The Nashville Predators continue to build a well-balanced attack, placing the utmost importance on character and hard work. With Denis Arkhipov, Scott Hartnell, Martin Erat, and David Legwand making strides at the NHL level, the Predators already appear to have four scoring-line forwards under the age of 22.
While there don’t seem to be any sure-fire, prolific scorers in their system, there are a number of well-rounded players with proficient offensive ability. Scottie Upshall, Jordin Tootoo, and Adam Hall are three who play a menacing two-way game that will almost certainly translate into a NHL role of some sort.
The Preds also have a few guys in Europe (namely Daniel Widing, Libor Pivko, and Oliver Setzinger) that have the skills to come out of nowhere to make a name for themselves, similar to the route taken by Denis Arkhipov and Martin Erat. In addition, the Predators have a few wildcards in their hand, most notably Timofei Shishkanov, Darren Haydar, Jonas Andersson, Brandon Segal and Patrick Jarrett.
On defense, Dan Hamhuis looks like real gamer, but there’s not much certainty at this position beyond Hamhuis. Andrew Hutchison and Timo Helbling have NHL qualities, but they look to be a few years away.
Goaltending is secure on all fronts. Mike Dunham is a legitimate #1 and Tomas Vokoun is a premier backup. Jan Lasak and Brian Finley both have true #1 potential, with Lasak being the safest bet at this point.
The new look of the top 15:
1. Dan Hamhuis, Defense
After bringing home the WHL MVP award, Hamhuis enters the professional ranks as the clear-cut #1 prospect in Nashville. Dan is calm and collected in all three zones, and he’s fully capable of running the power play. He isn’t big by defensive standards, but he creates quite a bit of commotion with his well-timed, almost vicious hip checks. Dan will get a serious look in training camp, especially with the recent Jere Karalathi suspension.
2. Jan Lasak, Goaltender
Lasak continues to show more and more promise as a game-breaking goaltender. Jan’s career was recently highlighted when he led Slovakia to their first ever goal medal at the 2002 World Championships. Jan is whole-heartedly determined to be a #1 goaltender in the NHL. He’s ready to take on backup duties at the NHL level, but Tomas Vokoun is too good to pawn off given the current saturated state of the goaltender market. Lasak will get his chance eventually, with all signs pointing to a successful NHL career.
3. Daniel Widing, Center
Widing (pronounced Vee-ding) is one of the best prospects around that no one knows about. Seeing him play against his fellow Predator prospects, Daniel is clearly at the top of the class. The comparisons out of Sweden liken Widing to a young Daniel Alfedresson. The slick Swede plays with great drive and intensity. He’s fluent in goal scoring, puck-handling, and defensive awareness, while his skating is phenomenal. If there’s a loose puck to be had, he’s there. If there’s a scoring chance to create, he’ll make it happen. He was among the top point producers for Team Sweden at the 2002 World Junior Championships. For the 2002-03 season, Daniel will likely get a full time position playing for Leksand of the Swedish Elite League.
4. Scottie Upshall, Right Wing
Upshall was drafted for his first-rate work ethic, the common denominator among all Predator prospects. In addition, Scottie has a fine set of skills to work with. He can be undisciplined at times, but the Predators feel they’ll have a dynamite stick on the top two lines once Upshall reaches his maturity date.
5. Brian Finley, Goaltender
It’s difficult to gauge Finley’s potential based on the past two seasons, due to his constant battle with the injury bug. Brian took the entire year off in ‘01-’02 in order to recuperate and regain health. He worked out with the team in Nashville and took some practices toward the end of the season. The layoff may have paid off, judging by the play of the seemingly rejuvinated Finley at the recent Predators’ Prospect Camp. The big goalie with unmatched agility faces a critical stage of his career, as he must prove he can stay healthy and play the game at a high level.
6. Jordin Tootoo, Right Wing
Tootoo is like a suitcase nuke– small, but deadly. Tootoo is an absolutely ferocious body checker, but as evidenced by his statistics, that’s not all that he has to offer. Jordin led the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings in scoring with 71 points in only 64 games. This feat is even more impressive when you consider that he spent a mind-boggling 272 minutes in the penalty box. Jordin has been clocked as the hardest shooter in the CHL and has also been timed as one of the fastest skaters. Tootoo continues to get better and better, and it appears as though nothing will stop #22 from becoming the first NHL player of Inuit heritage.
