Team Europe faces a monumental task in the World Cup final, but just for a minute, let’s appreciate the fact they got there in the first place. The oldest squad in the tournament includes a defense corps with 39-year-old Zdeno Chara and 38-year-old Mark Streit, but the marquee names on the back end aren’t all greybeards.
Nashville’s Roman Josi, for example, is just 26 and already playing incredible hockey for the Predators. In Europe’s overtime win against Sweden on Sunday, Josi led all Team Europe skaters with 29 minutes of ice time, playing in all situations.
If you weren’t on the Josi train already, jump aboard fast.
“He doesn’t really have a weakness,” said Preds teammate Mattias Ekholm. “He’s sound defensively and obviously does well in the offensive zone. He has always played well, but last year he started getting the recognition he deserves.”
Indeed, Josi led the Nashville blueline in points and ice time last season, even as star Shea Weber got more of the attention. In general, headlines don’t really matter that much to Josi, however.
“In Nashville, you don’t get that much attention, so you’re always flying under the radar, which is a good thing,” he said. “We don’t get on national TV much. It’s been like that since I got to the NHL, so I’m comfortable with that.”
But the secret is already out and the mega-trade that saw captain Weber dealt to Montreal for the flamboyant P.K. Subban has already seen the hockey world’s focus shift to Nashville in the summer. While Weber’s excellent shutdown capabilities have been on full display at the World Cup for Canada (hey, where’d Ovie go?), injecting Subban into a lineup that already features Josi, Ekholm and Ryan Ellis in the top-four makes for one of the most mobile bluelines in the NHL.
“He brings a lot of things to the table,” Josi said. “He’s very skilled, he’s a great skater, he jumps up in the play – he’s definitely going to bring a lot to the team. It’s going to be very fun.”
Unless of course, you’re facing the Preds. Because Josi is pretty dangerous on the offensive side of the ledger, too. His 61 points in 2015-16 were a career-high, but he’s been trending up for years. And his best attributes aren’t going away anytime soon.
“It’s his skating and his hockey sense,” Ekholm said. “When he joins the rush, he does it with speed, but he also does it with smartness.”
So look out for the Preds this season. That defense corps is going to supplement forwards such as Filip Forsberg and James Neal up front in a big way and pushing San Jose to seven games in the second round of the playoffs has Nashville thinking big. Cautiously, mind you, but there are expectations.
“They’re pretty high after last season,” Josi said. “In the Central Division it’s always tough to even get in the playoffs, so that’s gotta be our goal. After that, everybody’s goal is to win the Stanley Cup and that’s our ultimate goal, too.”
Before that, Josi and his Team Europe cohorts will get at least two cracks at the Canada juggernaut, perhaps three. Josi is used to playing a lot of hockey and if Europe has any chance, he’ll need to be huge. Not that he minds the work.
“You’re never going to say no to a lot of minutes,” he said.