Ready or not, Dante Fabbro seems to be moving on up for the Predators

Paul Skrbina
The Tennessean

"Great," Dante Fabbro thought, "expectations."

The Predators rookie defenseman isn't afraid of them. He embraces them.

He proved that at the end of last season, when he made a four-game regular-season cameo before showing as one of the team's top defenseman in six playoff games of a first-round loss to the Stars.

But when he learned that P.K. Subban, a Norris Trophy winner, a three-time All-Star, had been traded to the Devils this summer, Fabbro knew great expectations had become greater.

"Things like that definitely pop into your mind," Fabbro said. "I remember giving my dad a call and talking things through. I knew with that trade I kind of had to push myself a bit more to try to earn a spot, like where he was."

So he went right to work, as in working out. Preparing for another audition, only this time his role is more secure. 

But don't tell Fabbro that. He'll have none of it. Insist he's approaching training camp as if he doesn't have a spot sewn up.

He does. But he won't act like he does.

Being himself

Fabbro also knows he's no Subban. Won't try to be. Doesn't make sense to try to be.

"There's going to be people rooting for you or against you," Fabbro said. "I have to go about my business. One big thing I learned from all these guys is get ready to work and leave the rest to the side. All that really matters is the guys in here. That’s a valuable lesson. I'll take part in that."

One person rooting hard for Fabbro, of course, is Predators general manager David Poile.

Not long after the Subban trade was announced, during the NHL Draft in Vancouver, Poile explained the reasoning behind the move. He wanted to clear salary cap space to sign center Matt Duchene, first of all.

Then he brought up Fabbro, unprompted.

"I probably would not have made this trade if Dante Fabbro hadn’t signed with the Predators and played at the end of the year … as well as he did," Poile said. "That gave me good confidence that … we could still have a good defense and trade somebody like P.K."

Poile didn't let up after camp began, either. 

He reiterated his deep belief in the 21-year-old he'd drafted 17th overall in 2016.

"We’re going to give him as much as he can handle," Poile said. "But we have other veterans that can move up and play left side, right side. Hopefully we have the right setup that will allow him to be successful.

"He looks really, really good. Maybe we won't have enough for him to handle."

Bumps along the way

There will be hiccups along the way. Fabbro knows it. Poile knows it. Coach Peter Laviolette knows it.

So does Predators Director of Player Development Scott Nichol.

All of whom have faith that Fabbro can do the job.

"He’s figuring out how to be a pro," Nichol said. "He’s got a good head on his shoulders. He’s going to have his bumps and bruises along the way. He’s on a great path.

"He moves the puck real well. … He doesn’t put himself in position too often to turn the puck over. He’s a simple defender, moves the puck and skates well. Him and (Dan Hamhuis) were really good partners last year."

New partner?

But Fabbro could be changing partners this season, most likely pairing up with Mattias Ekholm on the second pair behind Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis.

"They look good together, but I wouldn't put that in pen, either," Laviolette said. 

But should pencil turn to pen, that will mean more responsibility. That will mean more minutes. That will mean, well, a lot to Fabbro.

"I'm a pretty tough critic of myself," Fabbro said. "I find it takes too much of my time and energy focusing on something (negative) that happens during the game. I think about it after. It's going to sit in your mind, a glaring mistake. You have to move past it.

"An open mind is the way I approach things. There's going to be mistakes and bumps. It's up to me how I respond to that."

Just like dad taught him.

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