Predators Top 20 prospects

By George Bachul

The Nashville Predators, as a relatively new franchise, are still filling up their stable with solid prospects. After seven NHL Entry Drafts, the Predators now have solid prospects at every position, many of the top echelon variety. There are six new players on this new ranking compared to last year’s Nashville Top 20, including three members of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft class.

Several factors went into the decision-making such as high-end potential, closeness to the NHL and where the player is in his development.

Key: Rank, Name (Position), Age, 2003-04 Team (League), (Old Rank, Change, Not Ranked=NR)

1.Ryan Suter (D), 19, Wisconsin (NCAA), (4, +3)

Ryan Suter and the Nashville Predators could not come to an agreement last summer on a contract that would have the seventh pick in the 2003 draft in a Predators uniform this past season. After helping the Wisconsin Badgers to an overall record of 22-13-8, Ryan Suter was named to the WCHA Third All-Star team, and the WCHA All-Rookie team. Regularly playing the power play, Suter showed great maturity as an NCAA freshman and a solid contributor to the squad. Suter also possesses a strong hockey sense, and with maturity his all around game will translate into a solid NHL player in the near future.

Depending on NHL CBA negotiations, Suter could end up with either the Nashville Predators or back at the University of Wisconsin. The Wisconsin State Journal reported that the Predators might be trying to negotiate down Suter’s entry-level contract basing it on possible future NHL rookie contracts. The rumored offer is in the area of $850,000 as opposed to the present rookie maximum of nearly $1.2 million per season. If negotiations go sour, no one will be happier than University of Wisconsin Coach Mike Eaves.

2.Scottie Upshall (RW), 20, Milwaukee (AHL) (2, 0)

Some players have all the tools in their toolbox and Scottie Upshall is one of those players. The problem with Upshall in 2003-04 though is that he had too many dents in his toolbox. After a less than stellar training camp, Upshall was recalled to Nashville in October of 2003. But his promising season took a turn for the worse when the injury bug hit him hard with two knee injuries and a broken hand during the season.

But injuries are part of the game, something that every player must learn. Upshall has realized that due to the physical nature of the game, his body has to be at its peak. Since his draft year of 2002, Upshall has gained 15 pounds and will continue to work on his strength. Even in his shortened season, he was named to the AHL All-Star game, although he did not participate due to injury.

Upshall is inked in as an important part of the future of the franchise with his skill, grit and leadership. He is going to compete for a position patrolling the Predators right wing position at their next training camp.

3.Timofei Shishkanov (LW), 21, Milwaukee (AHL), (3, 0)

For a team that is looking for long term offensive help, Timofei Shishkanov is a welcome sight. The path taken by Shishkanov is the road less travelled for many Russian prospects who stay home to learn their trade in the Russian Super League. After his successful QMJHL season of 2002-03, Shishkanov moved to the American Hockey League to ply his trade with the Milwaukee Admirals.

Shishkanov had a solid rookie professional season, not only tenth in AHL rookie scoring with 43 points, but ranked tenth in the entire AHL with a +23 rating. His solid offensive game overshadowed his attention to the defensive zone.

Shishkanov finished his solid season as an AHL Calder Cup Champion, an AHL All-Star, and a member of the 2004 AHL All-Rookie Team. He also was rewarded with a two-game NHL call up in December of 2003.

Shishkanov will have the opportunity to earn a full time position in Nashville at their next training camp.

4.Alexander Radulov (RW), 18, Tver (Russia-2), (NR, NR)

Alexander Radulov was one of the top offensive weapons available in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. Selected 15th overall, Radulov has been developing in the Yaroslavl organization in Russia. From 2001-2003 Radulov played for Moscow Dynamo Junior Team, performing well. His level of achievement increased in the 2003-04 season when he started playing in the Russian High League for Dynamo and then was loaned to Tver. Radulov was then recalled by Dynamo that didn’t work out well for him only playing one game for Dynamo over the last two months of the season.

Radulov has very good hands, playmaking skill and shifty moves that make him a very solid offensive prospect in an organization that needs them. His ability to be a dominant offensive force was self-evident playing on a line with Roman Voloshenko and Mikhail Yunkov at the Five Nations Tournament in February of 2004.

Radulov has expressed his intent to come to North America for the 2004-05 season to play in the CHL. The Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL selected him as the ninth overall pick in the CHL import draft.

5.Shea Weber (D), 19, Kelowna (WHL), (13, +8)

In 2003-04 Weber helped the Kelowna Rockets to a first overall finish in the regular season while in conjunction with the rest of the Rockets’ defense gave up a league low 125 goals in 72 games (28 goals less than their nearest counterpart). Weber finished 11th in the WHL and first on Kelowna with a plus/minus rating of +23 in the regular season.

