The Nashville Predators will be without one of their top defensemen for the time being. The club has announced that Mattias Ekholm has been placed on injured reserve with an undisclosed lower-body injury. Additionally, checking forward Mathieu Olivier has also been transferred to the injured reserve. Taking their places on the active roster in the meantime are defenseman Ben Harpur and young forward Eeli Tolvanen.
The Predators will be without Ekholm for at least ten days from his most recent appearance on Tuesday as a result of moving him to IR. However, without more intel on the injury or a timeframe for his return, the talented two-way defender could be out beyond that date. Ekholm actually missed the Predators’ first game against the Tampa Bay Lightning this week, on Monday, February 8th, but returned to the roster the next night for the second game of the back-to-back. It’s possible that he reaggravated the injury or that this has simply been a lingering issue. Either way, the Predators will have to cope with losing Ekholm, a stalwart on the back end for eight years now.
This is an important season for both the Predators and Ekholm and this injury absence puts pressure on both. A Stanley Cup finalist in 2017, Nashville looked like they had the core to contend for years to come. Instead, it has been a steady decline of playoff failure from a second-round upset as the President’s Trophy winners in 2018 to a first-round exit in 2019 and finally a stunning qualifying round loss in 2020. Now they might simply be fighting to even qualify for the postseason this year. The Predators currently sit in seventh in the Central Division with a disappointing .385 points percentage and the third-worst goal differential in the NHL.
If Nashville needs to make major changes to get back on track, one of the key questions is whether Ekholm will be part of that future. With the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft waiting ahead, the Predators will have to decide if they want to protect seven forwards and three defensemen – likely to be Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and the future of the blue line in Dante Fabbro – leaving Ekholm exposed or whether he is worth opting for the eight-skater protection scheme which could leave some young forwards exposed. A rebuilding team might give up (or alternatively trade beforehand) a 30-year-old core defenseman rather than a promising prospect forward. So far this year, Ekholm’s per-game production and ice time are both down considerably compared to the past few years and if he has an extended injury absence or is unable to turn things around upon is return, it could certainly influence the team’s decision.