Nashville Predators depth analysis, Fall 2010

By Connor Jennings
Photo: Center Colin Wilson has all of the tools to develop into a first-line center and offensive leader for the Predators. (Photo Courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

Since their inception the Nashville Predators have continued to do one thing, draft and develop quality prospects. The Predators have created a very talented, very young roster, with the horses to pull the team to the playoffs and the resources to make a trade to put them over the top. However, the organization lacks star caliber talent, instead choosing to fill the team with solid, well-rounded players.

Left Wing

As with many organizations, the Predators have a number of centers that could be converted to wing before they reach the NHL, but as it stands the team still has some very interesting prospects primarily manning left wing.

Taylor Beck has rocketed up prospects lists since being drafted in 2009. He has already proven to be an unstoppable offensive force while in the OHL, and this summer he showed his skills can translate to the NHL level as well. Beck had an outstanding training camp this summer, nearly making the roster despite being one of the biggest long shots in camp. All this at the ripe old age of 19.

Joining Beck as a player whose stock has skyrocketed is Gabriel Bourque. Bourque has been able to score and impress at a fantastic level, despite being too small. Due to his size, Bourque is always going to be doubted, but that has yet to hinder him in his young career. He may not have ideal size, but there is no doubt he has the skills to play at any level.

The remaining left wing prospects are a more developed, if lower potential group. Leading the way are recent college graduates Blake Geoffrion and Taylor Stefishen. Both are solid all around players, with a quality two way skill set. Geoffrion is the more talented of the two, but both should find their way onto an NHL roster at some point.

Experienced European player Linus Klasen has shown he can play in the top leagues in Sweden, and has shown it translates to the AHL thus far this season. He has 10 points in seven games with Milwaukee. Rounding out the group is 2010 draft pick David Elsner. Elsner has the talent, but has a lot of development left to make it to the NHL.


Center

The Predator organization is lacking in top flight talent, due to the graduations of players like Patric Hornqvist, and soon Colin Wilson. The position does, however, contain many players who should see time in an NHL uniform during their careers.

For now, the group is led by top prospect Colin Wilson. There isn’t much left to say about Wilson, he can do most everything, and is a top-line center in the making. He has all the skill to perform at a high level, combined with good size and a fantastic work ethic. The only thing left for Wilson is to do it with the Predators, as he has done so far this season.

Joining Wilson in Nashville is the far more experienced Cal O’Reilly. Thus far in his career, the play-making center has floundered in Nashville, and may have few chances left. He is a hard worker, and a two way player, making him perfect for a third line role. But he isn’t all effort, he has the talent to score and set up his teammates, making him a perpetual threat on the third or fourth line. He has six points through nine games so far with the Predators, a vast improvement over seasons past.

Another young player to hit his stride recently is Michael Latta. Latta is on the small side, but is a hard working, play-making center, who has shown an unexpected knack for putting the puck in the net. He scored 33 goals in the OHL this past season, a vast improvement from his 14 goal, 36 point performance the year prior. Few expected Latta to light the lamp the way he has, but as long as he keeps producing, he will keep advancing.

There are a few other high upside players in the mix as well. Craig Smith has seen his stock improve after an impressive rookie season for Wisconsin. 2010 draftee Joonas Rask is another higher upside play. He is among Finland‘s best in terms of skill and skating ability, but has to work on his size and strength before he comes to North America. A similar Finnish forward is Jani Lajunen, who grades out high in offensive skill, but low in physical play. The elder statesman of this particular group is Notre Dame’s Ben Ryan. Ryan has performed well at the collegiate level, but has yet to show any significant improvement from his freshman year.

The defensive minded forwards fill out the rest of the group. Nick Oliver is a large man who plays like it. Oliver always brings a physical presence to the ice, and has a knack for playing in the dirty areas. Cameron Reid is a talented defensive forward who has also shown offensive talent as of late. Reid is another player with good size, but he needs to show he can score outside of the BCHL. Bringing up the rear is Niko Snellman, agitator and human wrecking ball extraordinaire. He may not have much in the way of skill, but Snellman can fill two important roles: drawing penalties and protecting the stars on a team.


Right Wing

The Predators have some very intriguing prospects manning the right side his year. They might not have very many right wing prospects, but the ones they do have are extremely talented.

Leading the way is 2010 first round pick Austin Watson. Watson is a star caliber player who fits the Predator mold perfectly. He plays a strong two way game, with maximum effort and a moderate amount of offensive ability. Watson may not have the numbers to back it up yet, but he has the talent to be a leader and a star in Nashville. Look for him to start putting up star level numbers this year in the OHL.

