In the past two drafts, Nashville Predators general manager David Poile and his scouting staff have selected 24 players, with ten of those selections being used on defensemen. Eight of those ten defensive selections appear in this latest edition of the Predators top 20 prospects, including the top two prospects, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber.
The top forward on this list is 2004 first round selection Alexander Radulov, a Russian who made his North American debut this year with the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL. Russian forwards seem to be the cream of the forward crop for the Predators, with six being included in the top 20.
Overall, the strengths of the Predators organization are on defense, left wing and in goal, with the center and right wing positions in need of an upgrade. In general, there seems to be a great number of prospects with solid ability, but few that could be termed as game-breakers.
Below is the latest top 20 for the Predators. The number in parentheses next to the player’s position is that player’s rank in the previous top 20. ‘NR’ means the player was not rated in the previous list.
1. Ryan Suter, Defenseman (1)
Height: 6’1, Weight: 183, Current Team: Milwaukee (AHL)
Suter already is a steady defenseman, and he will only get better. The former University of Wisconsin star stepped into the pro game this season without missing a beat, providing solid defensive play in his own end while also mixing in a bit of offense and some toughness. He had 23 points in 63 games for Milwaukee. Suter also took time out of his first pro season to captain the U.S. squad at the 2005 World Junior Championships, where he earned All-Tournament honors. In addition to this international experience, Suter is expected to join the U.S. entry at the World Championships now that his AHL season has ended.
2. Shea Weber, Defenseman (5)
Height: 6’3, Weight: 208, Current Team: Kelowna (WHL)
Shea Weber won a Memorial Cup in 2004, a gold medal early in 2005, and he is now working on a second consecutive Memorial Cup with the Kelowna Rockets. Weber, a second round selection for the Predators in 2003, is another impressive defensive prospect in the club’s system. While Ryan Suter and Kevin Klein both possess well-rounded skill sets, Weber is more in the mold of the tough, stay-at-home defensive player, albeit with some offensive ability. The Sicamous, B.C. native picked up 41 points (12 goals, 29 assists) in just 55 games for the Rockets, which might lead one to believe that his offensive ability is underrated. He is continuing his offensive exploits in the post-season, picking up 13 points (8 goals, 5 assists) in 14 games so far.
3. Alexander Radulov, Right Wing (4)
Height: 6’1, Weight: 178, Current Team: Quebec Remparts
Being chosen in the first round of any draft creates certain expectations for a player, and, for the most part, the Predators 2004 first round selection, Alexander Radulov, lived up to his reputation as a scorer. Radulov elected to get his first extended taste of the North American game by playing in the QMJHL for the Quebec Remparts this season. This move seemed to be a wise one, with Radulov finishing third in scoring (32 goals, 43 assists) for the Remparts, and 20th overall in the ‘Q’. He continued his strong offensive play in the playoffs, picking up 11 points (6 goals, 5 assists) in 13 post-season games. Radulov also earned silver at this year’s WJC as a member of the Russian squad. Radulov has the speed and scoring ability to one day become a sniper in the NHL, but he’ll need to bulk up some to handle the tougher going at that level.
4. Scott Upshall, Left Wing (2)
Height: 6’0, Weight: 187, Current Team: Milwaukee (AHL)
The feisty Scott Upshall took his game to another level in the 2004-05 season, as he became more of an offensive force while still maintaining his pest status. The former Kamloops Blazer star netted 19 goals while adding 27 assists during the regular season for Milwaukee, then added another four points (2 goals, 2 assists) in five playoff games. Upshall also took on more of a leadership role this season, which is another sign of his maturation. Assuming the NHL resumes in 2005-06, Upshall should be ready to land a spot on the Predators roster.
5. Brian Finley, Goaltender (9)
Height: 6’3, Weight: 200, Current Team: Milwaukee (AHL)
Former first round selection Brian Finley was a workhorse for the Milwaukee Admirals in his first season as the No. 1 goaltender, appearing in 64 games for the Admirals. While his performance at times could have been termed inconsistent, Finley should benefit from the experience of having to carry the load. Goaltenders almost always take a bit longer to develop than forwards or defensemen, and given Finley’s history with injuries, the 23-year-old may be just starting to scratch the surface of his talent.
6. Konstantin Glazachev, Left Wing (6)
Height: 6’0, Weight: 186, Current Team: Siber Novosibirsk (RUS)
According to RussianProspects.com, Konstantin Glazachev, who is currently property of Yaroslavl in the Russian Superleague, was loaned to Siber Novosibirsk for the majority of the 2004-05 season. While Glazachev saw little ice time with Yaroslavl, he received plenty of playing time with Siber, picking up 11 points (4 goals, 7 assists) in 24 games. Glazachev isn’t as fast or as highly skilled as Radulov, but he is an aggressive, hard-working forward with a decent scoring touch.
