While it would be difficult to argue that Mattias Ekholm is the best defenseman on the Nashville Predators, he is without a doubt the most valuable.

It just makes sense when you look at the numbers.

Consider that he has eleven points, which is tied for 2nd on the Preds’ blueline behind P.K. Subban and Roman Josi. Consider also his 51.9% shot attempts for percentage, the 6th best mark on the team. Oh, and his team leading 306 minutes played at even strength so far.

Then look at his very modest cap hit: $3.75 million per year.

That’s bargain bin value right there.

When Ekholm signed his current contract, he had just come off a modest career year where he scored 18 points in 80 games. Seen as more of a defensive defenseman at that point, the contract made perfect sense. The team needed to lock in a big, smooth skating, defensive defenseman to a long term deal, knowing that the upside for offense was always there.

Mattias Ekholm Nashville Predators
Mattias Ekholm, 28, has blossomed into a solid two-way defenseman since being drafted in 2009. Image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports.

Then Ekholm reeled off three straight fine offensive seasons, collecting 71 assists and 21 goals since 2016.

The value in Ekholm’s contract was there initially and it only increased over time.

In fact, after Ryan Ellis’ new contract extension kicks in next year, Ekholm will be the cheapest of the top four defensemen. A glance at CapFriendly tells us that Ekholm is the 97th highest paid defenseman, just below guys like Justin Braun (who?) and Connor Murphy (who??).

Through the first 16 games this year, Ekholm has been one of the best skaters for the Preds, let alone the best defenseman. He’s been consistent in his play in both zones, he’s contributed frequently on the score sheet, and he’s been a stalwart in the defensive zone.

The Preds did well to lock up such a bonafide defensive player back in 2015. Now they are really seeing his value skyrocket with his recent offensive play. David Poile has to love what he’s seeing out of the Swedish defenseman he took a chance on back in 2009.

GIF Me That Good Stuff

Lost in the beauty of Ekholm’s overtime winner was the perfect pass by Kyle Turris. Check it out in slow motion here:

This Week’s Numbers

  • 21 – the number of 3rd period goals scored by the Preds this year
  • 9 – the number of 3rd period goals allowed by the Preds this year
  • 8 – career goals for Colton Sissons against the Colorado Avalanche (in only 10 games)
  • 80.5% – the remaining percentage of the NHL season still left to play for the Preds (it’s still so early!)

Let’s Do That Hockey

Plenty of Preds action this week. Three more in the road trip, then a return home to face the Kings.

Monday 11/12 – 9:00 PM: Predators @ Ducks [FS-TN]

Tuesday 11/13 – 9:30 PM: Predators @ Sharks [FS-TN]

Thursday 11/15 – 8:00 PM: Predators @ Coyotes [FS-TN]

Saturday 11/17 – 7:00 PM: Predators vs. Kings [FS-TN]

Final Thought

The Predators head to Anaheim tonight to face the Ducks. While the rivalry between the Preds and Ducks is always on high boil, this particular match-up might be a bit different.

Because the Ducks, quite frankly, are terrible.

Anaheim currently sits in 6th place in the Pacific, having earned only 17 points in their first 18 games. They’ve struggled to get anything going offensively, scoring only 42 goals on the season. That puts them 30th in the league.

Of course, not having Corey Perry (knee injury, out for at least five months) is one reason why, but he’s not the only reason. The rest of their lineup just doesn’t have the punch it once did. Ryan Getzlaf, Rickard Rakell, and Ryan Kesler, three of their biggest offensive players, have only combined for 11 goals. Filip Forsberg has 10 goals all on his own.

The strangest thing about the Ducks lineup? Former Preds draftee Pontus Aberg leads the Ducks in goals. He’s scored five goals in twelve games and has arguably been their best offensive player so far.

Pontus Aberg Anaheim Ducks Nashville Predators
Pontus Aberg, now with Anaheim, collected 10 points in 52 games with Nashville after being drafted in 2012. Image via Jake Roth/USA TODAY Sports.

The Ducks picked up Aberg off the waiver wire on October 1st, so he wasn’t even really in their plans for this year. You have to like seeing a former Preds playing well for another team.

Finally, tonight should be yet another chapter in the storybook rivalry between Ryan Johansen and Ryan Kesler. Last March, Johansen and Kesler got into a brief fight in the 2nd period. This of course after their intense beef during the 2017 Western Conference Final, during which Johansen said “nobody likes” Kesler and he couldn’t understand “how anyone could root for a guy like that.”

This summer, the rivalry was re-stoked briefly over this very odd tweet by Kesler and then the “reply” by Johansen.

Yeah, I’ve got nothing. What does that even mean?

We will see if the rivalry still has the same shine it once did. Kesler is not the same player that he was during his more formidable years. Meanwhile, Johansen is turning in an All-Star caliber season so far. The two careers could not be headed in more opposite directions.

As I said earlier, tonight’s meeting might not end up looking like the same rivalry we are used to seeing out of Preds-Ducks. But it’s a rivalry nonetheless. Expect lots of physical play, plenty of scoring chances for both sides, and perhaps a few fisticuffs.

— All stats via Natural Stat Trick and Hockey Reference. Featured image via Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports. —