The Nashville Predators confirmed on Sunday that star young defenseman Roman Josi had indeed suffered a concussion on Friday night after taking a hit to the head from Colorado’s Steve Downie. There’s no real timetable for Josi’s return, as it’s often hard to determine how long symptoms from a concussion will affect a player after the concussion is sustained.
Downie will receive no supplemental discipline from the NHL, which determined that Downie’s elevation on the hit came after the initial impact.
“The league looks at it really closely, and they weigh in with six or seven different former players,” said Predators Head Coach Barry Trotz. “I find this in the National Hockey League, when you lose a player with a hit that you maybe disagree with the league on, it’s always sort of self-centered. It’s self-fulfilling because you’re affected by it. You want sort of collateral damage on the other end for it, but the National Hockey League is neutral on every team.”
The decision by the NHL to not suspend Downie or even to have a hearing for the hit seems to have rubbed the Predators’ players the wrong way. The NHL’s decision was summed up in one word by Predators defenseman Kevin Klein.
“Disappointing,” he said.
At first glance, Downie’s hit looked like a perfect example of the type of hit the NHL is trying to remove from the game. However, the NHL made the case that Josi was low when the hit was delivered by Downie and that Downie’s skates were still on the ice when he delivered the hit.
“I think they looked at it and they waited and they felt that Roman was turning into it and was low and was cutting into it and was boxed out by [Weber] a little bit in that corner. Downie was trying to hit him hard. There’s no question about that. But when he arrived there, [Josi] was a little bit low, and they felt that it wasn’t really targeting the head. It was just targeting a big hit,” Trotz said.
Nashville will be without one of their top defenseman for the foreseeable future. That’s going to give Ryan Ellis a chance to jump into the Predators’ lineup and prove that he belongs at the NHL level. Ellis was the odd man out on defense for Nashville in the opening two games of the season but will now be forced into the lineup with the Predators only having six defensemen available. However, Josi was able to play in every situation of the game for the Predators, which is going to be difficult to replace.
“He’s a big part of our team, but it gives some of the other young guys a chance to step up. [Ellis] gets a chance to play. I mean it’s tough to replace Josi. He eats up a lot of minutes. He plays on the power play, penalty kill, all over the place so guys are going to have to do a little extra,” Klein said.
Perhaps the biggest positive that the Predators can take away from this situation is the fact that Ellis has played at this level before. He’s familiar with how the Predators operate and has been with them throughout the entire training camp this season and in stretches over the past two seasons.
“[Ellis] has played games in this league. He knows how to play here. He’s a good player, and he’ll be a lot easier transition than trying to pull someone up from Milwaukee. He knows all our systems, works with us in practice all the time and he’ll do well,” Klein said.
This is a bad situation for the Predators, but it’s a big opportunity for Ellis. Coming into his first NHL season, Ellis had very high expectations placed on him. He was an exceptional junior hockey player with the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League, but his game has not quite translated to the NHL level as of yet. This is a chance for Ellis to prove himself.
“[Ellis] is a guy who I thought had a real strong training camp at points and then fell off a little bit. He’s a good player. It’s not like he’s coming in and is way over his head. He’s got some games under his belt, and I think he’s going to come in and try to prove something not only to the coaching staff but everybody else that ‘Hey, I can be a real top player in this league.’ So, he’s going to jump in there, and I think he’s going to do a good job,” Trotz said.
Ellis is going to get his chance, but Josi’s absence is going to put even more pressure on Shea Weber and Klein (and rookie Seth Jones) to hold down the fort defensively with such a young corps surrounding them.