Josi taking game to another level
by John Tranchina & Martin Merk|24 MAY 2020
Teammates at the Swiss national team and the Nashville Predators: Roman Josi and Yannick Weber at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
He’s been a key contributor to the Nashville Predators’ success for several years now, but this season, defenseman Roman Josi has brought his game up to another level of excellence. The 29-year-old Swiss blueliner, in his third season as the Preds’ captain, has been outstanding offensively and defensively, leading the club in scoring and helping hold the locker room together during a somewhat tumultuous season.

Perhaps the most obvious improvement this season is reflected on the stat sheet, as Josi’s 65 points (16 goals, 49 assists) in 69 games exceeds his career high of 61 set in the 2015/16 season and is a new Nashville single-season record for blueliners. He ranked second only to Washington’s John Carlson among NHL defencemen in scoring and was third in ice time, averaging 25:47 per game. 

He established a new Nashville record for defencemen with a 12-game point streak from Dec. 16 to Jan. 9, during which he compiled seven goals and 20 points. Josi also represented the Predators at the NHL All-Star Game on Jan. 25, earning two assists in the Central Division’s 10-5 loss to the Pacific. 

As expected, the humble Josi didn’t really have an explanation for why his performance has spiked this season, but credited it to improved consistency.

“I don’t know, I think I just try to play my game,” Josi said of his strong play this season. “I think it’s just the more you play in this league, the more experience you get and you kind of know how to handle certain situations and how to prepare for a game and try to find that consistency a little more. I think it’s one of the biggest keys in this league, to just play consistently.”

The sudden halt of the season due to the coronavirus pandemic hit Josi on a high and with his team moving up to a top-8 spot in the Western Conference with three straight wins. “But it’s the same for everybody. For each player the pause came very abrupt. At the moment hockey is still far away. Everybody wants to play hockey again in a safe environment but at the moment health is the priority,” he said.

In the meantime he’s waiting for positive signs in North America. He stayed in Nashville with his wife and their two dogs.

“I miss my teammates and my family and friends from Switzerland who I can’t see. Our daily routine of going to the arena to practise and play,” he said. “At home at the garage I set up a gym and outside I have a goal to shoot pucks but much more than that is not possible. I do a lot of weight training.”
Roman Josi accepts the silver medal from IIHF President René Fasel after the final of the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Copenhagen.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
While Josi may not feel all that comfortable talking about his great season and numbers, his frequent defence partner, Ryan Ellis, had no such shyness about it. 

“He’s been amazing,” said Ellis, who was also enjoying a strong season, ranking fourth in Nashville scoring with 38 points, despite missing 20 games with an upper body injury. “I mean, we all knew how good he was coming into the year, but I feel as a player, he’s taken another step. And it’s fortunate for me, I think it’s elevated my game as well, because ultimately I got to keep up and do my part for him to succeed. He’s been unbelievable.”

Nashville’s second-round selection (38th overall) in the 2008 NHL Draft, Josi played three full seasons with his hometown club, SC Bern, helping them win the National League A championship in 2010, before coming over to North America for 2010/11. He spent that whole year and part of the next apprenticing at AHL Milwaukee before establishing himself as a full-time NHLer later in 2011/12. Josi did return home again to SC Bern for the first half of 2012/13 during the NHL lockout before returning to Nashville once it was resolved. 

With 13 goals and 40 points in 72 games in 2013/14, Josi served notice that he was among the upper echelon of NHL defencemen, and has maintained a high level ever since. He helped the Predators reach the 2017 Stanley Cup Final (contributing six goals and 14 points in 22 playoff contests) and captained the squad to the 2018 Presidents Trophy as regular season champions.

And when he had time, he joined the Swiss national team at eight World Championships and one Olympic Games and was part of both silver-winning teams in 2013 and 2018.

