” Josi said.
Often overlooked in Josi’s improved game so far this season is the natural increase in time on ice. Josi is averaging 23:00 per game so far this season. That’s nearly five minutes more than the 18:23 he was averaging last season. That’s a big jump, especially in a shortened season with a very condensed schedule. Josi has handled that jump well so far.
“He’s been great. Obviously, there wasn’t a lot of room for him to play big minutes last year. He played everything he could with the guys that were here and was good last year as well. This year, he started off in Switzerland and played there and played well during the lockout and then came and he’s been good since,” Weber said.
Josi’s defense also seems to have really improved from last season, which is something that he really focused on last summer and while playing in Switzerland during the lockout. He grew up playing on a bigger ice surface, which means he had to learn how to play a strong defensive game on the smaller rinks once he got to North America.
“I think I’ve learned a lot defensively. I think my game is better defensively than it was last year. Just that year in Milwaukee and last year, I think that was great for me to come over here and learn the game. Learn how to defend on the smaller ice. I think that’s the biggest step I’ve taken since I came over to North America,” Josi said.
“He’s good all over the ice. He skates well and makes good plays, and I think that his whole game has been good,” Weber said.
One of the biggest improvements for the Predators over the past few weeks has been the power play, thanks in large part to utilizing their weapons on the point in Weber and Josi. The Predators have scored a power play goal in three of their past six games, and two of those goals have come from Weber.
“Our first option on the power play is always to get Shea open for a one-timer. He’s got the best shot in the league, and you want him to shoot the puck on the power play. I think we’re doing a better job lately of getting him those pucks so he can one-time those,” Josi said.
It took Josi a while to get used to having a weapon like Weber alongside him on the power play. Josi has never been afraid to shoot the puck, but he knows what a special shot Weber has. The chemistry they have developed so far has allowed them to figure out what each other’s strengths are at even strength and on the power play.
“I wasn’t used to having a guy like Shea next to me. He’s the best shooter and you want him to shoot it, so I’m getting more used to that. We talk a lot off the ice, too, and he says what he wants. We just talk a lot. I think that’s the most important thing,” Josi said.
It’s been an up-and-down season for the Predators so far, and they only have 14 more games to put on a final push to get into the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the eighth time in the past nine seasons. One of the most consistent parts of their game this season, however, has been the play of Weber and Josi. They have not reached the same level of a defensive pairing that Weber and Suter reached. However, the future looks extremely bright if that chemistry continues to develop over the course of the next several seasons.