(Toronto, ON) — The defenceman who Team Europe head coach Ralph Krueger compared to Nicklas Lidstrom was not around to talk about himself on Monday.
As reporters were told, Roman Josi had spoken the previous day and was unavailable. He had apparently met his quota under the spotlight.
Not that anyone seemed particularly surprised. The Swiss-born defenceman has finished in the top-five in Norris Trophy voting in each of the last two years, and only Erik Karlsson and P.K. Subban have scored more than Josi’s 156 points in the last three seasons combined. And yet, with Team Europe having reached the World Cup final against Canada, it only now feels that he’s having his coming out party.
That is, if Josi would bother showing up to attend it.
If Josi is indeed a diamond, he’s been stuck in the rough for most of his career. Part of it has to do with the team he is on. Like former Predators captain Shea Weber, who has yet to win the Norris Trophy, Josi has largely flown under the radar while playing in a non-traditional hockey market that has not had playoff success.
The other part has to do with Josi. He’s not flashy. He doesn’t score highlight-reel goals like Karlsson and when he does score, he doesn’t celebrate like Subban. He’s reserved, both on and off the ice. When he was asked the other day about playing in a city where hockey takes a backseat to football and country music, Josi made it seem like he was the one of the lucky ones.
“In Nashville, you don’t get that much attention, so you’re always flying under the radar, which is a good thing,” said Josi, who was fourth amongst defencemen with 61 points last season. “We don’t get on national TV much. It’s been like that since I got to the NHL, so I’m comfortable with that.”
On a team with an aging defence — Zdeno Chara is 39 years old and Streit is 38 —the 26-year-old Josi has been leaned on for big minutes. He was a big reason why Patrick Kane and others could not generate any offence in a shocking 3-0 shutout win against the U.S., and then logged 29 minutes in a semi-final win against Sweden, where he started the rush that led to the overtime goal.
Though Josi is still searching for his first point after four games, he leads Europe’s defence with eight shots and his 26 minutes and 25 seconds of ice time — nearly four more minutes than Drew Doughty, Canada’s top earner — is the most of any player at the World Cup.
Simply put, if you didn’t know about Josi before the tournament began, you do now. Or you will once the season starts and Subban, whom Nashville acquired from Montreal in exchange for Weber, is his teammate.
“I don’t think he is (underrated). Do you guys think he is?” asked Weber, who might have overshadowed Josi when both were playing in Nashville. “I played with him, so (Josi’s point total) wasn’t very quiet to me. He’s great. I don’t know how people don’t know about him.”
For Canada’s John Tavares, who briefly played with Josi in the Swiss league during the 2012-13 lockout, the under-the-radar defenceman is sort of like San Jose’s Marc-Edouard Vlasic. It takes playing with him to truly appreciate all the little things he does on the ice.
“I didn’t really know Roman as a player that well, and he really opened my eyes with his ability and the way he can skate and can make plays,” said Tavares. “I don’t think people maybe recognized how talented he was playing in Nashville. He was still establishing himself, but he really blew me away with the type of player he is.
“It wasn’t too long after that, maybe a year or two, that he was playing top-line minutes and people were talking about him in the Norris Trophy conversation.”
With Subban now in Nashville, expect the Norris talk to continue for both players.
“He’s got great skill and I think he’s going to fit our style really well,” Josi told Postmedia News earlier in the tournament. “(Predators coach Peter Laviolette) likes to play a high-tempo game and that’s exactly what Subban does. He’s a fun guy to be around.”
Another benefit to having Subban around? It proably means Josi won’t have to talk as much.
(Excerpted from Michael Traikos of the National Post)