The saying goes that all good things must come to an end. In the case of the Nashville Predators’ goaltenders, all somewhat good things have come to an end, but there are also some new beginnings.
Mike Dunham, an original expansion pick by the Nashville Predators in 1998, was traded last week to the New York Rangers for forward Rem Murray and defensemen Tomas Kloucek and Marek Zidlicky. Murray has already joined the Nashville Predators, with Kloucek being added to the Milwaukee Admirals’ roster and Zidlicky currently playing in Finland. The highlight of the trade, however, is the relocation of goalies within the system, starting with Thomas Vokoun assuming the role of Nashville’s #1 goaltender.
Three Nashville goaltenders received a fallout promotion due to the Dunham trade. Brian Finley moved from Toledo of the East Coast Hockey League to Milwaukee of the American Hockey League. Jan Lasak was moved from Milwaukee to Nashville to serve as the backup to Vokoun, while Tomas Vokoun’s status was upgraded from "should-be starter" to "full-time starter."
The 26-year old goaltender will get his first shot at being a number one goalie in the National Hockey League. Vokoun, who has been with the Nashville Predators since the formation of the team, is more than prepared for this role after performing as arguably one of the top backup goalies in the NHL over the past three seasons.
Now serving as Vokoun’s backup goaltender is Jan Lasak. Lasak, 23, will get his first chance to play in the NHL full-time. Jan, who played briefly with Nashville at the end of last season, has put up solid numbers in Milwaukee this season (8 wins, 3.08 GAA, .895 save percentage).
The key to this trade will be the development of Lasak and the Milwaukee Admirals’ new netminder, Brian Finley. Finley is one of the more highly touted prospects in the organization. His size and quickness continue to leave scouts drooling over the possibilities- IF he can remain healthy. The more unconventional Lasak has never been considered a top prospect, but has had a good showing for Milwaukee this season. As a result of Lasak’s improvement, the Predators could no longer deny him a shot at playing in the NHL.
Finley will certainly benefit from the trade. He made his debut in Milwaukee last week in a 5-3 loss to the Chicago Wolves, but expectations will remain high because of the name on the back of his jersey. Fans will recognize Finley by the notoriety of being a highly-touted draft choice.
Another key to this trade working out well for Nashville is the development of defensemen Tomas Kloucek. Kloucek, who has played in 95 NHL contests, is already known as one of the hardest hitters in the league. He scratches the physical defenseman itch that the Nashville Predators have been trying to reach for years. Kloucek, who was once the highlight of a trade offer for Jaromir Jagr, is currently working out injuries (torn ACL last year and a concussion this year) in Milwaukee, but will likely get the call from Nashville before season’s end.
The mysterious Marek Zidlicky is still playing with the HIFK Helsinki team of the Finnish Elite League. Zidlicky, 5’10," is considered more of an offensive defenseman, scoring 40 points in 56 games last season. Though he has never played North American hockey, Nashville is hoping they can convince him to compete for a roster spot next season.
Nashville forward, Martin Erat, has been reassigned to Milwaukee of the AHL. Erat, who jumped straight from the juniors last season to make the Predators’ opening day roster, will be making his first visit to Milwaukee. The team is hoping he can get more ice time and regain some of the offensive form he showed during his rookie year.
Legwand Quietly Improving
David Legwand, the first entry draft choice for the Nashville Predators, has quietly been playing very good hockey this season. In 30 games this season Legwand has 6 goals and 21 points compared to 11 goals and 30 points in 63 games last season. Legwand, who is on pace to score 60 points, should easily eclipse his previous season high of 41 points from the 2000-2001 season. The Predators have been relying more and more on the 22-year old center, with his duties expanding to centering the top line, playing on the power play and even occasionally lining up on the penalty kill. The goal-thirsty Predators, however, are still hoping Legwand will become the deadly goal scorer he was in the juniors.
Top Prospects Producing
Darren Haydar, Jordin Tootoo and Scottie Upshall are three of the top prospects in the Nashville organization, with all three playing very good hockey at this time. Haydar, playing with Milwaukee of the AHL, has 30 points through 23 games. His offensive skills have already earned him one call from Nashville, and he could be recalled again before season’s end to evaluate how he can play with the big boys of the NHL. Tootoo, skating with Brandon of the Western Hockey League, has 15 goals and 36 points in 19 games this season. Jordin was the WHL Player of the Week during the week of November 11, and he has also been selected to represent the WHL in the Hershey Cup All-Star series. Upshall, who started the season with the Nashville Predators, has since scored six points in three games with Kamloops of the WHL. Scottie was also selected to play as a representative of the WHL in the Hershey Cup All-Star series. Both Tootoo and Upshall will represent Canada at the 2003 World Junior Championships.
Meet the New Prospects
Tomas Kloucek 6-3, 203 22 years old Left-handed shot
Other Info – Has appeared in 95 NHL games. Tomas has three goals and four assists through 20 games this season with Hartford of the AHL. He was selected to the AHL All-Rookie team in 2000. Kloucek ranked sixth on the Rangers last season with 137 PIM and second with 162 hits. He was a 6th round draft choice in the 1998 draft
Marek Zidlicky 5-10, 180 25 years old Left-handed shot
Other Info – Has posted 26 points in 30 games with the HIFK Helsinki team of the Finnish Elite League. Marek scored 40 points last season in 56 games. He was a 6th round draft choice in the 2001 draft.