Even with young defensemen, Predators will count on experience for defense

The Nashville Predators will be decidedly young on defense this season.

Five of the seven blue liners projected to make the opening day roster are younger than 25, including 18-year-old Seth Jones, Nashville’s first-round pick in this year’s draft. Only one of those five, 23-year-old Roman Josi, has played an entire NHL season – and in his case it was last season, which consisted of just 48 games.

Even so, the Predators expect they will have plenty of experience when they play defense this season.

That’s because in coach Barry Trotz’s system the center has some heavy defensive responsibilities, and nowhere does Nashville have more experience than down the middle.

“They all can skate and they all can understand the game, the support game,” Trotz said. “Not only do you have to support the puck when you have it, but when you don’t have it you have to get it back. They all are pretty seasoned in terms of the defensive part of the game, which helps in your offensive part of the game. I think it will be a real benefit, especially for a young defense, to have a veteran core of center icemen.”

The rundown (with age in parentheses):

• Matt Cullen (36): The free agent addition has played with six different franchises in an NHL career that began in 1997-98, the year before the Predators played the first game. He has been to the postseason with five of the six. He is a minus-40 for his career (1,073 games) but a plus-5 over his past eight seasons.

• Mike Fisher (33): A rugged two-way player who does not skate as well as he used to but is willing to do what it takes to get in the right spot. He was fifth among all NHL centers last season with 46 blocked shots. He has been a plus player every season – plus-19 overall – since he came to Nashville.

• David Legwand (33): The first draft pick in franchise history never has become the offensive force many imagined 15 years ago, but his size, speed and willingness have made him a quality defensive center. He’s the only Predators’ forward ever with a plus-20 or better rating in a season, a franchise-record plus-23 in 2006-07.

• Paul Gaustad (31): He’s renowned for his faceoff ability (he won just shy of 60 percent of them last season), which is a defensive skill in its own right. Every time he wins one, his team goes on offense. He’s also 6-foot-5, 223 pounds, which means he occupies a lot of space and limits opportunities for opposing forwards to take a straight line toward the goal.

“They’re veteran, which I think is real key because we have a young defense,” Trotz said. “I think that will help us in terms of our overall game. … There’s no time and space. Teams check really well. And your ability to break out effectively really, really helps in the tempo of your team, how you can break the forecheck, it really helps in the pace and it helps your offense. It helps all those aspects of your game.

“With veteran centermen and some really talented young men on the back end, we think our transitional game is going to be a lot better.”