Predators 2008-09 AHL/ECHL prospects review

By Robby Lewis

The Predators AHL farm system remained one of the tops in the league this season. The Milwaukee Admirals finished with 107 points, which was tied for the most in the AHL with the Manitoba Moose. The key to the Admirals’ success was their scoring depth and excellent goaltending. The Predators have a lot of good young defensemen and a decent amount of checking forwards that will help them in the future.

AHL

Ryan Jones, RW, 24
Acquired in trade with Minnesota in 2008

The talented shooter started the season with the Predators, but bounced back and forth between Milwaukee and Nashville before lighting up the AHL enough to receive a secure spot. With the Admirals, Jones had 13 goals and nine assists in 25 games. Jones had seven goals and 10 assists in 46 games with the Predators, often playing on their second scoring line.

Jones was the centerpiece in the deal between Predators and Wild for Marek Zidlicky during last year’s off-season, so Nashville is expecting a lot from the Miami-Ohio product.  Expect Jones to put up better numbers next year, most likely playing exclusively for the Predators.

Cal O’Reilly, C, 22
Acquired 5th round, 150th overall, 2005

Playing in his third full season with the Admirals, the playmaker finally got a shot with the Predators at the end of the season. The center recorded three goals and two assists in 11 games with Nashville. For the Admirals, O’Reilly continued to stake his reputation as one of the best passers in the game. He had 13 goals and 56 assists in 67 games while playing on the Admirals’ top line.

O’Reilly is still young and he has the skills already to be a top-six forward. He will probably continue to bounce around until he makes more noise in Nashville.

Antti Pihlstrom, LW, 24
Signed as a free agent in 2007

The Finnish sniper spent most of the season with Nashville. Pihlstrom never seemed comfortable with the Predators. He had eight goals and four assists in 15 games with the Admirals, but Pihlstrom only had two goals and five assists in 53 games with Nashville. When struggling at his worst, coach Barry Trotz tried putting Pihlstrom on his top line, but nothing seemed to translate to goals.

Pihlstrom still played respectable defense and laid out his fair share of hits, but had a distint lack of scoring. The Predators probably won’t have as long of a leash next season if his scoring does not improve.

Patric Hornqvist, LW, 22
Acquired 7th round, 230th overall, 2005

The flashy winger showed a lot of offensive promise with the Predators and Admirals this season. In Milwaukee, Hornqvist tallied 17 goals and 18 assists in 49 games. He ended the season playing with the Predators and notched two goals and five assists in 28 games. Hornqvist’s speed is still the one thing that is holding him back, but his soft hands will make people forget about that if he plays with the right players.

The Swede doesn’t hurt you with his defense and shows a never-say-die attitude. He is still adjusting to the NHL, but he could break out in a big way at any moment.

Cody Franson, D, 21
Acquired 3rd round, 79th overall, 2005

With 11 goals and 41 assists, the big defenseman was third in the AHL in points by a defenseman with 52. Franson is 6’5 and showed great poise both offensively and defensively. He showed excellent vision on the Admirals’ power play and used his big frame to block shots on the penalty kill. Franson is NHL-ready and the Predators are going to be even more talented on the blue line when they feel their big defenseman should join the club.

Mike Santorelli, RW, 23
Acquired 7th round, 178th overall, 2004

The older Santorelli brother had a breakout season playing with O’Reilly. He led the Admirals with 27 goals and 70 points, and was second on the team with 43 assists in 70 games. No one ever questioned Santorelli’s work ethic, and now that he has shown he can score a point per game, he is likely closer on the Predator’s radar. In a stint with the Predators, Santorelli was held scoreless in seven games.

Santorelli continued to show off his great speed and played physical when he needed to. He also scored six goals and five assists in 11 playoff games.

Mark Santorelli, RW, 20
Acquired 4th round, 119th overall, 2007

In a season where everything went right for his brother, nothing went right for the younger Santorelli. Playing in his first full professional season, Santorelli had just one goal and six assists in 53 games for the Admirals. Mark is considered the more offensively gifted of the Santorelli brothers, so these numbers came as a surprise. Santorelli looked good in other aspects of the game, but he was not able to create scoring chances like he did in the WHL. Santorelli will likely get another shot with the Admirals next season.

Alexander Sulzer, D, 24
Acquired 3rd round, 92nd overall overall, 2003

Playing in his second AHL season, the German defenseman looked great for the Admirals. He scored eight goals and added 26 assists in 48 games. Sulzer used his amazing skating ability to beat forwards to the puck and was not shy on joining offensive rushes. Sulzer was called up to the Predators in January, but separated his shoulder in only his second NHL game. He was sent back to Milwaukee when he was healed. Sulzer has the tools to be a solid offensive defenseman, but he will likely wind up back with the Admirals for most of next season.

