The Nashville Predators acquisition of defender Ryan McDonagh in July was an automatic upgrade to the team’s defense corps, strengthening the blue line with a veteran player with loads of leadership and playoff experience. However, this addition will impact how the defense lines up when the regular season starts in October.

Here’s a look at how things may shake out.

Nashville Predators defensive pairing puzzle

There’s no question that team captain Roman Josi will remain a fixture on the team’s first pairing. Josi played most of last season with Dante Fabbro with the captain handling the left side, while Fabbro played on the right. It’s almost certain Josi will remain in that position on the first pairing. Past that, here’s where things get a little complicated.

Last season, Mattias Ekholm played on the left side of the second pairing. Ryan McDonagh also plays on the left side. It seems highly unlikely that either of these two defenders will play on the third pairing, so something will to have to change. Between Josi, Ekholm, and McDonagh, only McDonagh has spent time on the right side, playing the majority of his final season with the New York Rangers (17-18) paired with Nick Holden.

Ryan McDonagh
Who will Ryan McDonagh pair with this season for the Nashville Predators?

Does that mean McDonagh is going to switch over to the right side? Not necessarily, but I have a hard time believing either McDonagh or Ekholm would play on the third pairing. One potential option would be for McDonagh or Ekholm to switch over to the right side to play with Josi. The other defender would stay on the left and anchor the second pair.

This also opens up another question-who would round out the top-4 defenders on the right side? Last season, Dante Fabbro was paired with Josi, while Alexandre Carrier was paired with Ekholm. In the scenario mentioned above, one of these defenders winds up getting bumped to the third pairing. As I stated earlier, Dante Fabbro was paired with Roman Josi last season. And while it may seem like it would be best to keep Fabbro paired with Josi, it would make more sense that whoever switches to the right side would move up to solidify the first pairing.

The question really becomes, who’s going to stay in the top-4 and who’s going to move to the third pairing? Most likely Fabbro and Carrier will battle it out during training camp. Who emerges with the disputed spot remains to be seen. Training camp should give us a preview of what’s to come, but I’d expect to see several of those scenarios play out before the regular season begins.

— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —