Predators AHL/ECHL prospects 2009-10 review

By Connor Jennings

The Milwaukee Admirals had a season in which they saw many of their players shuttle down and up from Nashville. But they managed a 41-30-2 record and a first-round exit in the Calder Cup playoffs, albeit in a hard-fought seven-game series.

The Cincinnati Cyclones, on the other hand, are in the Kelly Cup Finals against Idaho. They had a very strong season, leading the American Conference in wins during the regular season. Both the Admirals and Cyclones could see many new faces next year, as the Predators will most likely bring up several players for full-time duty in the NHL.

AHL

Forwards

Cal O’Reilly, C

One of the hardest-working players in the system, O’Reilly spent almost equal amounts of time between Milwaukee and Nashville. In 35 games with the Admirals, O’Reilly posted his usual gaudy scoring numbers, putting up 40 points. His performance earned him a 31-game call-up with the Predators, during which he scored two goals and added nine assists. He did not see any action during the Predators playoff run. The former fifth rounder has shown significant play-making ability at the AHL level, and is ready to make the leap to the NHL. He should be able to stick with Nashville next season.

Nick Spaling, C

Though he fell off the scoring pace of his rookie year, Spaling still showed enough to earn himself a trip to Nashville. In 48 games with the Admirals, Spaling scored seven goals, and tacked on 10 assists. He spent 28 regular-season games with Nashville and, despite a successful debut, he garnered zero goals and only three assists during that time. He played in six playoff games for Nashville, and failed to register a point. He was called up in the wake of Jordin Tootoo’s injury because the team wanted a player who was more of a third or fourth liner than a scorer. There are players higher on the list than Spaling waiting to make it to the NHL so, barring injury, Spaling will probably be a depth player again.

Andreas Thuresson, RW

Thuresson continued to show improvement in his third season in America. The Swedish sensation spent 50 games with Milwaukee, netting 14 goals and adding 19 assists. He was another player to earn a trip to Nashville during the season, playing 22 games with the Predators and posting a goal and two assists. He was explosive for the Admirals in the playoffs, putting up nine points in their seven-game series. The Swede is certainly on the NHL short list, and should get a shot with the Predators next year. If he impresses early, he could spend the year in Nashville.

Mike Santorelli, C

The most explosive scorer in the Predators pipeline, Santorelli continued to improve in Milwaukee, scoring 26 goals and 59 points in only 57 games. This earned him his second trip to Nashville, during which he scored two goals and added an assist in 25 games. Santorelli may not have excelled in his latest trip south, but he continues to show he can light the lamp. He may start next year with Milwaukee, but he won’t stay for long, because as soon as the Predators need an offensive burst, Santorelli will the the guy they go to.

Mark Santorelli, LW

He is often overshadowed by his explosive older brother, but Mark Santorelli had a breakout year this past season. In his second year with the Admirals, the younger Santorelli saw his point totals jump from seven to 24, as he scored 11 goals and added 13 assists this past year. Santorelli has shown he can both light the lamp and dish the puck, so with a little more seasoning he can become a dangerous weapon. The former fourth rounder will be in Milwaukee for another season, but if he continues to improve at his current pace, the younger brother has a chance to make it.

Ryan Maki, RW

One of the Predators less-heralded prospects, Maki regressed this season. Last year, in his first full season in Milwaukee, Maki showed improvement, posting 25 points in 65 games. This year he fell off that pace, scoring only six goals and 15 points in 61 games. However, he did have a strong playoffs, scoring two goals and adding two assists in seven games. He should be in the AHL again next year.

Peter Olvecky, LW

Olvecky has spent time in three different cities during this past season, though most of them have been in Milwaukee. Olvecky posted his highest point total (34) at the AHL level, but his lowest goal total (11) in a season that can only be considered a disappointment. Olvecky has yet to show much improvement during his five seasons at the AHL level. He already had a 31-game stint with Minnesota and failed to impress, so that, combined with his lack of improvement, make it look like the Slovakian winger is running out of chances to make it in the NHL. He was loaned to the Manitoba Moose, who were also eliminated in the first round, in exchange for veteran Marty Murray.