Nick Spaling, C, 20
Acquired 2nd round, 58th overall, 2007

Spaling did what was expected of him for the Admirals during his rookie season. The young center notched 12 goals and added 23 assists in 79 games. He excelled on the penalty kill with his solid fore-checking and was the player the Admirals called on when they needed an important faceoff win. Spaling does not have the offensive skill to do anything more in the NHL, but his intangibles could very well get him a place in Nashville. Another season in the AHL is most likely next season.

Robert Dietrich, D, 22
Acquired 6th round, 174th overall, 2007

The 5’10 defenseman used his speed and heart to prove a lot of critics wrong this season. Dietrich had four goals and 15 assists in 63 games for the Admirals, but really came alive during the playoffs where he had a goal and seven assists in 11 games. Dietrich does not have the overwhelming size or defensive ability to make it an easy trip to the NHL, but if he can rally on his impressive playoff performance he could end up being a sleeper prospect for the Predators.

Kelsey Wilson, LW, 23
Signed as a free agent in 2006

Wilson proved he is a lot more than an enforcer this season. While he had a career-low 160 penalty minutes, the Admirals’ enforcer scored career highs in all three major offensive categories. He had 15 goals and 17 assists in 80 games, and had a good plus-10 rating. The 23-year-old has always possessed soft hands, but playing on a better club made his offensive abilities shine. Next year, Wilson has to prove that this wasn’t a fluke.

Tim Ramholt, D, 24
Acquired in trade with Philadelphia in 2008

After being acquired by Nashville in October, Ramholt was a solid addition to the Admirals. The speedy defenseman had two goals and eight assists in 59 games. However, Ramholt continued to not stand out in anything besides his fast skating. He is not great offensively and only average defensively. This is the reason Ramholt has already been with three NHL organizations and will probably continue to play in the AHL next season.

Ian McKenzie, RW, 21
Signed as a free agent in 2007

The 6’5 checking forward played in a brief stint with the Admirals. He looked good, scoring three goals and adding an assist in 26 games. McKenzie was a brutal force on the ice, knocking anyone who came in his sights to the ground. His skating is very good for his size, and the only time McKenzie looked uncomfortable was when he was on the offensive. The Predators hope his offense will improve, but McKenzie’s size gives him a decent shot at sticking around in the system.

Teemu Laakso, D, 21
Acquired 3rd round, 78th overall, 2005

The physical defenseman played tough for the Admirals in his rookie season. He contributed on both sides of the puck, playing solid defense as well as respectable offense. Laakso had two goals and seven assists in 42 games with the Admirals. The most surprising part of Laakso’s season was the way he improved his passing. Laakso looked very comfortable on transitions and this may give him more offensive potential than once thought. Expect Laakso to play more games for the Admirals next season.

Andreas Thuresson, C, 21
Acquired 5th round, 144th overall, 2007

Thuresson improved on his offense for the Admirals this season. He scored 14 goals and added 15 assists in 74 games — an 11-point increase from last season. Thuresson continued to play scrappy for the Admirals, giving them energy when the situation called for it. The Swede also impressed with his speed and ability to play tough in the corners. Thuresson could score more if he were put on a higher line, and if some prospects move up, Thuresson may just get that chance.

Ryan Maki, RW, 24
Acquired 6th round, 176th overall, 2005

The Harvard graduate showed signs of offensive life this season. Maki played in 65 games, scoring 12 goals and adding 13 assists. Maki was known for improving every season in college, and this has stood through in his first seasons with the Admirals. Maki used his body more this season and also played a very good two-way game. The big forward led the Admirals with a plus-14 rating and he threw more hits than he was willing to last season. Maki also played in five games with the Cyclones, scoring one goal. There is a lot of untapped offensive potential in Maki; he will likely have a chance to keep improving in Milwaukee next season.

Mark Dekanich, G, 23
Acquired 5th round, 146th overall, 2006

The rookie goaltender looked great in a backup role for the Admirals this season. Dekanich compiled a 15-10-2 record with a great 2.09 GAA and .923 save percentage. The 6’2 netminder showed great ability at holding his rebounds and was very good when the opposing team pounded continuous shots. Dekanich showed great poise and never made noise about not getting to be the starter. Dekanich will continue to compete for more playing time with the Admirals.

ECHL

Craig Switzer, D, 24
Acquired 9th round, 275th overall, 2004

The slick defenseman spent this season with the Ottawa Senators ECHL affiliate, the Elmira Jackals. There, he continued to work on his game and had two goals and 15 assists in 65 games. The 24-year-old is definitely AHL-ready, but he must work on using his long reach more to his advantage before he has a chance at making it any farther.

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