Predators Report: Improvement Down on the Farm

By Brian Roe

Will Nashville make the playoffs in 2003? Not if they continue the trend of trading their top scorers for mid-round draft picks (remember Andrew Brunette and of course Cliff Ronning) and players who would rather drink for a living than play hockey in the NHL.

Another rocky season appears in store for the Nashville Predators, barring career years from about half of the team. However, the Predators’ top affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, should be a very exciting club to watch.

If you get bored with the Nashville Predators this season, then you should certainly keep an eye on the future Predators down on the farm. Following is a position-by-position breakdown of the Milwaukee Admirals, with emphasis on the most prominent prospects in Nashville’s system.

Tenders of the Goal

The goalie position is the most important in the NHL. The Predators are set at this position for now, with Mike Dunham and Tomas Vokoun at the pro level. Prospects Jan Lasak and Brian Finley are expected to split ice time in Milwaukee this season. Finley, a 1999 first round choice by Nashville, has been disappointing at best thus far since being drafted. However, Finley has actually been deemed healthy this season and has looked very good in practices and conditioning camps. Poile says he is still among the best of the up-and-coming goalies. Jan Lasak is both tasteful and disgusting at the same time. Lasak has shown brief flashes of brilliance so far in his pro career, but inconsistency and the lack of ability to stay between the pipes handicap his potential. Another goaltender, Chris Madden, was also signed this off-season. The 23-year old was originally a fourth round pick in the Carolina Hurricanes organization.

Blueliners

Dan Hamhuis is every organization’s dream. He has the deadly combination of a good shot, great speed, good balance, and creativity on the ice. The reigning WHL Defensemen of the Year will probably start the year in Milwaukee, but he won’t be there long. Andrew Hutchinson is a big defensemen who has a good shot at making the Nashville roster; however, he too will probably start off with the Admirals. The Preds are higher on Hutchinson than most people think. Timo Helbling and Miroslav Durak are expected to round out the top 4 defensemen for Milwaukee. Bubble players like Pascal Trepanier, Petr Smrek and Bubba Berenzweig could also be in the Admirals’ defensive rotation.

Forwards

Martin Bartek, Adam Hall and Jonas Andersson are expected to carry most of the offensive load in Milwaukee. Andersson is one of the fastest skaters in hockey. Nashville is hoping he will have a breakout season in Milwaukee and challenge for a roster spot by 2003. Adam Hall has a good shot at making the pro team this year. Hall has leadership qualities, can play both ends of the ice, and is the kind of smart player the Predators want to build around. Martin Bartek is an offensive prospect with a huge shot, and he will be given more opportunities this season to put the puck into the net. Other names that could pop up in Milwaukee this season are Darren Haydar, Konstantin Panov, and Yevgeny Pavlov. The Predators will probably ship some forwards back and forth between Nashville and Milwaukee; Greg Classen, Nathan Perrott, Domenic Pittis, Greg Koehler, Wyatt Smith, and Cameron Mann are the likely candidates for these bubble roster positions.

The Braintrust

Management, coaching staff and players have one thing in common – most are new to the Milwaukee Admirals this season. The Admirals have a new head coach, Peter Horachek, with Chuck Weber and Todd Richards serving as assistants. Phil Wittliff and David Poile will be working together as the management team for Milwaukee.

So, even if the Predators struggle to make the NHL playoffs this season, Nashville fans should be heartened to know that there is some hope for the future down on the farm in Milwaukee.