Weber also showed his offensive side in the playoffs leading the Rockets with 17 points in 17 games. Although the Rockets’ playoffs came to an unfortunate end in the WHL Western Conference Final against Everett, they received a reprieve as the host city of the Memorial Cup. Weber helped the Rockets win the 2004 Memorial Cup Championship, tying for the team lead in scoring and being named to the Memorial Cup All Star Team.

Weber is one of the more underrated NHL prospects and with his all around skill should find himself patrolling the Predators blueline within the next two to three seasons.

6.Konstantin Glazachev (LW), 19, Yaroslavl (RSL), (11, +5)

Glazachev is another underrated prospect in the Nashville Predators system. A Russian Superleague regular in the 2003-04 season, he has been playing in Russia’s highest caliber of hockey since the age of 18. He is not a spot member of Yaroslavl, which is not normal for players of Glazachev’s age, with most teenage players either fourth line or spares in the RSL.

Glazachev has a scorer’s touch and stickhandles very well. RussianProspects.com positively compares Glazachev to another highly touted prospect in Igor Grigorenko. He will have to continue his progression by developing more strength and defensive awareness to achieve his projection of second line winger in the NHL. Expect one or two more seasons in the Russian Super League before Glazachev crosses the pond.

7.Kevin Klein (D), 19, Guelph (OHL), (9, +2)

For a player that was named an OHL All-Star for the second time in 2004, Kevin Klein doesn’t receive a lot of press. Possibly the thought of Dan Hamhuis, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber ahead of him on the depth chart makes people wonder if Klein is going to crack into a roster with several other highly touted prospects.

Klein had another solid season in the Ontario Hockey League and was traded early in the season to the Guelph Storm from the St. Michael’s Majors. Midseason, Klein was a member of the Canadian silver medal-winning World Junior Team.

Klein continued on with his solid season leading the Guelph Storm to the OHL championship and a Memorial Cup Tournament Appearance.

The smooth skating defenseman plays a solid game at both ends of the ice. Should compete for a spot in Nashville within the next two seasons.

8.Janne Niskala (D), 22, Lukko (SM-Liga), (NR, NR)

Janne Niskala goes from unknown Finnish player to a player that the fans of the Nashville Predators are excited to see more. Niskala had a poor season in 2002-03 but the difference of the next 12 months was night and day in Niskala’s career.

Niskala took his defensive inefficiencies and worked on them, and honed his offensive game to evolve into a top ten Finnish Elite League defenseman in one season. As a defenseman he led his team in scoring with 21 goals. Surprisingly, he was left to the fifth round in the 2004 draft.

Niskala is now often compared to Marek Zidlicky of the Predators and after he completes his contractual obligation to the Lukko team, he will like come to North America to compete for a spot on the Predators blueline.

9.Brian Finley (G), 23, Milwaukee (AHL), (7, –2)

Brian Finley spent the entire 2001-02 season nursing a groin injury that put his status as the No. 1 goaltending prospect for the Nashville Predators in question. The climb back to being a top prospect has been arduous, but Finley seems to have come over the hump.

The 2003-04 season has been a solid one for Finley, playing in the most games (43) since his 1999-2000 campaign. Finley tied for sixth in AHL wins by a goaltender with 23, and he tied a franchise record with 10 consecutive victories from January 24 to February 28. His numbers were a solid 1.70 GAA and a .943 save percentage during the stretch.

Finley backed up starter Wade Flaherty to the Calder Cup Championship, playing one game against Chicago during the playoff run.

Finley signed a new contract on July 26th and will compete with Chris Mason and Teemu Lassila for the back up position in Nashville in the upcoming season.

10.Teemu Lassila (G), 21, Turku (SM-Liga), (NR, NR)

Teemu Lassila was another unknown quantity coming into the 2003-04 season. After one decent season and a fourth round selection by the Nashville Predators, there was some promise going into the season. Lassila did not disappoint turning in a 1.72 goals against average and leading TPS Turku to the Finnish Elite League finals.

Lassila attended the 2004 Rookie Conditioning Camp in July and has an opportunity to come over to North America to earn a job in either Nashville or Milwaukee.

11.Richard Stehlik (D), 20, Lewiston (QMJHL) (16, +5)

Stehlik had a good season after suiting up fro the Lewiston MAINEiacs of the QMJHL. He scored at nearly a point a game, and continued to develop his defensive game.

