Predators Future Blue Line In Question With Expansion Draft Options

The Nashville Predators‘ defense core expanded this season due to various injuries. Young defenseman Dante Fabbro already had a roster spot, but fans got to see Alexandre Carrier get some significant minutes next to the big 6-foot-4 Swede, Mattias Ekholm. Both had their ups and downs throughout the season, but they were able to show off why the team’s blue line is in good hands. However, with the expansion draft coming up, there are a few routes that general manager David Poile could take.

Dante Fabbro Protection Reasons

Since his debut at the end of the 2018-19 regular season, Fabbro has been considered the next player in line for a prime role on the Predators’ back end. In college, he was praised as a smart, two-way defenseman with offensive upside that could extend plays and create independently. He has shown flashes of the same in the NHL but not nearly at a consistent rate. Many of his flaws are glaringly obvious. For example, his slow decision-making with the puck in high-pressure situations has become a massive problem. Sometimes he seems to be a step behind where he should be in a top-four role. Fans and management put the onus on him to produce after P.K. Subban was traded to the New Jersey Devils, and it just hasn’t come to form.

Dante Fabbro Nashville Predators
Dante Fabbro, Nashville Predators (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Despite all of the negative things surrounding Fabbro, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. He’s a 23-year-old defenseman that has put up solid defensive numbers per Evolving-Hockey. With defense usually being harder to translate in younger players due to the jump in speed and physicality at the NHL level, it’s a plus to see those good results. In the 2020-21 season, in particular, he took a massive jump by the eye test. While the glaring mistakes were still there, his confidence and decision-making did improve. At one point, he was leading all Predators players in goals above replacement (GAR). He started the season well and then slowly faded.

As far as the reasons to protect him go, he’s still young. Of course, there are things to iron out with his game, but there is loads of potential to unlock. Poile and John Hynes seem to think so as well, as they mentioned in their exit interviews after the disheartening postseason loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. The tangible improvements in his play are a huge help in the minds of Predators fans and management.

Alexandre Carrier Protection Reasons

Carrier has had to sit in the minors and develop while players like Fabbro saw a direct route to the NHL. At 24 years old, it’s not like the age gap between the two is very large either. He plays a game similar to Fabbro, but he’s arguably a better skater and puck mover. With all of this in mind, it is slightly puzzling why he still hasn’t gotten a real shot at being a roster mainstay. Coming in with all of the injuries, he had the chance to prove himself. He ended up doing just that in both the regular season and playoffs, albeit in two small sample sizes.

Carrier is an excellent skater with a bit better offensive instincts with the puck than Fabbro. He knows how to penetrate the offensive zone with speed, and his aggressiveness off the puck is something to be commended. While his defensive game could use some work, it’s nothing to be genuinely concerned about, as most of his mistakes are relatively minor. He’s strong on his feet and stick, and his ability to drive offense from the blue line was what separated him from some of the other players in both Milwaukee and even Nashville.

Alexandre Carrier Nashville Predators
Alexandre Carrier, Nashville Predators (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

There are certainly some reasons to protect Carrier over Fabbro that start with his experience. While Fabbro might have more NHL experience, Carrier has more pro experience. Of course, the AHL is not the NHL, but Carrier has the edge in terms of development and getting comfortable. He also drives play with the puck more, and his aggressiveness is an evident quality. In contrast, Fabbro sits back and lets the puck come to him, but Carrier attacks relentlessly and wants the puck to be on his stick at all times.

On a blue line full of defensemen like that, it would be very beneficial to add another player who enjoys doing it. When he was with Roman Josi this season, they were the best pair that the team had put out on the ice, and it’s not a surprise either. Both of them are possession-dominant defensemen that don’t allow the other team to have the puck. It was evident through the eye test and in the analytics.

Who Should Poile Choose?

It’s going to be a tough choice to make. As if the expansion draft was going to be easy for management to work around, this issue is just another one to add to the pile. For some, the answer is clear. Fabbro has the highest ceiling, and should be protected. For others, they haven’t shown enough up to this point to be given special treatment over a guy like Carrier, who delivered some memorable plays from the back end in a somewhat limited sample. Some suggest that exposing both of them to the Seattle Kraken could be an option because they may not take the risk. However, the choice comes down to two critical things. The ceiling of the two players and, obviously, the likelihood that Seattle would take one of these two. Both are connected in a way as well.

Dante Fabbro, Nashville Predators
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE – APRIL 13: Dante Fabbro #57 of the Nashville Predators skates against the Dallas Stars during the second period in Game Two of the Western Conference First Round during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena on April 13, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

I wouldn’t put it past Seattle general manager Ron Francis to take a guy like Fabbro if he were exposed, but I would question if it were Carrier. Fabbro’s ceiling is the higher of the two, and it would be an interesting gamble if Francis has his sights set on other defensemen, which could put Fabbro in a bottom- or middle-pair role. That being said, I would protect Fabbro over Carrier. As much as I think that Carrier deserves recognition for what he’s done, the likelihood that the management in Seattle chooses him over a Nashville forward is very low. He doesn’t have the name recognition yet to be high on the list of possible targets. This is in no way a shot at Carrier because he was excellent this season. He just doesn’t have the pedigree of a top-four defenseman yet.

I’m not the general manager of either team, so I can’t possibly know what’s going on behind the scenes. Although, I do know that the comments in the exit interviews pointed towards the protection of Fabbro over Carrier. We will have to wait and see where the road leads the team.

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