Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Roman Josi from rover to All-Star defenseman

By Larry Wigge

Bern, Switzerland. Usually you here clock making. That's what they are famous for.

Like a good clock, Roman Josi can be counted on. Tick. Tick. He is a classic, working on the power play. But the Nashville Predators have him on the clock -- and has been since 2008, when he was drafted in the NHL Entry Draft in the second round with the 38th pick.

Some might call him a rover, a hybrid defenseman who can lug the puck like Phil Housley used to do or an Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators who has won two Norris Trophies as the best defenseman in the NHL.

"A guy like Roman Josi is probably the Erik Karlsson of the Western Conference," explained Washington Capitals' coach Barry Trotz, who formerly broke in Josi to the Nashville defense.

Trotz went on to say, "Like Erik Karlsson, he's got to be watched because he likes to carry the mail. He's dynamic ... He's going to be, just as Shea Weber is over there, a Norris Trophy candidate for the next number of years."

So Josi is a trailblazer. A pioneer and countryman and current Philadelphia Flyers blueliner Mark Streit, who helped pave the way for Swiss players like him in the NHL.

"At first there were only goalies coming over, but the first skater to really make it was Mark Streit," Josi said. "He really opened the doors for all the young players in Switzerland. He had a tough first season, but fought through it."

The 6-1, 192-pound defenseman is a good all-round defenseman that has solid hockey sense and a good skillset. He's a good passer, can be a puck mover and possess a very good shot from the point.

In his first two NHL years, Josi appeared to be uneasy. But he has quickly worked into the system in Nashville to have accounted for 13 goals and 15 ... and 14 this year plus a career-high 47 assists for 61 points.

He proceeded to get three assists in the first two games of the playoffs -- both by 3-2 scores over the Anaheim Ducks.

He has worked into the Predators system, going from 18 minutes as a rookie for nearly 25 or 26 minutes of quality work in the last two seasons.

"Roman, he’s always so good with the puck and his skating ability and he never gets tired," Trotz said. "But what you notice over time is his ability to defend: His stick detail, his one-on-one play is much better than it was. His strength on the puck in battles is much better as he’s gotten older and stronger.

"He’s getting better and better all the time. Roman Josi will be a player that you’ll here from for the next number of years."

In Nashville that puts on a plane with All-Star defenseman Shea Weber, the Predators five-time All-Star Game contributor.

"Just watching him play last year, what he brings to our team on the ice and off the ice, he's a player that we count on in all situations," said coach Peter Laviolette. "His leadership inside the room and on the ice really shined last year as the person and player that he was. And he fits into the group that we already have in place."

Other coaches may have other opinions about Josi, the talented defensman.

Bruce Boudreau, who was at the All-Star Game at Nashville this season, now tries to figure out how to stop Josi in the first-round playoff matchup.

"Bruce, Roman Josi is a player that flies under the radar," a reporter began, unable to fully ask his question before Boudreau interjected.

"Not mine," he said.

Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice offered this opinion,
"I think Roman Josi now is starting to get the credit that he's deserved for a while"

On the ice, the 25-year-old blue liner knows that he is supremely talented, able to evade oncoming defenders and carry the puck from end to end with a certain graceful ease. He is one of the NHL's most offensively gifted defensemen, his 129 points since the start of the 2013-14 season ranking eighth among players at his position.

And he's able to do all of that while logging heavy minutes -- only seven defensemen have received more total ice time over the past two-plus seasons -- against the opposition's most dangerous skaters.

So, he's not just another rover/defenseman out there.

"Obviously as defensemen, your first priority is always to defend well," Josi said. "Obviously my game, I try to make something happen in the offensive zone, too, try to join the rush. I think that's what I would like people to look at me as -- as a two-way defenseman."

Even less is known about him personally, though he probably prefers it that way. Josi wouldn't describe himself as shy, though he's very modest when dealing with the media, often punctuating his answers with a bashful grin, particularly when the questions are about him.

“My mother was a swimmer on the national team and my father was a top-level soccer play,” he explains. “We always played sport, even on holiday. When I first started, I didn’t really mind how I played. It wasn’t that important. But when the first agents started to show up, I was 15, and I realised that hockey was big business.”

Josi isn't even the most famous resident of his Midtown  Nashville condominium complex. Though to be fair, very few celebrities can match the popularity of Taylor Swift.

Josi, who was one of Switzerland’s key players at the Sochi Games, has always been proficient when called on to play on the international scene. At the 2013 World Championship, he helped the Swiss to a silver medal, which was their best finish since 1935. Josi was named an all-star, the tournament’s best defenseman and, most impressively, its MVP, making him the first player from Switzerland to receive the honor.

"That is my favorite memory," says Josi. "We had the Americans up against the wall and played an almost perfect match."

Josi had four goals and five assists and was named best defender and best player of the 77th IHF World Championships.

"You could tell that he’s going to be a really good player," Streit said, knowing that at an early age he was going to be good.

At that early age, Josi plays forward.

"Actually I played forward when I was younger," he recalled. "I think I was 13 or 14, when the coach pulled me back, because we didn’t have enough defensemen. I liked it back there, and yeah, I’m glad I did it."

Most of the time, Josi is paired with Weber.

"Any time that you play with a great player like Shea, you pick up things, you have a comfort level, a security blanket there, as well," said Trotz. "They both face the hard matchups defensively."

Weber and Josi -- All-Stars.

"He's just continually getting better," Weber said. "He's going to continue to get better, too. You forgot how young he is. From him to be growing at this rate and playing at this level right now, it's exciting to us to know that he's going to have even more ahead of him."

Roman Josi is on the clock.

He is a good all-round defenseman that has solid hockey sense and a good skillset. He's a good passer, can be a puck mover and possess a very good shot from the point.

Josi has gone from trailblazer, to rover to just plain all-round All-Star.

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