7. Kevin Klein, Defenseman (7)
Height: 6’1, Weight: 200, Current Team: Milwaukee (AHL)
Like fellow 20-year-old rookie Ryan Suter, Kevin Klein turned in a solid first season in the AHL. Klein possesses many of the attributes that Suter has, in that he is a good skater who plays smart in his own end while being able to create some offense off the transition. And as with Suter, Klein can only get better with more experience. The former OHL star finished the regular season with a +9 plus/minus rating, while also contributing 16 points (4 goals, 12 assists) in 65 games from the blueline. He was sent down the UHL briefly near the beginning of the season.
8. Timofei Shishkanov, Left Wing (3)
Height: 6’1, Weight: 213, Current Team: Milwaukee (AHL)
In the 2003-04 season, Timofei Shishkanov showed signs that he could one day be a force on offense for the Predators. Unfortunately for Shishkanov, the 2004-05 season ended up being more of a learning experience, as he seemed to suffer from a bit of a sophomore slump. The former QMJHL star still managed to net 20 goals in 70 games, but his overall game seemed to suffer, particularly on defense. Shishkanov still has time to develop, but next season could be crucial for him if he wants to make more headway in the Predators organization.
9. Teemu Lassila, Goaltender (10)
Height: 6’0, Weight: 202, Current Team: TPS Turku (FIN)
Finnish goaltender Teemu Lassila turned in a strong season in 2003-04, and followed that up in 2004-05 with another solid campaign. Lassila played for a mediocre TPS squad in Finland’s senior league, where he was a workhorse in goal for that club. In 52 games, Lassila finished with a goals-against average of 2.31 while crafting a save percentage of .919. A fourth round pick for the Predators in 2003, Lassila is said to play the angles well with enough quickness to cover from post to post.
10. Andrew Hutchinson, Defenseman (18)
Height: 6’2, Weight: 198, Current Team: Milwaukee (AHL)
With offensive defensemen like Dan Hamhuis and Marek Zidlicky ahead of him on the depth chart, not to mention the presence of players like Ryan Suter and Kevin Klein in the organization, it would appear that Andrew Hutchinson’s path to the NHL would detour through another organization. Hutchinson has the offensive ability to help a team’s power play, as demonstrated by his 45 points (10 goals, 35 assists) in 76 games this season for Milwaukee. Right now, though, Hutchinson is more along the lines of a Jason Woolley, that being a defenseman with good offensive ability but lacking in defensive responsibility.
11. Denis Kulyash, Defenseman (NR)
Height: 6’2, Weight: 199, Current Team: HC CSKA (RUS)
According to RussianProspects.com, the solidly built defender Denis Kulyash has turned some heads over in Russia due to his strong showing with HC CSKA in the Russian Superleague. In 58 games for that club, Kulyash picked up 18 points (8 goals, 10 assists), while also accumulating 58 penalty minutes. Kulyash, an eighth round selection of the Predators in 2004, is said to be an excellent skater with a good shot and the ability to make good outlet passes from his own zone. His play did not go unnoticed, as he was invited to Russia’s camp for the World Championships.
12. Richard Stehlik, Defenseman (11)
Height: 6’4, Weight: 245, Current Team: HK36 Skalica (SVK)
After spending a couple of productive seasons in the QMJHL, hulking defenseman Richard Stehlik returned to Slovakia for the 2004-05 campaign. He played for Skalica in the Slovakian Elite League, where he put up 11 points (8 goals, 3 assists) in 41 games. The main knock on Stehlik was his skating, but he has improved that part of his game since being drafted by the Predators in 2003. Stehlik’s main asset is his size, which he isn’t afraid to use, but his overall defensive game could use some work.
13. Oliver Setzinger, Center (12)
Height: 6’0, Weight: 200, Current Team: HPK Hameenlinna (FIN)
Austrian pivot Oliver Setzinger had his best offensive showing in his still young career during the 2004-05 season. Setzinger played for Hameenlinna in Finland’s top league, where he tallied 28 points (11 goals, 17 assists) in 53 games to go along with 67 minutes in penalties. A third round selection for Nashville in 2001, Setzinger also was chosen to play for Austria at the 2005 World Championships, where he is said to have held his own against elite competition. Setzinger is a good skater with a bit of grit to his game, but it remains to be seen just how much offensive upside he possesses. Many see him as a future checking center, but his offensive prowess will ultimately determine whether he is third or fourth line material.
