Preds D-man Josi having a season worthy of accolades

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nashville Predators might have one of those problems that really isn't a problem when the NHL awards finalists are named later this month.

There's a chance the Predators won't have a defenseman on the Norris Trophy finalist list. If that's the case, the reason will likely be because voters couldn't decide between Shea Weber and Roman Josi. Again, it's not really a bad thing when you have two defensemen in that discussion.

Weber is the name more commonly associated with the Norris. He has finished in the top five in voting four times and has been runner-up twice. Josi, 24, has never received a Norris vote in his first three seasons. But the latter is expected to change this season.

When one team executive was asked by ESPN.com for his Norris Trophy winner, he named Josi.

Another team executive didn't go just that far, but Josi certainly has share of admirers around the league. He was seen as a player with a high upside when he was drafted in the second round from Switzerland in 2008, and he's fulfilling that.

"I think it's fair to say if he wants to, he can move into the upper-echelon defensemen in the league," one team executive said. "I don't know if you can give him 'elite' just yet. He's pretty good. He came in as sort of a guy with a little bit of everything. He's become more of a guy who has a lot of everything. His hockey sense is really good. When he gets it, he moves quick. He's a force on the power play. He forces guys to come with him. He distributes the puck really well.

"Defensively in his own end, same thing. You don't have to be an overpowering guy if you know where to make the right moves. He seems defensively to know how to fight the battles he has to fight his way and can put himself in the right position on the ice to block and prevent plays from ever happening.”

It's on the defensive end where Josi has put more and more time in the past few seasons. His offensive game has always come easier to him. Through experience and paying attention to detail, he's found himself to be an improved defensive defenseman.

Predators coach Peter Laviolette hasn't been afraid to test Josi in defensive situations throughout the season. Josi had more neutral- and defensive-zone faceoff starts this season than in past ones. He had just a 45.62 offensive-zone starting percentage, and he often faced quality competition, evident in that his Corsi competition percentage was 50.19.

Josi held more than his own despite those responsibilities. He led the league's defensemen with a plus-24 goal differential. He was on the ice for 68 goals for and 44 goals against in 5-on-5 situations. He was 13th in the league (minimum 60 games) with a 1.70 goals-against per-60-minute average and 21st with a 2.62 goals-for average.

"I tried to work on my defensive game a lot," Josi said before Game 1 against the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday. "I think that was one of my biggest weaknesses when I came into the league. It was kind of one of the main focuses to work on that game. There's so many things you can do better as a young guy. Playing with Shea all those years, you learn in practice and games. It's definitely a big help, too."

Weber has definitely played a hand in Josi's development. The two have been paired together for the past three seasons. Josi didn't think he could have had a better defensive partner and mentor.

"I think just the way he handles himself off the ice, on the ice," Josi said of Weber. "When you stop playing with him, you see all the little things he does every game. He does it so consistently. There's just so many things; he's such a complete player. There's a lot of things you can learn from him.

"He made it real easy for me. He talked a lot. He always tries to help on the ice and off the ice. If he sees something, he talks to me. He definitely made it real easy for me. I wasn't expecting to be as good as Shea [when I was paired with him]. I don't think that's possible. It was easy, thanks to him."

Josi has made it easy on Laviolette, too. When asked what's impressed him about Josi this season, Laviolette said, "Everything."

"He's been terrific," Laviolette continued. "He's a top defenseman in the league. He moves the puck. He defends well. He's capable of generating offensively. He can play against other teams' best players. He's as good in the defensive zone as he is in the offensive zone. Just a real talented player. He's had a terrific year for us, big part of the reason why we made it back to the playoffs and the success we’ve had."

Opponents are recognizing Josi's talent, too.

"He's one of the more underrated defensemen in the league," Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane said. "Obviously, had a great season. Seems like him and Weber are a good pairing back there. Whether it's defensively, on the power play, offensively, they seem to produce a lot for their team. Definitely two players we have to watch out for."

As for that Norris chatter, Josi isn't oblivious to it, but it's not where his head is at.

"I don't try to pay too much attention to that kind of stuff," Josi said. "It's definitely an honor to even be in the talk. There's so many great defensemen out there. Just on our team, there's a lot of great defensemen and the whole league. It's definitely an honor to be in the talk. As a player, you try not to worry too much about that kind of stuff. It's the playoffs right now. All I want to do is have success with the team right now."