Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Is Josi ready to take big step?

The phrase "baptism by fire" has been used for hundreds of years as a way to describe a soldier's first time in battle. It's usually a very difficult experience that a person probably isn't ready for until they are actually put in that situation.

While the game of hockey is a far cry from a battlefield, there are certainly times when players are put in situations early on in their careers that they may not be completely prepared for. With the loss of Ryan Suter to free agency, Nashville Predators' defenseman Roman Josi may soon have to deal with the daunting task of "replacing" Suter.

With 52 games of  regular season NHL experience during the 2011-12 season, plus 10 playoff games, Josi had a pretty solid first season in Nashville. After overcoming a concussion in training camp for the second consecutive year, Josi was called up on November 26 last season and found a permanent spot on Nashville's roster throughout the remainder of the year.

Josi's ability to move the puck effectively was his most noticeable asset when he first arrived at the NHL level. The then 21-year-old defenseman was arguably the best puck-moving defenseman on the ice for the Predators. On a team that boasted names like Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, that's saying something.

As the season progressed, Josi was able to showcase his offensive skills from the blueline. He saw significant power play time alongside fellow rookie defenseman Ryan Ellis and was even paired with Suter when Weber was out with a concussion in late December and the first week of January. Josi's talent level was evident and it was clear that he possesses the skills to be a special player.

There were times, however, where Josi had his struggles defensively. Whether it was pinching up on a play where he shouldn't have, or not taking the body along the boards and letting the opposing player skate around him, there were times when the rookie defenseman looked like just that: a rookie.

Now that the Predators will no longer have what most considered the best defensive pairing in the league in Weber and Suter, Josi might be pushed to the forefront alongside Weber on Nashville's top defensive pairing. The only question is, is he ready for that?

At 22 years of age, Josi is still a relatively inexperienced NHL defenseman. He's shown flashes of brilliance, but he wasn't a consistent player every night for the Predators. If he is elevated to Nashville's top pairing alongside Weber, he would likely see close to 25 minutes of ice time per night. That is nearly seven more minutes of ice time per game than he saw last year.

Josi is one of the most talented young defenseman in the entire NHL. There is really no limit to his potential if he is able to become more defensively reliable. He has all of the intangibles to be a high-quality defenseman in the NHL for years to come. His speed and puck-moving ability are sensational, his passing is crisp and his versatility is invaluable. The question is, at this stage of his career, is he ready to take on that responsibility of playing 25-30 minutes every night?

If Barry Trotz and the rest of the Predators' coaching staff feel he's ready to take on that responsibility, then Josi will truly be tested throughout the course of the 2012-13 season. If they feel he's not ready, then the Predators have to acquire a veteran number two defenseman to play alongside Weber.

Fair or unfair, Josi has been billed by many as the player most likely to replace Suter in the Predators' organization. The upcoming season will be crucial in not only the development of Josi's NHL career, but the future of the entire franchise. There are so many unanswered questions heading into the 2012-13 season for the Predators but in a lot of ways it's no different from many past seasons. Nashville has always been a team that has heavily relied upon young talent. They will have to do it again this upcoming season, and Josi will be right at the forefront.

(Photo Credit: Leanne Charles)


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