7. Adam Hall, Right Wing
The former MSU captain is yet another warrior in the Predators’ system. He crashes the net with frequency and authority, and wins the battles along the wall. He shoots the puck hard and accurately, while displaying a fair amount of offensive creativity. After leading the CCHA in goals as a sophomore, it’s hard to tell if Adam regressed offensively or if he was a product of the strict Spartan defensive system. His first professional season should be a good indication.
8. Libor Pivko, Left Wing
Libor had a breakout season for Zlin of the Czech Extraleague, being a part of the most productive line in that league. Libor notched 28 points in 46 games as a 21-year-old. He also put up an impressive 8 points (5g, 3a) in 9 playoff games. Libor has ideal NHL attributes– size (6’3’’, 215lbs), speed, defensive awareness, and skill. Libor has expressed some interest in making the transition to North America, but it looks like he will remain in the Czech Republic this season.
9. Darren Haydar, Right Wing
Haydar may be the best goal-scorer in the Predators’ system. He led the nation in scoring with a whopping 76 points in 40 games for the University of New Hampshire. Equally noted is his size (5’8’’, 170lbs), which is considered small for the NHL. The most common downfall for small players in the NHL is the inability to play in traffic, but Haydar enters the high traffic roads without hesitancy, and surprisingly holds his own. Haydar will likely get a chance to strut his stuff at the AHL level this year.
10. Oliver Setzinger, Center
Setzinger has been a unanimous standout at prospect camps. Some might remember Oliver at the Olympics, where the 19-year-old notched a goal for Team Austria. He has a natural feel for the game, operating at very high speeds while showcasing a slick, offensive game. He skates with poise, confidence, and attitude. Keep an eye out for this Austrian.
11. Timofei Shishkanov, Left Wing
Timofei has been advertised as an uninspired goal scorer. Nasvhille fans, however, were pleased to see a solid, inspired effort by Timofei in Nashville a few weeks ago. He’s strictly a wait-and-see type prospect. He has the physical tools for the NHL, and has shown flashes of offensive dominance. North American fans may soon be able to get a better grasp on Shishkanov, as he has expressed some interest in making the voyage to North America (Shishkanov was taken in the CHL Import Draft by Quebec of the QMJHL).
12. Jonas Andersson, Right Wing
After a couple of mediocre seasons in the AHL, Jonas drops a few spots. But after watching Jonas a few times, you get the feeling that he still has the potential to turn into a nice NHL player. He’s got the "Big 5" attributes– size, speed, skill, defensive awareness and work ethic. He’s just got to put it all together. He needs a good coach and a lot of ice time; hopefully Milwaukee’s new head coach, Peter Horachek, can help Jonas turn the corner.
13. Andrew Hutchinson, Defenseman
After a successful stint at Michigan State University, Hutchinson will likely be with the Milwaukee Admirals (AHL) this year. His most notable accomplishment at MSU was winning the CCHA’s Defensive Defenseman of the Year Award in 2001. Andrew is an extremely fluid skater who is known for his smarts in the defensive zone. He moves the puck well and just seems to make the right decisions when he’s on the ice. He’ll have to make a few physical adjustments in order to make a strong impact at the NHL level.
14. Matt Koalska, Center
I admit to only seeing Koalska play once, but he made a serious impact and a big impression. The game I’m referring to is the NCAA Championship game. Koalska was all over the place, and he was quite possibly the best player on the ice. With less than a minute left, his efforts paid off, as he scored the game-tying goal to send the game into overtime. He’s been stuck as a third-line center in Minnesota, playing behind top prospects John Pohl and Jeff Taffe. With the latter two gone, Koalska will be given every opportunity to shine. He’s got the speed, skill, and punch to make a name for himself.
15. Brandon Segal, Right Wing
The Predators wasted no time picking Brandon with their 2nd pick of the 2002 draft (4th round). Why he fell that far is still a mystery. He has excellent size, a big heart, and an offensive game that’s on par with other top draft picks. Brandon made a statement at Canada’s recent junior developmental camp, leading the way with 6 goals in 4 games, ahead of big names like Rick Nash, Jason Spezza, and Stephen Weiss. He doesn’t seem like your typical 4th round pick.
Other to keep an eye out for: (C) Patrick Jarrett, (D) Tomas Slovak, (C) Gustav Grasberg, (D) Timo Helbling, (RW) Martin Bartek, (RW) Konstantin Panov