Defensemen

Jon Blum, D

The top prospect currently in the system, Blum had a very good year in his first season as a professional. Blum scored 11 goals and added 30 assists while playing in 80 games in Milwaukee. He also knows how to turn it on during the playoffs, scoring a goal and adding seven assists in seven games. Blum has the talent to make it in the NHL, and is gaining the size. He should at least get a call-up some time during the season.

Alexander Sulzer, D

One of the older prospects in the system due to his years playing in Germany, Sulzer is another player who spent time in both Nashville and Milwaukee this season. He spent 36 games with the Admirals, scoring a very impressive seven goals and 30 points in those games. His performance earned him an extended call-up with the Predators. He played in 20 games in Nashville, scoring two points. Sulzer is a physical player, who is also pretty slick with the stick, so he should find a place in the NHL sometime soon. He could start in Milwaukee, but it’s more likely the Predators give him a shot first due to his age (26 at the start of next season) and skill set.

Robert Dietrich, D

A less-heralded German, Dietrich has also put on an offensive performance in Milwaukee this season. In 79 games with the Admirals, Dietrich scored six goals and added 37 assists. He is very small for a defenseman at 174 pounds, and doesn’t have the most projectable skill set in the world, but Dietrich has performed undeniably well thus far. He is seen as more of a depth player, but if he has another good year next year, Dietrich could find himself in Nashville at some point during the season.

Teemu Laakso, D

Never one to light up the score sheet, Laakso found himself in Nashville for a short time in only his second year in the States. The Finn tallied 13 points in his 46 games with the Admirals, and zero points in his seven games with the Predators, but that isn’t the strength of his game. Laakso has a big frame and plays a tough, physical game. He has been adding muscle to his frame over the year, now almost 210 pounds. Laakso is gaining the strength required for the NHL, but it’s uncertain if he’ll make it full-time.

Goaltenders

Chet Pickard, G

The former first-round pick split time in his first professional season with Milwaukee, but was pretty good in the starts he made. He posted a 14-16-3 record in 34 games, with a 2.85 GAA and .892 save percentage. However, the 20-year-old did not do enough to beat out incumbent started Mark Dekanich, so he will probably split time again next year with Milwaukee. Pickard will see the NHL eventually, but he’s still very young and needs development.

Mark Dekanich, G

The athletic netminder split time again in his second season with Milwaukee, and was again extremely impressive. He posted a 27-16-4 record in 47 games, to go with a sterling 2.33 GAA and .914 save percentage. In the playoffs, he played all but 12 minutes in net. Dekanich may not have quite the pedigree of someone like Chet Pickard, but he continues to be very impressive in goal. If a goaltender is needed in Nashville, Dekanich will be sure to get the call. Otherwise, he will continue to try to fend off Chet Pickard for the starting job with the Admirals.

ECHL

Jeremy Smith, G

The only legitimate prospect at the ECHL level, Smith had a decent rookie season with the Cyclones. The athletic goalie posted an impressive 23-15-2 record behind a stellar defense, to go with his 2.63 GAA and .899 save percentage.

"When you look at the previous year, he really made a great bounceback," Predators goaltending guru Mitch Korn told Hockey’s Future in March. "He’s learned how to work harder, he’s learned how to be a good teammate, or a better teammate, to not only his players but his staff. He was an All-Star. And so that’s progress."

Korn agreed that Smith’s mental game is better.

"He certainly wasn’t in a good place in Plymouth; it was better when he got to Niagara," Korn said. "But it’s a maturity thing. I do believe that when he was in a bad place, it was his own fault. As he’s grown, he’s learned to respect his surroundings more."

Smith played most of the playoff run, but lost the starting spot to follow rookie Robert Mayer (MTL). The 20-year-old Smith is not tall, but quick. He may be ready to move up to the AHL, but his long-term future is more cloudy as he gets his head in the right place.

Ian McKenzie, RW

A fringe prospect, McKenzie disappointed in his second professional season. He spent equal amounts of time between Milwaukee and Cincinnati this season, scoring a total of six points in 48 games between the two cities. He ended his year playing in the playoffs for the Cyclones, scoring two goals in seven games there. So far, McKenzie has only shown an ability to rack up ECHL penalty minutes. He will have to be both lucky and show improvement if he is to spend next season with the Admirals.

Holly Gunning contributed to this article.