Nashville Predators possess small, diverse group at CHL level

By HF Staff
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Charles-Olivier Roussel is currently in his fifth season of QMJHL hockey. (Photo courtesy of Dave Connell/HF)

With Ryan Ellis, Taylor Beck, and Michael Latta transitioning from the OHL to the AHL, the Predators do not have any blue chip prospects in the Junior leagues at this point. However, Austin Watson and Josh Shalla do have some intriguing upside.

QMJHL

Charles-Olivier Roussel, D, Saint John Sea Dogs
Acquired: 2nd round (42nd overall) in 2009

Charles-Olivier Roussel can best be described as a jack of all trades. On the power play, he reads the play well and is capable of finding the open player. On the penalty kill he can shut down the other team's top lines.

Last season was a disappointing one for Roussel. He played in the Subway Super Series but did not produce any points in two games. He was invited to the 2011 World Junior Championship Team Canada development camp but never made the team. His QMJHL production dropped off to just 30 points.

This season Roussel is playing as an over-ager. According to Predators Assistant GM Paul Fenton, Roussel was sent to the QMJHL because "He could use another year to hone his skills." Despite the demotion, he is still young as his birthday was only a few days away from making him ineligible for the 2009 draft.

While his numbers this season are better than in the past, the improvement can be partially attributed to playing on a more talented team. Roussel is playing with the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau (FLA), Zack Phillips (MIN), and Tomas Jurco (DET). However, Roussel has shown clutch leadership by posting three game-winning goals. One of those game-winning goals came on November 16, 2011 against the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. It was on a pretty give-and-go play between Roussel and Danick Gauthier. As an overager, Roussel must show that he is ready to finally become a professional.

Brent Andrews, LW, Halifax Mooseheads
Acquired: 7th round (202nd overall) in 2011

With just ten picks remaining in the 2011 Draft, the Predators selected Brent Andrews. Possessing a similar skill-set as Sean Couturier (PHI), Andrews does not possess Couturier's hockey sense or vision. What Andrews does offer is combination of size, physical play, and a mature defensive game. He can also play on both special teams.

Last season Andrews produced only 29 points for the Halifax Mooseheads. He did participate in the World U18 Championship this April. However, he only produced one assist in seven games during that tournament.

This season, his third with the Mooseheads, Andrews has increased his production but he is still performing at well under a point per game pace. Despite putting up more points than the previous season, Andrews's NHL ceiling remains that of a solid third line forward.

A prototypical Predators prospect in terms of his well-rounded game, Andrews will need to continue to add offense and smarts to his play in order to reach the NHL.

OHL

Austin Watson, RW, Peterborough Petes
Acquired: 1st round (18th overall) in 2010

Austin Watson is the only Predators first round pick currently playing in juniors. A competent two-way player, his motor never stops running. Watson is a physical player who drives hard to the net and will score goals off of rebounds and deflections. While possessing some skill, it is Watson's all-around game that will be his ticket to the NHL.

Watson is playing on a much improved Petes team and his plus/minus has improved accordingly, from a minus-38 last year to a minus-three through 30 games this year. He was benched during a recent game against Oshawa due to some bad turnovers, though a number of Petes players were benched during the humiliating 9-1 loss. Watson should continue to play on one of the top two lines for the Petes and continue to improve as the season goes along.

After not being selected last season, this season Watson will finally get to attend the Team USA U20 World Junior selection camp.

David Elsner, LW, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhound
Acquired: 7th round (194th overall) in 2010

David Elsner is currently the only German born Predators prospect. Elsner is an intriguing prospect who is a very hard hitter and possesses power forward potential.

Last season Elsner mainly played in the German Bundesliga where he played a slower, less physical game against much older players. When playing in the DNL against players his own age, he was also able to showcase some of his offensive upside.

This season is Elsner's first in North America, playing for the Greyhounds. Thus far it has been a major transition for Elsner as he is learning to speak English regularly and adjust to life and hockey in a new county.

While his numbers this season are modest, that is to be expected from a rookie coming from another country. However, if Elsner can show some improvement through the
course of the season, he stands a chance to earn his first professional contract with the Predators.

Josh Shalla, LW, Saginaw Spirit
Acquired: 4th round (9th overall) in 2011

Josh Shalla is another Predators over-ager. What stands out in his play is that he is a pure goal-scorer, possessing the instincts to find just enough open space for a one-timer. However, Shalla also works hard along the boards and in the slot area. That said, his skating needs some work as he has a very choppy stride and lacks another gear.

Last season Shalla set the Spirit's single-season goal-scoring record with 47. Despite not being drafted in 2010, the Predators did take notice of his improved production and picked him in round four of the 2011 Entry Draft.

This season, although Shalla was hoping to play for the Milwaukee Admirals, he is back in the OHL. Continuing to play a top six role for the Spirit, it is his skating and defensive play that need to become more adequate for the NHL game.

Article written by Evgeny Oliker.