By Jim Diamond
When the Predators acquired Cody Franson in a mid-February trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs, expectations for the 6-foot-5 defenseman were high. After all, he had a strong start to his NHL career in a Nashville sweater and was excelling in Toronto after the Predators shipped him there in 2011.
But ever since the trade back to Nashville, Franson has looked out of place. He struggled to put up points and often found himself stapled to the end of the bench for long stretches of time. A late-season upper-body injury didn’t help things, keeping him out of the lineup for the last regular season game and Game 1 of Nashville’s Western Conference Quarterfinal series with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Franson drew into the lineup in Friday night’s Game 2 and played well. He was visible for the right reasons and picked up the primary assist on Craig Smith’s goal at 14:54 of the second. That goal proved to be the game winner.
“I do think he played a good game last night,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said Saturday prior to the team’s departure for Chicago later Saturday afternoon. “He was moving the puck well. He got his shot off. He defended well. He jumps into the lineup and gives us a good game.”
When the Predators lost team captain Shea Weber in the second period Friday to a lower-body injury, it created some opportunities for others to pick up some of the voluminous amount of ice time that Franson’s fellow Sicamous, B.C. native logs night in and night out.
“Everybody will probably chip in and handle some of the minutes and some of the responsibility,” Laviolette said.
Franson played 16:31 in Game 2, including 1:12 of power play time.
In 55 games with Toronto this season, Franson had four goals and 11 assists on the power play. He averaged 3:05 per game on the man advantage. With Weber, Seth Jones, and Ryan Ells on the Nashville roster, Franson was fourth in line among right-handed defensemen, not a good recipe for a lot of power play time.
With Weber not making the trip to Chicago, he won’t play in Games 3 or 4. That creates a vacancy on one of the points of the power play, one that Franson will likely step into, probably on the second unit.
Not the fastest of skaters, Franson’s minutes at even strength will probably be limited against the speedy Blackhawks.