One thing was blatantly obvious to Nashville Predators’ general manager David Poile after he traded away center Jason Arnott and defenseman Dan Hamhuis on Saturday.
“Francis Bouillon is going to play with a young defenseman,” he said.
There is some uncertainty in the wake of the franchise’s biggest trading day in several years, but a young defense for 2010-11 is a sure thing.
Bouillon, 34, agreed to a new, two-year, $2.7 million deal on Friday and positioned himself to be the oldest, most experienced member of the Predators’ blue line for the coming year.
Outside of him, the rest of the top on the organizational depth chart will be 26 or younger at the start of the season, assuming the team does not re-sing Denis Grebeshkov, who was acquired in March near the trade deadline. Poile has said that will not happen.
Behind them are four more, all 23 or younger who have either minimal NHL experience or look poised to get their first taste in the coming campaign.
The heart of that defense corps remains Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. Between them, they have more than 700 games of NHL experience and for the last two years, they have formed the Predators’ top blue line tandem.
Bouillon figures to step into the role of No. 3 that had belonged to Hamhuis, the Predators’ first-round pick in 2001 and a veteran of nearly 600 NHL games over the past six seasons.
The next tier is comprised of Kevin Klein and Cody Franson, full-time players in 2009-10, and Ryan Parent and Alexander Sulzer who spent a lot of time on NHL rosters even if they didn’t play. In the case of Parent, a former Nashville first-round pick who was reacquired in the Hamhuis deal, that time was on Philadelphia’s roster.
Just behind them are Jonathon Blum, Robert Dietrich and Teemu Laakso, who spent most or all of last season at Milwaukee, and Roman Josi, a top European prospect expected to play in North America this winter.
Everyone on that list other than Bouillon was drafted by Nashville. Of those, only Dietrich (sixth round, 2007) was taken later than the third round. Not included in that group is Ryan Ellis, the Predators’ top pick in 2009, who likely will need ne more year of development in junior hockey before he makes the jump to the professional ranks.
“We’re just fine on defense – Klein, Franson, Sulzer, Josi, Blum, Laasko, Dietrich,” Poile said. “We have a lot of good, young defensemen and it’s time to do what we’ve always done – just like we did with Shea Weber and Suter, and before that Hamhuis – let these young guys play and hopefully they’ll live up to their advanced billing.”