Stehlik is a huge 6’4 and 240 pounds and continues to use his size to his advantage. His skating still needs some work but his positioning and physical play have improved. Stehlik was named the QMJHL player of the week for the week ending December 7, 2003. Stehlik also led the MAINEiacs with a +20 rating for the season.

Stehlik captained the Slovakian U-20 team to a sixth place finish in the World Junior Championships (his third World Championship) collecting 2 points in 6 games. Stehlik will continue this season developing his game in Lewiston of the QMJHL.

12.Oliver Setzinger (C), 21, HPK Hameenlinna (SM-Liga) (6, –6)

Oliver Setzinger at the young age of 21 has already played 44 international games for Austria. Setzinger performed well at the 2003 Nashville Predators Rookie Conditioning camp and continued his development with HPK in the Finnish Elite League.

Setzinger had a less than prosperous season splitting it between Pelicans and HPK Hamenlinna coming 14th in HPK scoring with 15 points in 34 games. Setzinger did turn his game around in the playoffs leading his team in scoring with 6 points in 8 games.

Setzinger has impressed Predators management every time they have seen him. As a solid skater, a hard worker and good hockey sense, there is much to like. He has one year left on his contract with HPK, but has also expressed an interest in coming to the Predators training camp for the upcoming season.

13.Brandon Segal (RW), 21, Milwaukee (AHL) (8, –5)

Brandon Segal attended training camp with the Nashville Predators in 2003 with the hopes of starting his professional career in September. After a decent camp, he was sent down to the Milwaukee Admirals in the second round of cuts.

With contract discussions ongoing, but unsuccessful, Segal was returned to the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League. Segal could have lost his attitude with the move, but utilized the opportunity to continue to prove himself worthy of an NHL contract. It didn’t hurt that he was paired up with character linemates Andrew Ladd and Ryan Getzlaf in his return.

Segal put up 30 points in his first 28 games of 2003-04 turning in a solid +19 rating. Segal was given an early Christmas gift with his first professional contract on December 24. Segal was assigned to the Milwaukee Admirals where he finished the season with 21 points in 44 games.

Segal will attend training camp in Nashville trying to earn a spot on the wing in the upcoming season.

14.Sergei Soin (C), 22, CSKA (Russia) (17, +3)

Sergei Soin was acquired from the Colorado Avalanche in return for defenseman Tomas Slovak in June of 2003. As a team that looked set on the blueline for the future, Nashville decided that adding a high-end offensive prospect was to their advantage.

Soin had intended to come to the Predators camp for the 2003-04 season but the two sides were unable to come to a contractual agreement. Soin was also nursing a hand injury that assisted in the decision not to cross the pond. Soin remained in Russia to play the season for a CSKA squad that is experiencing some growing pains. Although Soin’s offensive output declined over the season, his skills are strong.

He is a very good skater with good top end speed. Soin’s puckhandling is solid and has a good shot. He is still too independent on the ice, sometimes overlooking the opportunity to find open teammates. He needs to work on his hockey sense before he will become a solid NHL player.

The Predators will again try to negotiate a deal to bring Soin over to North America for the upcoming season.

15.Libor Pivko (LW), 24, Milwaukee (AHL) (15, 0)

Libor Pivko signed his first North American contract in June of 2003. His solid development in the Czech Extraleague has put him in a position to become an NHL player within the next couple of seasons.

Pivko came to North America and competed in his first NHL training camp, making it to the second round of cuts and an assignment to Milwaukee. Pivko had a solid season in the American Hockey League performing in all situations. He was solid enough to receive a one game call up, playing his first NHL game on November 24, 2003.

Pivko is a good all around player that GM David Poile has mentioned will have a good shot at an NHL job in the upcoming season.

16.Grigori Shafigulin (C), 19, Yaroslavl (Russia) (NR, NR)

Grigori Shafigulin has NHL height, just not an NHL frame. His 6’4, 178-pound size will be the biggest inhibitor on a future in North America.

Shafigulin plays a solid two-way game, with good hands and great defensive awareness. He is also competitive and hard working.

He is expected to stay for at least one or two more seasons in Russia developing, and bulking up his frame. He recently attended Metallurg Novokuznetsk’s training camp in hopes of finding more ice time in the Russian Super League.

17.Alexander Sulzer (D), 20, Dusseldorf (Germany) (NR, NR)

Alexander Sulzer’s season did not start the way he had hoped, he was brutally mugged in downtown Dusseldorf where he was beaten with a blunt object and knocked unconscious for two hours. Sulzer received other additional cuts and bruises in the attack.

