Fortunately, the Predators farm system has been producing quality defensemen for years, including 23-year-old Cody Franson. Selected in the third-round of the 2005 draft (the same class that produced Patric Hornqvist and Cal O'Reilly for Nashville), Franson tallied six goals and 15 assists in 61 games as a rookie during the 2009-10 season. Before that, he was a standout in the American Hockey League with Nashville's affiliate in Milwaukee, as well with with the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League.
So far this season he's already recorded four points (two goals, two assists) in eight games, and I had an opportunity to speak with him on Wednesday about his season, playing in one of the most underrated spots on the NHL map, and developing through the Predators farm system.
Adam Gretz: You're a young guy in the league, still kind of making a name for yourself, so if you were to describe your game to a fan that's perhaps not yet familiar with what you do, how would you describe yourself? What's Cody Franson all about on the ice?
Cody Franson: I like to think I'm more of an offensive defenseman. I try jump in on the power play from time to time and be a puck-moving type defenseman and, at the same time, just try to be solid in my own end.
AG: You mentioned you're more of an offensive guy, you've scored a couple of goals over the past couple of games and they were two very different goals. On one hand, you had a goal against Pittsburgh that was just an absolute bomb from the blue line on the power play, and then you came back a couple of games later and had a chance on a breakaway against Tampa Bay. You looked quite comfortable going in one-on-one, is that something you get a chance to work on a lot even though you're a defenseman? I know a lot of teams do the shootout/breakaway drills every day in practice, is that something you guys work on?
CF: Actually, yeah, a little bit. We do shootouts quite often at the end of practices, trying things here and there, just in case something like that happens so I have something to go to and, in that case, it just happened to work out for me.
AG: That was against Dan Ellis who just happened to be your teammate last year. Did you kind of have an idea as to what he was looking to do in that situation?
CF: It wasn't so much that I knew his tendencies, I kind of played it off as he knew mine. I had one move, and if it wasn't there I had kind of an exit if you will. A different move just in case he took away what I wanted, and he kind of did. At the start he kind of pushed me to my backhand so I tried to do something that I hadn't shown him before, because he kind of had my number in practice when he was here. So I just tried to do something that he hadn't seen me do on him and luckily he bit on it.
AG: Who has the advantage in that situation? You have two guys that have faced off in practice so many times, and then you're actually going at each other in a live-game setting. Does the shooter have the edge? The goalie? Or is it just one of those situations where it just depends on the flow, if you will, at that exact moment?
CF: I think it's more of the flow of that moment. We do it in practice all the time, but every time you go in you try to do something a little different and the goalie plays you a little different than he did last time. It's more just try to take what he gives you at that point in time.
AG: The Predators have been very successful over the years developing their own players, and they kind of have to because they don't really have the financial resources of some of the other teams around the league. What was it like coming up through the organization there? Did you guys play the same system in Milwaukee that you play in Nashville?
CF: It's very similar. The coaching staff down there (in Milwaukee) will tweak a couple of things the way they see fit, but for the most part the system is pretty much the same, so it wasn't that much of a transition when I did get the chance to come up. Coming up through that system and the way they draft it was very difficult because they draft a lot of defensemen, and a lot of their defensemen are very high picks, so it creates a lot of good competition. It's not a very easy lineup to stay in. They have to build from within and they've done quite well, and we have a pretty strong team right now as a result.
AG: I imagine playing the same system in the minors as you will eventually play in the NHL makes the transition that much easier. You probably have so many things going through your mind when you get called up that having to learn a new system on the fly would make it just that much worse, and I know there's some teams out there that don't actually have the same system from one level to another.
CF: Yeah, absolutely. You would have to think a lot more rather than just react. Obviously when you first get called up there's a lot more going on, you're more nervous than anything, but you don't want to have to adapt to a new system, you just want to go out there and play like you usually do and react to the situations that are out there on the ice.
AG: Your thoughts on Nashville, the city? I've spoken to a few Predators players, both current and former, and everybody seems to love it. It seems like a really underrated spot on the NHL map, and the game-night atmosphere in the arena seems to be pretty exciting. I love the "you suck" chant (video below) after you guys score directed at the other team's goalie. It's kind of a unique thing you don't see or hear in other NHL arenas. It kind of gives it that college atmosphere, which is the way I've heard it described on more than one occasion.
CF: Yeah, it's an awesome spot to play. I have a couple buddies around the league and they always look forward to coming to Nashville. It's a neat city, it's a little different than anywhere else you go around the league. You look at the downtown life, everything is so country western, it's open windows and there's live music everywhere. You don't get that anywhere else. The people down here are really friendly, the weather is great for the most part ... there's a lot of places where winters can be pretty rough, but here it's pretty mild. It's great. And our fans are awesome. We might not have the quantity that some places do, but we have a lot and they're very loud. Even when it's not full, it's loud enough to make it seem full. They're passionate and very fun to play in front of.
AG: Since it is the music city, I feel like I have to ask, but are you a country music fan? Have you been able to get into that scene?
CF: Yes, I'm a big country fan. I love all genres, but country is definitely one of my favorites so it works out well for me.
AG: The Predators seem like a team that really likes to get out there in the community and be active with fans. I assume that's been a positive experience for you guys.
CF: It's been great, yes. We had a red carpet Ford event the other night that was very successful. There were a ton of fans there before the game, we got introduced, and it was a great event for us to do. We try to get out in the community as much as possible. We try to do a lot of hospital visits. We try to get minor hockey going in the city and grow more interest through that and get the kids involved, because, hey, that's where you get a lot of your fans from. The parents that have the kids that want to see games, so it's nice to get families involved.
AG: Along those lines, Twitter and social media have changed the way fans and players, and, heck, even media and players, interact on a daily basis. I know a couple of your teammates are currently on Twitter, like Steve Sullivan (@sullivan26) and Jordin Tootoo (@jtootoo22), so No. 1: are you currently on it, and No. 2: if not, will we ever see you?
CF: No, I'm not on it. I don't have that or Facebook. That type of stuff just isn't my cup of tea I guess you could say. I like to be a bit more personal. It avoids all confrontation, if you will.
AG: Yeah, I can see that angle. On one hand, I think the interaction is a very positive thing for the league, team, fans ... but I'm also not a player that has to deal with it. I mean, if you have a bad game you might wake up one morning to 300 people leaving you messages asking what the hell you're doing out there.
CF: Yeah, or just like the incident with Dan Ellis in Tampa Bay. If somebody misunderstands what you're trying to say, or doesn't like it, or something like that, it just kind of snowballs. I bet you he thought to himself 'If I didn't have this account I wouldn't have to deal with this,' so I just try to stay clear from all of those little mistakes.
AG: I saw your spot on NHL Live this week and you mentioned you were a big Toronto Maple Leafs fan growing up. Whenever I do an interview like this with a player that's somewhat close to my age I like to get a feel for who they were watching and cheering for growing up. So if you were a Leafs fan, who was your player? Is that around the Mats Sundin time period?
CF: Actually I grew up a big Wendell Clark fan. Wendell Clark is my all-time favorite player. My whole family loved that guy and the way he played. It was one of those things, my first baby picture I have a Leafs jersey on thanks to my uncle, so I was pretty much a Leafs fan from day one.