At the trade deadline, the Nashville Predators traded away their first round pick in 2012 as well as their second round picks in 2012 and 2013. While it may seem like they gave up a lot of future assets, they did so with the knowledge that many of their top prospects are gradually meeting their potential. The inaugural edition of the HF Prospect Awards is a testament to this notion as many of the recipients have seen time this season in the NHL.
Hardest Worker: Michael Latta, C, Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)
The Predators have many prospects who work hard so to earn this award is quite an accomplishment. What makes Michael Latta stand out is his perseverance. He is not the biggest player at 5'11. However, no one can question his effort or physical play. He also had to go through a wrist injury that prevented him from playing for about two month this season. He had a hard time getting back to his offensive pace upon his return. Still, he kept working hard and finished with 27 points and 100 penalty minutes in 51 AHL games. For better or worse, only two other AHL rookies managed to accumulate more penalty minutes in fewer games.
Hardest Shot: Roman Josi, D, Nashville Predators (NHL)
Roman Josi possesses a sneaky hard shot, mainly because he does not have much of a wind up. Despite not much of a wind up his shot is hard and frequently hits the net. He also has a quick wrist shot. If there is any complaint it is that he does not shoot the puck enough.
Another legitimate candidate for this award is Ryan Ellis, who also possesses a rocket shot.
Best Defensive Prospect: Ryan Ellis, D, Nashville Predators (NHL)
Once Ryan Ellis fully adjusts to the physical side of the NHL game, he has all the tools to be a special player. Quick, aggressive, and not afraid to go against bigger forwards, Ellis is going to be another important offensive weapon from the backend for a Predators team that lacks high-end offensive forwards.
Josi is another potential candidate for this award. He may not have the offensive potential of Ryan Ellis or even Jonathon Blum but his game at this point is more consistent.
Fastest Skater: Patrick Cehlin, C, Djurgardens IF Stockholm (SEL)
Speed is Patrick Cehlin's game. He uses it to maneuver around players in the offensive zone. But he also uses it to forecheck and play well defensively. For a smaller player, speed is critical and Cehlin has it in spades.
Gabriel Bourque got very strong consideration for this award. Bourque was a real revelation this season in the NHL. While he may not have the breakaway speed of Cehlin, he is still extremely quick.
Prospect of the Year: Jeremy Smith, G, Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)
Jeremy Smith deserves this award after another fantastic season in the AHL. Smith finished the season in the top 10 among AHL goalies in all major categories, all the more impressive when considering no other AHL goalie played more minutes than Jeremy Smith. Along the way he helped the Admirals to a fifth place finish in the Western Conference.
Breakout Player for 2012-13: Zach Budish, RW, Minnesota Golden Gophers (WCHA)
Zach Budish has always had the talent. It is staying healthy that has kept him from developing in the past few seasons. Finally coming off a healthy season, Budish is primed to step up his production next season. He finished this season with seven points in his last five games. More importantly, towards the end of the season he was showing that his game was coming back to full capacity.
Michael Latta also got some consideration for this award. Latta was slowed down by a broken wrist this season. However, prior to the injury he showed signs of his potential. If he can stay healthy next season, he has a good chance to start to dominate the AHL with his blend of offensive skill and physical play.
Most Improved Prospect: Chase Balisy, C, Western Michigan Broncos (CCHA)
When Chase Balisy was drafted in the sixth round in 2011, he was not a highly touted prospect. Fast forward to today and Chase Balisy is a name that many are becoming more familiar with. Balisy is a player who is constantly improving his game on the ice while also becoming a strong leader off the ice. He was very instrumental in guiding Western Michigan to its first CCHA Championship.
Overachiever: Gabriel Bourque, LW, Nashville Predators (NHL)
When a player is 5'9 typically there is some reservation about his upside. However, Gabriel Bourque not only proved this season that he is capable of handling the NHL game, he also showed that he can score at that level. After a half a point-per-game pace during the regular season, he finished third among all Nashville Predators players in the playoffs. Bourque is a shifty player who works extremely hard every shift and can also play well defensively.
Underachiever: Chet Pickard, G, Cincinnati Cyclones (ECHL)
The Predators drafted Chet Pickard thinking he would continue the long legacy of successful goalie prospects in their system. However, what followed has been mostly failure at the AHL and even ECHL level. At this point, Pickard has been surpassed by all other Predators goalie prospects on their depth chart.
Highest Risk/Reward Prospect: Magnus Hellberg, G, Vastra Frolunda HC (SEL)
It is very hard to predict how a young goalie will develop. With goalies, gaining experience is critical. Also, while there are many talented young goalies, it is the mental part of the game that is also very important to develop. Magnus Hellberg is still making adjustments to his game and growing into his body. He has all the tools to become a special goalie. However, as with any goaltending prospect, he may also end up being another Hannu Toivonen.