Another complete player at right wing for the future Predators is Zach Budish. Budish is a large forward, who uses his size effectively in addition to having quality hands. He has impressive skating ability for a man of his size. Budish was not exactly stellar as a freshman on a stacked Minnesota team, but he has picked it up this year, with six points in his first seven games as a sophomore.

Two prospects that will contribute in Nashville this season are Matt Halischuk and Andreas Thuresson. Halischuk, who came over in the Jason Arnott trade, spent time in New Jersey last year, though his AHL talent didn’t translate immediately. Halischuk is a small, skilled player, and he should be able to stick on an NHL roster sometime soon. Thuresson impressed while he was in Milwaukee last year, leading to a mid-season call up for him as well. He didn’t live up to expectations in his 22 game cup of coffee, and failed to make the roster out of camp, but he still should have another opportunity this year, especially since he’s off to a hot start for the Admirals.

Rounding out the group are further away prospects Mark Santorelli, who is still trying to live up to his brother’s AHL performances before he can even sniff the NHL, and Ryan Flynn, who disappointed during his time at Minnesota. Both could be viable NHL players, but are a long way away from the NHL, and getting long in the tooth for prospects.

Defense

The seemingly endless Nashville defensive pipeline has several upper echelon prospects waiting in the wings. The group is a little short on NHL ready defenseman due to recent call ups and graduations like Cody Franson, for example, but luckily there is little short term need for defenders on the Predators.

Leading the charge is the most talented, most NHL ready defender on the farm, Jonathon Blum. Blum spent his first full season in the AHL last year, and certainly impressed, playing a shut down role while providing a legitimate offensive threat. Blum’s game consists of skill, skill, and more skill. He isn’t the largest fellow in the world, so he relies on his skills and his wits to outmaneuver opposing forwards. Though he may not be the hardest hitting defender, Blum still isn’t really lacking anywhere in his game.

Following Blum is the talented French Canadian, Charles-Olivier Roussel. Roussel has shown to be an extremely versatile defender in the QMJHL, filling whatever role is asked of him. He kills penalties, quarterbacks the power-play, and shuts down the top threats of his opponents. All of this while he scores at nearly a point per game pace.

Going from one offensive defenseman to another, Ryan Ellis scores like no other from the back end. Ellis averages about a point and a half a game as a defender. Gaudy offensive numbers aide, Ellis is no slouch in his own end. He’s solid in his own end, and an excellent special teams player, but he’s too small to play a very physical game.

The impressive Swiss defender, Roman Josi, is next on the list, having just made it over to North America this season. Josi is one of the most complete players to come out of Switzerland in a long time, and like many Predator players, he plays a strong all around game. He has shown he can perform extremely well in the Swiss-A league, and there’s little reason to think that won’t carry over to North America.

Joining those four are are two more NHL ready defensemen, Robert Dietrich and Teemu Laakso. Both have had opportunities with the big club, but have failed to stick in the NHL so far. Dietrich has performed well in the minors, but has a rapidly closing window to make an impact, while Laakso lost the competition for a spot in camp, and has few shots remaining.

Rounding out the group are collegiate player Jeff Foss, and recent draft picks Taylor Aronson, Anthony Bitetto, and Mattias Ekholm. The latter three of this group have a chance to make an impact, but not for a long time down the road.


Goaltending

From a talent perspective, goalie is quite possibly the deepest position in Nashville’s organization from top to bottom. From Pekka Rinne to Jeremy Smith, the Predators are set in net for a very long time.

Chet Pickard leads the group in terms of upside. The former first rounder has split time with Mark Dekanich, who has refused to relinquish the job, in Milwaukee. Pickard has all the ability one could want in a netminder, but he needs to work on adjusting to higher levels of competition, since he has yet to perform up to his abilities.

Anders Lindback and Mark Dekanich are next in the group. The two battled for the backup job in camp, with Engren staying to back up Rinne, while Dekanich returned to Milwaukee to split time with Chet Pickard. Lindback has decent speed and skill, but his main strength is size. He is a hulking 6-6, almost filling the net without having to move. Dekanich is also large, though not nearly as big as Lindback. He has excellent athleticism, and has been nothing short of spectacular during his time in Milwaukee.

Rounding out the group are small, athletic goaltenders Atte Engren and Jeremy Smith. Both have performed well when called upon at their respective levels, but there is little room for them to move up in the ranks. Victims of circumstance, both would be decent prospects in another organization, but in Nashville, they are relegated to lower leagues due to the tremendous depth in the upper levels.