Taylor Beck tops high profile group of Nashville Predators junior prospects

By Connor Jennings
Photo: Skilled winger Taylor Beck opened a lot of eyes in Nashville’s 2010-11 training camp. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

Many prospects in the Nashville system have turned pro for the 2010-11 season, so the cupboard is a little more bare than usual in junior ranks. The majority of junior players are from the Predators’ 2009 draft (five) with an additional two players from the 2010 draft, and one from prior years.

The majority of Predator junior prospects are playing in the OHL, with four spending their seasons in the OHL, compared to two in the WHL, one in the QMJHL, and one in the USHL.

QMJHL

Charles-Olivier Roussel, D, Montreal Juniors
Acquired: 2nd round (42nd overall) in 2009
September 13th, 1991. Ht: 6’1, Wt: 202 lbs.

The lone Nashville prospect in the QMJHL has been having a difficult transition this season, heading from his longtime team, the Shawinigan Cataractes, to his new team, the Montreal Juniors.

The dynamic French Canadian defenseman has been a bit lacking on the offensive end this season, with only seven points, all assists, through 16 games. Roussel has also taken more penalties than usual, with 21 minutes in the box through 16 games for a guy who usually has the same amount of penalty minutes as games played.

The dip in production is partially due to a change in scenery, since Roussel has already shown he can play with the best the QMJHL has to offer. He has it taken upon himself to play a more responsible defensive game, possibly at the expense of his offensive totals.

OHL

Taylor Beck, LW, Guleph Storm
Acquired: 3rd round (70th overall) in 2009
May 13th, 1991. Ht: 6’2, Wt: 205 lbs.

The impressive left winger in the system has begun to emerge as one of the top prospects in the Nashville organization. The third round pick has been on fire since last year, and that has not stopped this season.

Beck very nearly forced himself onto the NHL roster out of training camp. He outperformed nearly every player in camp. However, since Beck is only 19 years old, and he was still eligible for junior hockey, the Predators decided it would be best not to rush him, and to let him spend another year in juniors before letting him jump to the professional ranks.

Beck has continued to score at a blistering pace, following his 93 point, 39 goal season last year with an 13 goal, 28 point effort through 23 games this season.

If there’s one thing Beck has shown, he can score. He has lit up the juniors, and lit up camp. Look for him to press for a roster spot next year, he can’t be held back forever.

Austin Watson, RW, Peterborough Petes
Acquired: 1st round (18th overall) in 2010
January 13th, 1992. Ht: 6’3, Wt: 171 lbs.

The top pick for Nashville is performing fairly well in his first season as a member of the Nashville Predators. However, he has failed to live up to the lofty expectations he set last season in his first taste of action with Peterborough.

The 18-year-old scored an astounding 20 points, with nine goals, in only 10 games last year with the Petes. This year, Watson is having a decent season, but not nearly up to the level he performed at last year in a small sample size. He has netted seven goals and 20 points through 25 games so far this season.

Watson has done very well for a player who is talked about primarily as a two-way player, rather than for his offense. However, he is currently in his third year in juniors, which is usually the season players see a large jump in production. So far this season, that hasn’t happened for Watson. He is going to need to pick his production up a bit as the season carries on.

Ryan Ellis, D, Windsor Spitfires
Acquired: 1st round (11th overall) in 2009
January 3rd, 1991. Ht: 5’10, Wt: 179 lbs.

One of the best offensive defensemen in the league has continued to be just that during the current season. Ellis has never scored less than a point per game, amd averages even higher during the playoffs.

This year, he has put up less points, but is scoring goals at a higher rate than usual. Ellis has nine goals and 30 points in 23 games so far this season, which is better than last year, but not quite on pace to match his 89 point performance from the previous year.

Ellis is still small, something that won’t ever change, but so far nobody has been able to stop him from scoring. Ellis would not be able to make it as a physical defenseman at his size, but since he has forward type skills, he could perform in the NHL, so long as his body holds up.

Michael Latta, C, Guleph Storm
Acquired: 3rd round (72nd overall) in 2009
May 25th, 1991. Ht: 6’0, Wt: 213 lbs.

Latta forced himself into the minds of Predators fans last year, by breaking out with 33 goals and 73 points for Guleph. This year, he has been scoring just as much, already netting 15 goals and 31 points in 25 games.

Latta doesn’t massive size, but he is a heart and soul kind of player who gets by on a combination of talent and effort. He played for Milwaukee in the playoffs, but returned to the juniors for the current season. Latta should make the NHL, it is simply a matter of when Nashville decides he’s ready to make the leap and in what capacity.

WHL

Taylor Aronson, D, Portland Winterhawks
Acquired: 3rd round (78th overall) in 2010
December 30th, 1991. Ht: 6’1, Wt: 196 lbs.

The other 2010 draft pick of the junior prospects, Aronson is only in his second year in the WHL. The 19-year-old is an all around defenseman, so he doesn’t focus primarily on offense, but that didn’t stop him from posting 30 points in his rookie campaign.

Aronson is on a better scoring pace this season, with 14 points so far in 29 games. He doesn’t have ideal size, and has never shown much in the way of consistency, but he has the skills to be a solid defender. He looks to have begun to put things together this year, but for right now, he’s a project, and a long way from the NHL.

Taylor Stefishen, LW, Prince George Cougars
Acquired: 5th round (136th overall) in 2008
August 15th, 1990. Ht: 6’0, Wt: 185 lbs.

The oldest player on the list, Stefishen has taken an interesting route to get where he is today. From 2006-08, Stefishen played in the BCHL, posting huge numbers. He then spent two years playing for Ohio State, and failed to perform up to expectations. Now, he’s in the WHL, performing almost up to hi
s previous level.

Stefishen has 17 points so far in his first 22 WHL games, which raises some interesting questions about his time at Ohio State. Was the level of competition too high for him, or did he just fail to adjust in two seasons, as many players do? It can only be found out as he moves up to higher levels of competition. For right now, Stefishen projects to be a solid player, but that could change as he moves to the AHL. He needs to show his time at Ohio State was the exception, not the rule.

USHL

Nick Oliver, C, Fargo Force
Acquired: 4th round (110th overall) in 2009
May 4th, 1991. Ht: 6’2, Wt: 205 lbs.

Nick Oliver has failed to live up to expectations so far in his career as a prospect. He’s a solid all around player, but he has failed on the offensive end so far. Oliver set a career high last year, when he scored five goals and 18 points, in 53 games. This year he has only two goals and five points in the 19 games he has played.

Oliver has a scholarship to St. Cloud University for next year, and he is going to need to perform there, because he hasn’t in the USHL. Right now Oliver is teetering on the edge of prospect and nonfactor. He is going to need to either have an incredible second half, or light the lamp when he arrives in St. Cloud.

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