AHL affiliate for Nashville Predators stocked with NHL ready talent

By Connor Jennings
Photo: Jonathan Blum (center) has likely played his last game in the AHL and will be expected to compete for a top-four spot with the Predators next season. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

The Admirals had very few prospects on their roster full time this season. Many of the higher quality prospects on the team were called up mid season by the Predators, and helped the team earn its first trip to the second round of the playoffs in franchise history. However, Milwaukee fans got a glimpse of the future wave of prospects, with several players arriving for a late season cup of coffee. So the prospect ranks may be thin for the team right now, but they should be bolstered next year by an impressive crop of junior talent.

Andreas Thuresson, RW, 23

For as many games as he has played in Milwaukee, it’s rather surprising to see Thuresson is still under the age of 24. He had a fairly good season for the Admirals, playing in 76 games, scoring 14 goals and 24 assists. The season placed him in fifth on the team in scoring, but his scoring pace was significantly less than the previous year, where he put up similar numbers in 50 games. He performed well in the playoffs, playing in 13 games, scoring three goals and three assists. He also spent three games with the Predators, and was held pointless.

Thuresson has now played 25 games in the NHL, and has completely failed to impress in those games. He may get another shot in camp, but at this point it’s doubtful that he will ever have much of a career with Nashville. He’s been in the AHL for four seasons now, and has yet to show much in the way of improvement, and it seems like he may never make much of an impact in the NHL..

Matt Halischuk, RW, 22

Halischuk had a fairly impressive season down the stretch for the Predators, as he split time between Milwaukee and Nashville this season. He played in 37 games with the Admirals, scoring 11 goals, and 12 assists in those games. He then was called to Nashville, where he played in 27 games, with four goals, and eight assists. He also played in a playoff game with Milwaukee, scoring a goal and adding an assist in that game. He played in 12 playoff games with Nashville as well, scoring two goals.

Halischuk had failed to impress in his previous NHL seasons while with the Devils, but he performed well in his first season for the Predators. He helped the team during their playoff run, and in the playoffs, and seems to have carved out a niche on the NHL roster. He is a hardworking lower line forward with some offensive ability, and will be with the team next season. He should have a spot on the roster as long as he performs, but he is an interchangeable part in some respects.

Mark Santorelli, LW, 22

In his third year at the AHL level, Santorelli failed to continue the improvement he had shown the previous season. He played in 64 games this season, scoring eight goals, and 21 points for the Admirals. The season is disappointing, with nearly all of his numbers down from his not particularly impressive numbers the previous season. He also played in eight playoff games with the Admirals, tallying two assists in those games.

The clock seems to be running out on Santorelli. He has never shown the promise that his now traded brother did, and has failed to perform in the AHL to this point. He could still break out, but at this point that is doubtful. He will not get a shot in the NHL anytime soon, unless he absolutely lights the world on fire during training camp, or starts the year exceptionally next season with Milwaukee. He’s young, and still has a shot, but it’s not looking like a career in Nashville is likely for the younger Santorelli.

Blake Geoffrion, C, 23

A player many were excited to see, Geoffrion made his AHL and NHL debuts this season. He started the season in Milwaukee, playing in 45 games, scoring 11 goals and 37 points. The season placed him in sixth on the team in scoring, despite every player ahead of him, save for Linus Klasen, playing significantly more games than him. He then played 20 games in Nashville, scoring six goals and eight points, and generally impressing with his play before suffering an injury. He came back to play a game for the Admirals in the playoffs, with two assists in that game. He also made it back for Nashville’s playoff run, playing in 12 games, with two assists in those games.

Geoffrion lived up to expectations in his rookie season in professional hockey. He impressed while with the Predators, and should only improve from here on out. He has a role on the NHL locked down, and will be with the team for the foreseeable future. He is a powerful two-way forward, with excellent bloodlines, and should as at least a third line player, with a second line upside.

Gabriel Bourque, LW, 20

Bourque was an interesting player to watch this season, since he put up very good numbers in the QMJHL, but does not have ideal size for professional hockey. He played in 78 games with Milwaukee, scoring 18 goals with 18 assists. However, he figured things out as the season progressed, as shown by his 12 goals and 10 assists he had in the last 32 games of the season. He continued that play in the playoffs, scoring seven goals and 13 points in 13 games.

Bourque may be small, and his season was more okay than stellar, but he clearly figured the league out a bit towards the end of the year. He showed very good goal scoring ability this season, and was very strong in the playoffs. He should be with Milwaukee next season, and will hopefully continue the impressive pace he was on at the end of the year last season.

Ryan Flynn, RW, 23

Flynn made his debut in the AHL this season, and was underwhelming to say the least. He played in 65 games in Milwaukee, scoring six goals and six assists. He also played for the Admirals in the playoffs, being held pointless in nine games.