“He’s a great player, he’s an All-Star player that really brings it every night,” teammate Viktor Arvidsson said. “He’s consistent with his game and that really helps us, and he’s a leader on the ice and off the ice, so only good things to say about him. He’s just been outstanding so far this year and I hope he continues the way he’s playing right now.” 

Nashville was very happy to sign Josi to an eight-year, $72.472 million contract extension back on Oct. 29, which will prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent next summer and keep him in the Music City through the 2027/28 season, when he’ll be 37. After being one of the league’s top bargains for years on his current seven-year, $28 million deal, Josi will earn an average of $9.059 million on his next pact, which is much more in line with his contributions.

“Roman Josi is one of the top defencemen in the National Hockey League and our team leader as captain,” Nashville general manager David Poile said at the time. “As he enters his prime, we look forward to Roman continuing to showcase his elite skills.”

In addition to his excellent play on the ice, Josi has been instrumental in keeping the close-knit squad together in the dressing room, as the Predators have endured some ups and downs this season, including the firing of long-time coach Peter Laviolette on Jan. 6.

After being named team captain on Sept. 19, 2017, Josi has grown into the role, becoming a strong leader that his teammates will follow through the proverbial brick wall.

“He’s been great,” Ellis said of Josi’s leadership. “He’s a very positive person, very well-respected, well-liked in this dressing room. Obviously, everyone leads in a different manner, in a different way, and I feel like Roman leads with his on-ice play a lot. I think he’s feeling more and more comfortable with saying things and speaking up off the ice, but ultimately, he lets his play do the talking, and this year, there’s really been no better player right now because he’s been special.” 

Josi, who, as Ellis alluded to, is more of a quiet type, has evolved his leadership style, but he has witnessed some good examples in previous Nashville captains to model his behaviour on.

“I think I had some really great teachers before me, like Mike Fisher and Shea Weber; I definitely learned a lot from them,” said Josi, who took the C after Fisher initially retired following the run to the Final in 2017. “Your first year, you’re always learning. There’s different situations and every year is a little different with the situation the team is in, so you always try to learn from stuff that’s happening, the downs, and you learn from the ups. I think the more experience you gain, the more you prepare for those situations.”
Roman Josi was voted Most Valuable Player of the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
As the first Swiss captain in NHL history, Josi is proud of his home nation’s hockey tradition and relative success on the international stage recently. He is one of 13 Swiss-born players to have appeared in an NHL game so far this season. 

With Josi providing a boost, joining Switzerland midway through the tournament, the Swiss advanced all the way to the final of the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships. Josi assisted on both Swiss goals as his team took Sweden to overtime, before falling 3-2 in a shootout for the gold medal. 

It was the second time Josi and the Swiss came agonizingly close to gold and had to settle for silver. In 2013, a 22-year-old Josi contributed four goals and nine points in 10 games, earning the tournament’s Most Valuable Player and Best Defenceman awards, as he helped the Swiss advance to the final, where they again lost to Sweden. 

This month the cities of Zurich and Lausanne would have hosted the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship with the medal games scheduled for today. The Swiss national team was looking forward to a nice chance for Switzerland to take its turn in the international hockey spotlight. And Josi was excited to see his home nation get the opportunity to shine in one way or the other.

“Hosting a World Championship means a lot for Switzerland. I think the last couple of years, Swiss hockey took a big step forward. More guys are coming over to play in the NHL, a couple of years ago, we only had like one or two. Swiss hockey has taken a big step, and with two silver medals in five years at the World Championships, it would have been pretty cool for Switzerland to be able to host the World Championships,” Josi said.

Unfortunately it was not to happen as most events and championships in Europe were cancelled due to the pandemic.

“It’s a pity. It would have been a big hockey party for Switzerland. I had the honour of playing the 2009 Worlds in Switzerland and it was a big party. The people were really looking forward to the Worlds. It’s also a pity that we can’t come to Berne with Nashville [for a pre-season game originally scheduled in fall] but I hope that I will one day again play a game in Switzerland,” Josi said.