Predators 2009-10 junior prospects update

By Kyle Kujawa

Boasting their deepest group of prospects in years, many of Nashville’s top junior prospects have shifted to the professional ranks. However, they leaned heavily on junior hockey in the 2009 draft. Nashville has two wingers, three centers, and two defensemen in junior hockey, representing the OHL, QMJHL, USHL, and BCHL. All are from the 2009 draft class.

OHL

Ryan Ellis, D – Windsor Spitfires
Acquired: 1st round, 11th overall, 2009
January 3, 1991, 5’10, 170

Nashville’s top pick in 2009 has picked up where he left off in the OHL with his dominant offensive play. Ellis impressed the Nashville brass with his hockey sense in training camp, and certainly made the decision to send him back to Windsor as difficult as he could.

Ellis missed about three weeks in October with a wrist injury, but that hasn’t affected his play. The diminutive blueliner still plays his ultra-composed puck controlling style that made him so highly regarded for the draft. After potting 22 goals last year, he had not scored in his first 17 games of the season, before exploding for a hat trick in a game against Kingston. In those 17 games he had 19 assists. He’s now splitting big minutes with likely 2010 top pick Cam Fowler. The injury hasn’t put a dent on Ellis’ big shot, as he can still wire them as well as anyone else in the league.

Ellis is a virtual guarantee for Canada’s world junior team for the second straight season this month, with his role likely expanding from power-play specialist to big minutes at even strength as well. Windsor is also defending the Memorial Cup championship they won last season, as they look to be the early favorite coming out of the OHL. Ellis will be a key component in that run.

Taylor Beck, RW – Guelph Storm
Acquired: 3rd round, 70th overall, 2009
May 13, 1991, 6’1, 202

Beck has surprised many in the OHL this season, emerging as one of the best power forwards in the league. He’s already closing in on the personal bests of 22 goals and 58 points he set last year, with 15 goals and 41 points in just 25 games. He sits fifth in points for the entire league, putting him in some elite company.

Since being drafted in June, Beck has improved his average skating and has made an effort to take advantage of his frame. The payoff has been rising stock in what is already a deep group of wingers in the Nashville system. Beck is already developing into an all-around player that could slot in nicely on a second or third line down the road, as his scoring production has really caught up to his work ethic.

Michael Latta, C – Guelph Storm
Acquired: 3rd round, 72nd overall, 2009
May 25, 1991, 5’11, 205

Two picks after Nashville selected Beck, they selected his linemate in Michael Latta. The two had nearly identical production in their draft years (Beck’s 58 points to Latta’s 57), but Latta has not enjoyed a similar strong start to the season that Beck has.

On a Guelph team that currently sits last in its division, Latta is third in team scoring with 19 points. Injuries have limited him to just 17 games, but he’s been back in action this week after missing most of November with a banged up shoulder.

Latta does not have the same offensive upside as Beck, or their linemate Peter Holland (ANA). Latta serves more as an agitator who’s not afraid to drop the gloves. He does possess good hands and a quick shot, so he will be expected to produce more offense down the stretch as Guelph fights for a playoff spot.

QMJHL

Charles-Olivier Roussel, D – Shawinigan Cataractes
Acquired: 2nd round, 42nd overall, 2009
September 13, 1991, 6’0, 200

Roussel played a big role on the Shawinigan blueline last season, and he’s continued progressing this year as the team’s top offensive defenseman. Through 25 games, Roussel is nearly at a point-per-game pace with 22 points, including six goals.

After turning some heads in training camp, Roussel returned to the QMJHL for his third season with Shawinigan. He’s working on playing better at both ends of the ice, and learning when to step up for a big open-ice hit or stay back and defend. Roussel has responded nicely to a summer invite to Canada’s under-20 development camp. He’s a long shot to make the roster this year, but could be working to solidify a spot next year.

Gabriel Bourque, LW – Baie-Comeau Drakkar
Acquired: 5th round, 132nd overall, 2009
September 20, 1990, 5’9, 186

Late in the 2009 draft, Nashville landed a solid waterbug-type player in Bourque. Just days shy of being eligible for the 2008 draft, the undersized and speedy winger scored a healthy 61 points in 60 games. Perhaps more impressively, he was one of just a few regulars on the team not in negative double digits in plus/minus.

Like Roussel, Bourque earned an invitation to Canada’s summer development camp. He’s not likely to make the team either, but he’s certainly stating his case this season. He leads Baie-Comeau in scoring with 32 points in 25 games. Despite his size, Bourque is fearless on the ice. He’s strong on his skates which makes him very hard to knock off the puck.

USHL

Nick Oliver, C – Fargo Force
Acquired: 4th round, 110th overall, 2009
May 4, 1991 6’2, 205

Oliver was drafted last season despite a collarbone injury that kept him out for most of the year. It limited him to just 12 games in the USHL and some high school hockey as well. He’s returned to the USHL for a second season, but is not off to the start he needs to be, with only two assists to show for 15 games.

Oliver is committed to join St. Cloud State next season, and Nashville will hold his rights until he graduates. Oliver was billed as a power forward who needed work skating and puckhandling, but could still compete every night. For a player of that type going against junior players, two points has to be considered a vast disappointment.

BCHL

Cam Reid, C – Westside Warriors
Acquired: 7th round, 192nd overall, 2009
August 25, 1991, 6’3, 197

Now a third-year player in the BCHL, Reid’s game is evolving. He didn’t have a huge role in his first two years in the league, but has now become one of the league’s top scorers. He’s surpassed the 40 points he put up last year already, with 41 through just 25 games.

Reid has size and offensive skill, and he plays a sound two-way game. As he continues to blossom offensively in his final season of juniors, he will need to work on using his size to make him a more dynamic player, as well as getting a little bit quicker. Reid will join the University of New Hampshire next season.