The Nashville Predators have made a push in recent years to get more scoring talent into their organization and, while that has not yet paid dividends on the pro level, it is reflected in the prospect pool.
Defenseman Seth Jones, the Predators’ top prospect in the Spring, skated in 77 of 82 games as a rookie and has graduated from the prospect list. As a result, Nashville’s top two prospects are winger Filip Forsberg and 2014 first round pick Kevin Fiala. Additionally, eight of the top 10 players on this list are forwards.
Four of the eight defensemen who finished the season with the Predators were 24 years old or younger, so there is some young talent at defense. In terms of prospects, the top defenseman in the system is 2014 second round pick Jack Dougherty, who will begin his college career at Wisconsin in the fall after skating in USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program.
1. (2) Filip Forsberg, LW, 8.0C
Acquired via trade with Washington, April 2013
Forsberg made the Predators out of training camp as a 19 year old last season but was not quite ready for prime time, seeing limited action in 12 games before being sent to the AHL‘s Milwaukee Admirals and also playing for Sweden at the 2014 World Junior Championship. He was Sweden’s leading scorer at that tournament and flourished in the second half of the regular season in Milwaukee alongside fellow Swedish prospects Patrick Cehlin and late-season acquisition, Calle Jarnkrok. Forsberg returned to Nashville for one late-season game in March and was one of the top players for Milwaukee in their AHL playoff series with the Toronto Marlies.
2. (NR) Kevin Fiala, LW, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 11th overall, 2014
Fiala skated in 25 games for HV71 in the SHL in Sweden as a 17 year old in 2013-14 and skated for his native Switzerland in the U18, U20 and Men’s World Championship tournaments. Dominant at the junior level both in Sweden and in international play, he is one of the most offensively skilled forwards in his draft class. Fiala signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Predators in July but Nashville is hesitant to rush him to the NHL too quickly after Forsberg’s experience last year. If he is not with the Predators out of training camp he will likely return to the SHL for one more season.
3. (NR) Vladislav Kamenev, LW 8.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 42nd overall, 2014
Kamenev, like Fiala, played pro hockey as a 17 year old, skating in 17 regular season games for KHL champion Magnitogorsk Metallurg and scoring his first career goal. Bigger than Fiala, he is not as polished a scorer but uses his size to his advantage and was a team captain for Russia’s U18 team. Kamenev was the second player chosen in the CHL Import Draft and will either skate for the QMJHL‘s Quebec Remparts or return to Russia to play for Metallurg, which is coached by former NHL head coach Mike Keenan.
4. (NR) Calle Jarnkrok, C, 7.5C
Acquired via trade with Detroit, March 2014
Obtained by Nashville in the trade that sent David Legwand to the Detroit Red Wings, Jarnkrok made his NHL debut with the Predators after spending most of his first season in North America in the AHL. While his two goals and seven assists in 12 games are a small sample size, his ability to inject some offense into the Nashville lineup is encouraging. Jarnkrok also showed some nice chemistry late in the regular season and in the AHL playoffs playing with some of the other young Predators prospects in Milwaukee.
5. (12) Juuse Saros, G, 8.0D
Drafted 4th round, 99th overall, 2013
Saros was named the top rookie in Finland’s Liiga after back-stopping HPK Hameenlinna to the playoffs, and was the starting goalie for Finland’s gold medal-winning U20 WJC team. Expected to share time with Edmonton prospect Frans Tuohimaa, he played in 44 of 60 regular season games and started all six playoff games for HPK. Saros slipped to the fourth round in the 2013 NHL Draft largely due to the fact that he is a bit shorter than the prototypical NHL goaltender. His play thus far suggests that may not be an issue.
6. (5) Colton Sissons, C, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 50th overall, 2012
Sissons made his NHL debut in January as a 20 year old and skated in 17 games for the Predators in a lower-line role. Sissons finished with 25 goals in 62 games to lead Nashville’s AHL affiliate Milwaukee and formed a nice tandem skating with fellow Nashville prospect Miikka Salomaki. Sissons will push for a roster spot under new Predators coach Peter Laviolette and should develop into an effective two-way forward in the future.
7. (4) Pontus Åberg, LW, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 37th overall, 2012
Åberg was the second leading scorer for his team in Sweden’s SHL as a 20 year old last season and signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Predators in May of 2014. He is likely to start the year with Milwaukee in the AHL, and he is another of the skilled young forwards that will be counted on to provide an infusion of offense into the Predators’ lineup in the coming years. His two-way game is still inconsistent at times but his offensive instincts are first rate.
8. (NR) Jack Dougherty, D, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 51st overall, 2014
Many Predators fans immediately had images of another former Wisconsin Badger defenseman — Ryan Suter — when Dougherty was selected at the 2014 NHL draft. Those comparisons are extremely optimistic at this point but the fact that Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves and his staff have developed several NHL-caliber defensemen in the past few years is encouraging. Dougherty is still fairly early in the development process but his ideal size plus the experience gained in the NTDP program suggests he can be an effective defender one day.
9. (9) Brendan Leipsic, LW, 7.5D
Drafted 3rd round, 89th overall, 2012
No prospect in the Nashville organization has put up bigger offensive numbers the past two seasons than Leipsic has with the WHL‘s Portland Winterhawks. At the same time, he can be pugnacious and has been among the leaders in penalty minutes for Portland. Leipsic is a bit undersized and will be challenged to match the type of production at the NHL level that he has experienced in the WHL, but his attitude and willingness to compete make him a promising prospect. He will likely start his pro career with Milwaukee.
