Ever since Seth Jones fell to the Nashville Predators like an early Christmas present in the 2013 NHL Draft, there has been lots of talk about him immediately coming into the NHL and playing alongside two-time Norris Trophy finalist Shea Weber from the start. It would form what could be a dominant defensive pairing for the next decade.
There hasn’t been much talk of another guy who can also help form a dominant defensive pairing for the next decade, and showed last season that he had the ability to do exactly that.
Roman Josi seems to have almost become a forgotten man when people talk about Nashville’s defense corps. All of the hype surrounds Jones and Weber, and that has taken a lot of national media attention away from what Josi did last season in a very tough situation. Josi was essentially given the task of replacing Ryan Suter, and he was given that task at just 22 years of age.
“I got a lot of ice time last year, especially playing next to [Weber]. That was awesome for me to play next to one of the best defensemen in the league. I think I learned a lot, and we’ve been talking a lot off the ice, in practice and in games and it definitely helps,” Josi said.
Josi was basically thrown into the fire last season and responded better than anybody could have expected. He went from being a rookie just finding his way in the league in 2011-12 to playing alongside arguably the best defenseman in the league on a nightly basis, facing the best players in the world, in 2012-13. That’s a massive jump, and Josi handled it better and better as the season moved along.
“He played great. He’s a very good player, and I think obviously the team saw that and awarded him with a contract this year and showed the faith that they have in him,” Weber said.
The Predators made a commitment to Josi and locked him down for the next seven years with a contract worth $28 million. It’s rare to see a young player, especially a defenseman, sign a contract for that many years at that age. It didn’t happen with Suter. It didn’t happen with Weber. But with the new collective bargaining agreement, it was much easier to get Josi signed for that term. It works out well for both parties.
“First of all, I really like it here,” Josi said. “I’ve had two great years so far, and it’s been a lot of fun. I think that’s the first reason, and of course, it gives you a lot of security for a young guy. You never know what happens in hockey, and it’s a tough sport.”
Everything looked like it was going to be Josi and Weber together on Nashville’s top pairing for at least the next seven years. Then came draft day in Newark, and all of a sudden the Predators somehow landed what many have called the best defensive prospect since Chris Pronger. Josi’s top spot with Weber suddenly became jeopardized.
Obviously, this puts the Predators in a very favorable situation. Weber is a superstar that is undoubtedly going to be the best defenseman on the roster for the next several years. With Josi and Jones, the Predators suddenly have two players that could play alongside Weber in the future, instead of just one player in Josi. It makes the defense very good as a whole.
However, it puts Josi in a spot that he probably wasn’t expecting to deal with. That top pairing was supposed to be his responsibility for the next seven years. Now he finds himself in a battle with Jones for that top spot, not only for this season but moving forward as well. One would think that would be a big motivating factor for Josi to prove himself during training camp this season, and he’s not shying away from it.
“In the NHL, there’s always great players coming up and if you’re not a superstar like [Weber], you’re never secure of your spot,” Josi said, “so I’m coming to camp like I did last year. I’m going to fight for my spot and try to get as much responsibility as I did last year, maybe even more. I’m not thinking about that too much. I’m just trying to play my best.”
Josi and Weber played better and better together as the season went on last year, but there were some growing pains to start. It took some time for Josi to grow into that reliable partner for Weber, and it took Weber some time to adjust to his new defense partner. If Jones were to play with Weber this season, it would likely be a similar situation to what Weber and Josi went through in the early part of last season. With Weber and Josi already having gone through that, there’s chemistry already there.
“He played I don’t know how many years with [Suter], so it takes a while to get used to a new partner. We talked a lot in practice and off the ice, and I think that definitely helped. We got better as the year went on, and hopefully we can build off that chemistry this year,” Josi said.
Whether it’s Josi or Jones playing with Weber, the Predators are set of defense for the foreseeable future. They will have Weber, Josi, Jones and Kevin Klein locked down as a solid top-four at least through the 2017-18 season. That’s a good foundation for the Predators moving forward.
“It’s huge,” Weber said. “Obviously we’ve got one of the best goaltenders in the league, and I think a lot of teams like to build their teams from goaltender out. We’ve got a good young corps of defensemen and we’ve got a lot to improve on and a lot to get better at, but I think it’s a good start.”
Josi is going to be a huge part of that foundation for the Predators moving forward no matter if he’s playing with Weber or not. But, if you ask him, he’d certainly like to be playing with Nashville’s captain.
“Oh, of course,” Josi said. “That would be nice.”