After four disappointing years in college with Minnesota, and a disappointing debut season with Milwaukee, it may be about time to close the book on Flynn as a prospect. He is already 23, and seems much further behind in his development than most players of his age. It’s a possibility he has an NHL career, but it’s a long way from now. First he needs to at least show something in the AHL.

Defensemen

Jonathan Blum, D, 22

One of the highest graded prospects in the system, Blum was one of the players to split his season between Milwaukee and Nashville. He started off with the Admirals, bettering his scoring pace from last season with seven goals and 34 points in 54 games, a performance which earned him a trip to Nashville. Once with the Predators, Blum was gone for good. The team traded Alexander Sulzer to make room for him, and he impressed in return. Blum played in 23 games, scoring three goals and eight points. He also played in twelve playoff games, tallying two assists.

Blum also found himself in the center of controversy during the playoffs, when Ducks star Bobby Ryan deliberately stomped on Blum’s foot during the game. The move earned Ryan a suspension, and Nashville subsequently won the series. The former first rounder is an extremely talented player, and it was only a matter of time before he made the NHL roster. He recently turned 22 years old, and should form part of a strong defensive core in Nashville for years to come, along with Ryan Suter, Shea Weber, and Cody Franson.

Teemu Laakso, D, 23

Laakso spent his first full season with Milwaukee this year, and performed as one of the top defenders on the team, especially after the promotion of Jon Blum. He played in 74 games, scoring eight goals with 22 assists. He really turned it on in the goal scoring department towards the end of the year however, with six of his goals coming in the Admirals last 20 games. Laakso also led team defenseman in plus/minus, finishing plus-15 on the season. He also played in eight playoff games, scoring one goal, and adding an assist. He spent a single game with the Predators as well, and was not on the ice for a goal in either direction.

Laakso is an adequate low pairing defenseman, but he’s running out of time to make his mark with the Predators. Nashville’s system is loaded with defensive talent, and they don’t need players like Laakso to do more than fill in from time to time. Laakso will probably be cut loose eventually, or fill a role similar to Alexander Sulzer, and hold a place until a better defenseman is ready to come take the spot.

Roman Josi, D, 20

The exciting young Swiss defender had a good season in his first year of North American hockey. After performing well in the Swiss-A league, the not-quite-yet 21-year-old Josi played in 69 games for Milwaukee. In those 69 games, he scored six goals, and an impressive 40 points, to lead Admiral defenseman and place fourth on the team in points. However, it is concerning that, while the cast majority of Milwaukee players finished with a positive plus/minus, Josi finished at minus-seven, the worst mark on the team. He also scored well in the playoffs, playing in 13 games, scoring a goal and seven points.

Josi is a very complete player, so his offensive output this year is promising since it is paired with his already solid defensive play. His plus/minus is a concern, but Josi was a rookie in North American hockey this season, so he may just need a little more time to adjust. He is very young, and extremely talented, so Josi should eventually force the Predators to find a place for him. He will probably follow a similar path to Jon Blum, where he stays in Milwaukee until he is absolutely ready, and then the Predators find a place for him to play.

Goaltending

Chet Pickard, G, 21

Pickard had an absolutely disastrous season this past year. Pickard played only seven games in the AHL, and performed poorly in those games, with a 1-4-1 record, paired with a 2.96 goals against average and a .899 save percentage. He was even worse in the ECHL with Cincinnati, going 9-14-3, with a 3.39 goals against average and a .877 save percentage. Pickard did not appear in a playoff game.

The former first round pick could be the odd man out, with the incumbent Mark Dekanich having a spectacular season in Milwaukee, and backup Jeremy Smith emerging with a strong season. Also, goaltending prospect Atte Engren joined the team for a short time towards the end of the season. Pickard has the pedigree, but has never performed like he did in juniors, and could easily find himself forced out of a job in coming years with the goalie depth Nashville has. With Pekka Rinne and Anders Lindback in the NHL, that makes six legitimate goaltenders for Nashville, all nearing the times when they would need to play in the NHL. Unless he turns around drastically, it’s starting to get difficult to see where Pickard would fit.

Jeremy Smith, G, 22

After spending a year in the ECHL, Jeremy Smith made his AHL debut this season in the wake of Pickard’s struggles. He did not displace the stellar Mark Dekanich, but Smith had a very good debut season as the backup goaltender in Milwaukee. He posted a 16-8-2 record, with a 2.26 goals against average, and .921 save percentage. He was even better as he played in the playoffs, with a 2.28 goals against average, and .931 save percentage.

After the season he had, it would be difficult to not give Smith the same position next season. However, with Pekka Rinne having a Vezina worthy season, Lindback impressing as his backup, and Dekanich being fantastic as the started in Milwaukee, it’s difficult to see Smith getting a promotion.