Fortunate that it was not more serious; Sulzer continued his German Elite League career about a week later. His numbers suffered throughout the year though, unrelated physically to the injury.

Sulzer did continue playing a steady role in Germany’s highest league, but his offensive game did not progress. Sulzer also played for Germany in the U-20 DIV 1 World Championships (one level below the U-20 World Junior Championships). where he was named the tournament’s top defenseman.

Sulzer has high-end skill in every department, although he could develop his offensive game more. He needs to start showing these skills to further his professional career.

A comeback year is in order for Sulzer. Expect him to spend at least one more year in Germany before coming to North America.

18.Vaclav Meidl (C), 18, Plymouth (OHL) (NR, NR)

Vaclav Meidl is another player selected in the 2004 to address the size deficiency exploited by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2003-04 playoffs.

Meidl played for three different teams between 2001 and 2003, and didn’t seem to find a stable environment to develop his game. He decided to come to North America earlier than most Europeans to play for the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL.

Meidl was flying under scouts’ radar while in Europe, but decided to make himself noticed in the CHL by fighting regularly. But fisticuffs wasn’t the only skill that Meidl showed during the season, adding good skating and puckhandling ability.

Meidl did have a couple of significant knocks against him, with the long CHL season Meidl wore down during the stretch, and didn’t have much of an improvement as the year progressed. A poor showing at the Top Prospects game didn’t help his stock. Still, Meidl has good all around ability and a willingness to play the tough North American game. He has a high enough upside that the Predators will be patient with what could be a third round gem.

19.Andrew Hutchinson (D), 24, Milwaukee/Nashville (NR, NR)

At the age of 23 beginning the 2003-04 season, Andrew Hutchinson was getting to the make or break point of his career.

Hutchinson was the most relied-upon defensive call up for the Predators this last season with recalls on six different occasions from the Milwaukee Admirals. He played a total 18 games for the Predators and chipped in with 8 points on the back end with a +1 rating. Hutchinson has solid size and good offensive skills. He also brings decent hockey sense to the table.

The Predators have developed quite a logjam on the back end, and unless Hutchinson starts to grab on to a permanent spot on the blueline soon, other prospects may pass him by.

20.Andrei Mukhachev (D), 24, CSKA (Russia) (20, +1)

Andrei Mukhachev has been in the Nashville Predators sights for some time. They signed him in July of 2003 with the expectation that he would be coming over but he spent the year back in Russia. He played much of last season with injuries but came on strong as the year wore on for CSKA in the Russian Super League.

The Predators have compared Mukhachev’s style of play to former Predator Karlis Skrastins.

Mukhachev is a stay at home defenseman that has decent all around skill and good size. At 24 he would be someone who may be able to fit into the Predators roster sooner rather than later.

Under contract with the Predators, they had been expecting him to come to the Predators Summer Rookie Camp but he didn’t show up. If there is no issue between the Predators and Mukhachev’s agent, he may come over for the upcoming season’s training camp.

MISSING THE CUT

(Mr. Congeniality) Denis Platonov (C), 22, Ak Bars Kazan (Russia) (OR, –2)

Denis Platonov came over to the Nashville Predators training camp this season looking for a spot on the NHL squad. Platonov had a decent camp but was reassigned to Milwaukee of the American Hockey League to fine-tune his game.

Platonov did not prefer to play in the minors and chose to return back to Russia after only six games in North America. Platonov told RussianProspects.com how his time in North America had gone.

“I believe the issue is not at what age you leave and what shape you are in. It is important to be in the right place at the right time. There are no super stars in Nashville. The club prefers to play defensively and its offense scores little. The club was created in 1997 and in all this time the club has not made to the NHL playoffs. Judging by everything, it won’t make it there any time soon.”

Of course he was wrong about the last part, but Platonov seemed to be unimpressed with the play in the AHL, and it appears that he would be looking for a one-way contract should he decide to return to North America.

Platonov has very good tools and would make a solid NHL third liner with a little refinement. Although his affinity for the North American development side of the game may have soured, he has not ruled out the possibility of a return.

Others missing the cut

Paul Brown, RW – A 20-point reduction in points drops the tough guy off the list

Matt Hendricks, C – Lack of development in the St. Cloud graduate.

Darren Haydar, RW – Time closing in on the diminutive offensive player.

WHERE HAVE THEY GONE?

Patrick Jarrett, C – Re-entered the NHL draft only to go unselected and is an Unrestricted Free Agent

Matt Koalska, C – Released by the Predators and signed by the New York Islanders as an Unrestricted Free Agent.

Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without written permission of the editorial staff.