14. Alexander Sulzer, Defenseman (17)
Height: 6’2, Weight: 213, Current Team: Dusseldorf (GER)
Another Predators prospect taking part in the 2005 World Championships is tough German defenseman Alexander Sulzer. Sulzer spent 2004-05 with the Dusseldorf Metro Stars in Germany’s top league. While Sulzer’s club struggled to a 10th place finish in their league, he personally turned in a solid campaign, picking up 11 points (5 goals, 6 assists) in 42 games while managing a +7 plus/minus rating. Sulzer’s strengths are that his skating, physicality, and his vision. He may have had too much baby fat at one time, but seems to have shed some of that excess fat for muscle. If Sulzer has the desire to play in North America, then the Predators should have themselves a solid, hard-nosed defender.
15. Kevin Schaeffer, Defenseman (NR)
Height: 6’1, Weight: 195, Current Team: Boston University (NCAA)
Boston University sophomore defenseman Kevin Schaeffer was named to an All-Rookie team by Inside College Hockey following the 2003-04 season, with Schaeffer following up his strong, Hockey East debut with a solid second season. While Schaeffer’s output of 14 points (2 goals, 12 assists) was not up to his totals of 2003-04, he was acknowledged to be an emerging leader on a club with a solid group of defenders. Schaeffer is a defenseman who could develop into strong power play quarterback, in part because he possesses a good shot from the blueline.
16. Sergei Soin, Center (14)
Height: 6’0, Weight: 175, Current Team: HC CSKA
As relayed by RussianProspects.com, Soin seemed to be on track to make the NHL a couple of seasons ago while a member of the Soviet Wings club, but he has struggled since moving to HC CSKA. In 19 games for that club, Soin picked up six points (3 goals, 3 assists). He is a slightly built player with good speed who could make a good checking center for some NHL club, but the 23-year-old will have to get his game turned around soon if he wants to one day play in the NHL.
17. Grigory Shafigulin, Center (16)
Height: 6’2, Weight: 185, Current Team: Yaroslavl (RUS)
Another selection on this list from the Predators’ productive 2003 NHL Draft is center Grigory Shafigulin. Shafigulin once again played for Yaroslavl in the Russian Superleague, a team known for favoring more experienced players over youngsters. In 46 games for the Locomotive, Shafigulin picked up 10 points (5 goals, 5 assists). The Chelyabinsk, Russia native also represented his country at the 2005 World Junior Championships, playing mostly on the squad’s checking line. Shafigulin has decent skills to go along with a good work ethic whose fore-checking ability probably outshines his offensive potential.
18. Janne Niskala, Defenseman (8)
Height: 6’0, Weight: 187, Current Team: Lukko (FIN)
After a strong showing in 2003-04 with Lukko of the Finnish Senior League, defenseman Janne Niskala took a big step backwards in 2004-05. Niskala still showed some offensive skills, as he tallied 21 points (9 goals, 12 asssists) in 44 games for Lukko. But his game was mostly inconsistent. Of course, Niskala didn’t lose his talent overnight, but the Predators will need to decide whether his showing in 2003-04 was more than just an extraordinary season.
19. Denis Platonov, Center (NR)
Height: 6’4, Weight: 202, Current Team: Neftkhimik (RUS)
Platonov is still somewhat of an unknown quantity. He certainly has the size and talent to eventually make a run at a full-time slot on the Predators roster. In fact, Platonov did push for a job prior to the 2004-04 season, but he ended up returning to Russia to play for Ak Bars Kazan. He started 2004-05 with that club but was eventually loaned to Neftkhimik, with his combined totals for the season being 14 points (6 goals, 8 assists) in 49 games. Platonov could once again challenge for a spot on the Predators roster, but his mindset towards playing in the NHL is unknown at this time.
20. Libor Pivko, Left Wing (15)
Height: 6’2, Weight: 195, Current Team: Milwaukee (AHL)
While Czech winger Libor Pivko appears to have physical attributes, such as skating ability and size, that would make him a strong prospect, he has yet to put it all together to become anything more than a marginal prospect. Pivko netted just five goals in 56 games with Milwaukee this year. Still, there is enough talent there that Pivko could make some strides next season, but he’ll have to do so to remain a viable NHL prospect.
Eugene Belashchenko, Pekka Lampinen, Jes Golbez Ursulak and other staff members contributed to this article. Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.