10. (8) Jimmy Vesey, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 66th overall, 2012
Vesey was the leading scorer for Harvard as a sophomore and has the prototypical size and mindset of a power forward. With several high-end offensive talents in the pipeline for Nashville, his role will be that of a middle-line, two-way forward that will work in the tight areas. Vesey must continue to develop in all aspects of his game to reach that point, however.
11. (11) Magnus Hellberg, G, 7.5D
Drafted 2nd round, 38th overall, 2011
The 2013-14 season was a challenging one for the goalie from Sweden. An injury in the preseason set him back, and despite making his first NHL appearance early in the year he struggled to find consistency at the AHL level. He eventually found himself backing up former University of Vermont goalie Rob Madore during the ECHL playoffs as Cincinnati reached the Kelly Cup finals. While such a season would shake the confidence of any young goalie, Hellberg has the skill set to one day be a starter at the NHL level and, if healthy, should have a turnaround year in 2014-15.
12. (NR) Viktor Arvidsson, LW, 7.5D
Drafted 4th round, 112th overall, 2014
The Predators are hoping they found a late-round gem in the undersized but highly entertaining scorer from Sweden. The oldest player taken in the 2014 NHL Draft when he was selected as a 21-year-old, Arvidsson was the third leading scorer for SHL champion Skelleftea and was a teammate of recent Nashville free agent signee Johan Alm. He signed an entry-level deal with Nashville in July.
13. (NR) Justin Kirkland, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 62nd overall, 2014
Kirkland is another player drafted from a program with which Nashville has had success in the past — the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets, where defenseman Shea Weber skated during his junior career. Kirkland is more of a power forward-type than the high skill scorers that Nashville selected in the 2014 NHL Draft but showed a scoring touch in the WHL playoffs. The Predators front office staff feels he is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential.
14. (17) Jonathan-Ismael Diaby, D, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 64th overall, 2013
Diaby displayed some offensive elements to his game to go along with his size and physical game and showed no ill effects from the shoulder injury that required offseason surgery in the summer of 2013. His rehabilitation kept him out of the QMJHL’s Victoriaville Tigres’ lineup for the first half of the 2013-14 season. Diaby will likely begin his pro career in the AHL with Milwaukee this season but could be a nice complement to the swift-skating and puck-moving defensemen now in Nashville.
15. (7) Austin Watson, C, 6.5C
Drafted 1st round, 18th overall, 2010
Watson displayed durability and a sense of selflessness in making the move from his traditional center spot to the wing to fill an organizational need for the Predators. One of two players to skate in all 76 regular season games for AHL affiliate Milwaukee, he was the Admirals’ third leading scorer. While the former first round pick doesn’t appear to be the high level scorer that the Predators envisioned when he was selected, he could be a valuable lower-line presence who plays in all situations.
16. (13) Miikka Salomaki, LW/C, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 52nd overall, 2011
Salomaki skated in 75 of 76 games for Milwaukee as a 20 year old in his first season in North America and was the team’s leading scorer. While the longer season appeared to take its toll on the forward from Finland, his success at the AHL level suggests that he could fit into the Predators plans as a supplementary scorer who plays a sound two-way game as soon as the upcoming 2014-15 season. Salomaki also had the opportunity to skate for Finland’s silver medal-winning squad at the 2014 World Championship in Belarus along with Rinne.
17. (3) Taylor Beck, LW, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 70th overall, 2009
Beck was the second leading scorer for Milwaukee with a team-high 32 assists in his third pro season but did not register a point in limited ice time in seven games with the Predators. Beck has been pushing to crack the lineup in Nashville the past two seasons and was tendered a qualifying offer by the Predators in June after heading into the summer as a restricted free agent. The 2014-15 season should go a long way in determining if Beck is capable or producing in the NHL the type of offense he put up in juniors and at the AHL level.
18. (NR) Patrick Cehlin, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 126th overall, 2010
A lower body injury in November of 2013 limited the late round pick from Sweden to 38 regular season games in his second pro season in North America. After returning from his injury he was one of the top forwards for Milwaukee late in the season and in the playoff series with the Toronto Marlies. Cehlin seemed to click playing with fellow Swedes Filip Forsberg and Calle Jarnkrok and could be a dark-horse candidate for a spot with the Predators in 2014-15.
19. (10) Marek Mazanec, G, 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 179th overall, 2012
Mazanec was a pleasant surprise for the Predators in his first pro season, emerging as the replacement for Rinne ahead of some of the other goalie prospects in the Nashville system when the Predators veteran was injured. He played in 25 games for the Predators before Nashville turned to AHL journeyman Carter Hutton and acquired Devan Dubnyk from Edmonton, returning Mazanec to the AHL. Mazanec started all three games for Milwaukee in the AHL playoffs, and he and Hellberg will compete for the backup spot behind Rinne in training camp.
20. (NR) Johan Alm, D, 7.0D
Signed as a free agent, May 2014
Alm was an understated but key part of Skelleftea’s championship season in the SHL and was pursued by several clubs as a free agent following the playoffs in Sweden. Signed to a two-year, entry-level contract by Nashville in May, Alm is already a dominant defender who uses his skating and long reach to diffuse plays. He is just scratching the surface in his all-around game and his skill set suggests he can also be effective in creating attacks from the blue line.
Follow Tony Piscotta on Twitter via @HockeyNJ12