Underrated Josi having All-Star worthy season of his own for Predators

With 34 points in 42 games, Josi is on pace to break his career-best this season.

Christopher Hanewinckel/Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

NASHVILLE — It’s no secret that Nashville is and has been one of the strongest defensive teams in the NHL.

For at least the past decade, the Predators have developed and utilized talent that some teams could only dream of signing. Granted, some teams have had the ability to sign or trade for pieces of Nashville’s blue-chip defensive corp. Players like Cody Franson, Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Klein and Ryan Suter, all drafted by Nashville, found homes elsewhere in the NHL after shining brightly with the Predators.

Of the seven defensemen currently leading the team, five of which were drafted by the Predators, Roman Josi is slowly finding himself entering into his own spotlight.

Taken during the second round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Josi has grown from a mid-pair defenseman to one-half of its top defensive duo alongside perennial Norris Trophy candidate Shea Weber. While Weber has primarily drawn the national focus since the departure of Suter during the summer of 2012, Josi is finally turning the right heads and garnering attention of his own.

"I don’t know how everyone missed him in the past," said Weber. "I think he’s just continuing to get better. He’s a guy that wants to get better. He’s competitive. He’s still young too. I think he’s going to keep improving and his game’s just going to keep growing the more and more he plays.

Hopefully we stay together [as a pair]. Only time will tell what happens there. I think you see when guys that play together for a certain amount of time they know each others habits and know what each other are going to do."

Tied for 11th in the NHL in points by a defenseman and only two behind Weber, Josi has quietly become another offensive threat on the blue line for the Predators. It’s not the first season that he’s put up points like this, either. Last season Josi recorded 40 points in 72 games, a career best.

Already on pace to put up 52 points this year, the Swiss defenseman could credit some of his offensive prowess to the new system that head coach Peter Laviolette has implemented for his defense.

"I think [Laviolette] wants our defense to be active and jump up in the play," said Josi. "We have a lot of [defensemen] who are capable of doing that. I think everyone on the team tries to join the rush if there is a chance and that’s what he wants us to do. That’s kind of our style this year.

"I think it’s tough in this league if you try to score two-on-two’s or three-on-three’s. You have to somehow find a way to get it on the rush and put it in the net. That’s what [Laviolette] wants us to do and we try to do that every game."

Even having the second-most points among defensemen for Nashville, everything still revolves around how Josi measures up defensively. Alongside Weber, Josi plays some of the toughest minutes against the best competition in the league. That means more defensive and neutral-zone work before he’s able to press the puck into the offensive zone for any type of sustained pressure.

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Ranking fifth in the league with over 26 minutes of ice time per game, Josi is on the ice for nearly half the game every night. Combine that with his play in all three zones and it’s no wonder he’s starting to get praise from all corners of the league.

"What’s more impressive to me is defensively how smart he is positionally," said Laviolette. "How sound he is in the defensive zone, how he is able to find a puck and find some space, and get away from somebody who is trying to forecheck and either make a play or skate a puck out of the zone. A lot of the work, both defensively and offensively, that he does in the defensive zone probably goes not as much recognized or noticed as when he scores a goal or can help with an assist. His skating with the puck and puck-moving ability have been outstanding"

Josi is also on pace to play a complete regular season for Nashville. Coming closest last season while missing 10 games due to a concussion, Josi has never had played the full 82 games in one year.

Regardless of the reason that leads to time missed for any players, a mixture of luck and good choices off the ice can play a part in staying healthy for a full season. Having the year that he is, the Predators could ill-afford the loss of Josi down the stretch of the second-half of the season.

"You need some luck to stay healthy," said Josi. "Sometimes it just doesn’t go your way. The more you play, the more experience you get in different situations. How you take a hit and when a guy is hitting you. You know when you go in a corner you’re going to get hit. You try to prepare a little bit better. I think that’s all the stuff you have to learn, but it’s definitely a little bit of luck too."

With such an impressive season so far under his belt, one of the accolades that Josi unfortunately missed out on was an invitation to the 2015 All-Star Game. While seeing teammates Weber, Pekka Rinne and Filip Forsberg earn their respective nods, being nominated as an All-Star has eluded Josi throughout his career.

Finally reaping the rewards of his hard work on the ice, it shouldn’t be a stretch to assume that Josi could earn his first trip to an All-Star Game next season when Nashville hosts the glamorous weekend.

"I think everyone who doesn’t want to play in the All-Star Game would be lying," said Josi. "It would be a great honor to play there one time, but there’s so many good defensemen in this league. Everybody that’s going there is well deserved. I mean, It’s good to have some time off. It’s good you get to take care of your body and relax a little bit. I would definitely be honored if I could go play in an All-Star Game one time in my life."

Yet, the ultimate prize for Josi isn’t an a weekend getaway with the league’s best players and a fun skills competition, but a near-35 pound silver trophy handed out at the end of the season after four grueling playoff rounds. Recognizing that the Predators have a long way to go, it’s about pinpointing what it takes to make that happen.

"You have to take it step by step," said Josi. "First, make the playoffs. After that, everyone wants to win the Stanley Cup one time. That would be the greatest thing to happen this year."

Josi’s easily been one of Nashville’s best skaters this year. He’s consistently producing on offense and providing great defensive play for the Predators as part of their top pairing. Six years removed from being selected 38th overall, after 14 other defensemen were drafted in front of him, Josi is proving he’s one of the best in the league. Albeit one of the most underrated as well.