The Nashville Predators depth defender has been taking full advantage of his opportunities.
The Nashville Predators used the offseason’s free agency period to stockpile depth defenders, hoping to find a fitting pair to sure up the team’s third pairing. Free agent blue liners Yannick Weber, Matt Carle, and Matt Irwin were all brought in to compete with second-year players Anthony Bitetto and Petter Granberg for playing time at the NHL level.
Wildly enough, it has been perhaps the least notable name on the list to make the biggest impact through the first eleven games of the season. Twenty-nine year old Matt Irwin has been earning praise and turning heads by skating into Tuesday night’s contest on a three game goal streak, notching four points in his five games since being called up to play with the Predators.
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Irwin was sent to play with the AHL Milwaukee Admirals after failing to make the team out of camp, with the Nashville Predators opting to pair Yannick Weber with Anthony Bitetto to kick the campaign off. Following an injury to Bitetto, Matt Carle was patched into the role, effectively proclaiming Irwin the team’s eighth option.
Finally called up and given the opportunity to take over the Nashville Predator’s sixth defensive position entering the team’s tilt with the Los Angeles Kings, the 6’1 Canadian was determined to remain at the pro level, hoping to avoid a repeating last season, which saw him playing two games with the Boston Bruins before being assigned to the AHL level for the remainder of the year. So far, so good.
Averaging around twelve minutes of ice time per game, Matt Irwin currently leads the Nashville Predators along with linemate Yannick Weber with a +3 plus/minus rating. Sitting behind only P.K. Subban and Roman Josi‘s in defensive scoring, he will enter Tuesday night’s contest against the Ottawa Senators hoping to extend his goal streak, which is currently tied with Shea Weber‘s record for the longest goal streak by a defender in franchise history.
The left-hander’s play will continue to be highly scrutinized, especially after the injured Anthony Bitetto returned to the ice for practice Tuesday morning. Bitetto, also left-handed, has showed sure signs of improvement upon his rookie season before going down with injury, and as a younger, developing player, Bitetto pockets certain advantages for earning his position back from Irwin once healthy.
So the question begins to form as to whether the Nashville Predators will commit to the development of the developing Bitteto, or continue with the hot-handed Irwin. The two concepts aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, as the team may choose to sit Weber if they opt for icing both lefties.
Having too many skaters playing well is never a terrible problem to have, especially considering the team’s current 3-5-3 record. Matt Irwin’s play has been one of the few positives for the team in recent times, and it’s worth noting that the team has earned at least a point in 4 of the 5 games with him active.