The Predators have defensive stability waiting at the NHL's gates with Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi leading the way, and many of the team's other top prospects are also playing in the AHL with the Milwaukee Admirals. The depth of the organization is apparent in the many notable prospects on the horizon currently developing in junior, college, and European leagues. Below are some of the Nashville Predators prospects to watch during the 2012-13 season.
Ryan Ellis, D, Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)
Ryan Ellis entered the 2009 NHL Draft as one of the top defensive prospects and has the biggest upside in Nashville’s system. At 5’10, he plays the role of an offensive defenseman extremely well and had eight assists and three goals in 32 NHLgames last year. Shuttled between Milwaukee and Nashville during the 2011-12 season, he also had 18 points in 29 AHL games. He is a high-end offensive player who is able to navigate his shot through traffic. His slap shot is the most dangerous part of his game because he can execute it while walking the blue line. He is strong on his skates and steadily improved his speed through his career in Windsor. His decision making has room to improve. Ellis needs to work on differentiating when to use his aggressiveness to join the rush and when to stay at home.
Taylor Beck, LW, Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)
Beck was the Admirals third leading scorer with 40 points (16 goals and 24 assists) in 74 games last year. The 6’2 winger is the type of power forward who can pass better than he can score. Although he is not a great skater, he holds the puck well and is very hard to stop from getting to the net when lowering his shoulder. He has a solid snap shot, which he utilizes well in the slot. The biggest knock on Beck’s game is his choppy skating, which has not been coming along the way scouts have hoped. His skating could make the difference between Beck developing into a top six forward or a checking line player.
Magnus Hellberg, G, Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)
Hellberg signed an entry level deal this summer and came to North America to play hockey with the Admirals. At 6’5, he takes up a huge portion of the net and is an imposing force for oncoming skaters when he stands at the top of the crease. He led the Swedish J20 leauge during the 2009-10 season in shutouts, save percentage, and goals against average before strong showings at the professional level each of the past two seasons. Even though his save percentage dropped last year to .908 in 17 games with Frolunda in Sweden's Elitserien, he has developed a smart game which relies on cutting down angels to take away scoring chances. He will share the net in Milwaukee with Jeremy Smith, but Hellberg has a chance to prove his worth in the talented AHL in 2012-13.
Ben Ryan, C, Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)
Ben Ryan spent a lot of time on the shelf nursing a foot injury in his first year of pro hockey. He played in a total of seven games, three to open the season and four following his February return from injury, with the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones. The hard-nosed center then skated in 23 regular season games with the Admirals and had three goals and three assists. Just a year after establishing himself as a playmaker at Notre Dame, Ryan struggled to make his mark in his rookie pro season. The 5’11 forward works hard in front of the net, but has had trouble finding twine in the AHL. He has good vision and an average passing game, but this year could be Ryan’s last chance to prove that he is worthy of a career in the NHL.
Leipsic’s 58 points as a 17-year-old last season showed that he has a very high ceiling when it comes to putting up points. The 5’9 center is surprisingly strong and uses his speed to beat defenders on breakout plays. Despite being pegged as an undersized forward, he does not stray from contact and plays aggressive in all three zones of the ice. Whether or not Leipsic’s size will allow his skill set to transfer over to the professional game remains to be seen. But as long as he continues to show his potential as a playmaker, Leipsic will be proving the naysayers wrong over the next few years. He has six points in his first nine games to open the 2012-13 season.
Colton Sissons, C/RW, Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
There has never been any doubt that Sissons is a defensively responsible forward. He will join battles along the boards, chase packs behind the nets, and will scuffle for the puck in the crease. After recording 41 points in 63 games during his rookie WHL season, the 6’1 winger plateued his sophomore year with Kelowna, posting 41 points again. Sissons showed more of a goal scorer’s touch last year and scored nine more times than his rookie season. He was named captain of the Rockets at 17 years old and after being drafted in the second round will undergo a pivotal season in his third year with Kelowna. Sissons’ biggest task will be establishing himself as more than just a defensively sound forward. He has had a good start, leading the forwards in scoring with 13 points in 10 games.
Garrett Noonan, D, Boston University Terriers (Hockey East)
Noonan's 16 goals last season tied for most among NCAA blueliners, and he finished his sophomore season for the Terriers with 27 points in 38 games. Noonan works effectively as a two-way defender because he can walk the blue line comfortably as well as play shutdown defense in his own zone. He posted a +19 rating last year and recorded 64 penalty minutes. He is not a flashy player, but makes smart plays to stretch the ice and create scoring opportunities. On defense Noonan is rarely out of position and for a 21-year-old has great awareness of when to join the rush. Named to the preseason All-Hockey East team, the 6'0 defenseman should play a more significant role in Boston University’s system as a junior. He started off with a goal in the season-opening win over Providence.
Zach Budish, RW, University of Minnesota Golden Gophers (WCHA)
The redshirt junior was named captain of the Golden Gophers in August. A year after missing all but seven games due to a knee injury, Budish bounced back in 2011-12 with 35 points (12 goals and 23 assists) in 43 games last season. Playing at nearly a point-per-game pace showed that the former second round pick’s injured knee has not affected his playing style. Budish was a +20 skater with the Gophers last season and played an influential role in Minnesota’s road to a Frozen Four appearance. The 6’3 forward plays strong on the puck and uses his size to effectively drive into the zone creating scoring chances by throwing the puck towards the slot. Budish can hold his own in the physical aspects of the game and recorded 43 penalty minutes last year. As captain of the Gophers, Budish will be looked to increase his production as a leader of the MacNaughton Cup champions. He managed four assists in the team's opening weekend of games against Michigan State.
Pontus Aberg, LW, Djurgarden (Allsvenskan)
Aberg is one of the fastest players in Nashville’s system. When he entered the draft, it was known that he would be under contract until 2014 with Djurgarden. The team was relegated last season to Sweden's second tier Allsvenskan league, but he will still be developing against grown men at 19 years old. In his rookie year he had 15 points in 47 SEL games and already has six points in 11 games this year. He has run into injury problems, but when healthy, he has proven that he is a great scorer and an even better passer. Aberg needs to improve his consistency and stay healthy over the next two seasons before testing his luck in North America.
Unsigned for 2013-14 season
Marek Mazanec, G, IHC Pisek (Czech 2)
Mazanec was the Predators’ sixth round pick in the 2012 draft, but was on the team's radar for the past three seasons. At 6’4, he brings the size to the net that the organization covets. He was expected to be HC Plzen’s number one goaltender in the Czech Extraliga this year after he played lights out with the team last year allowing 2.96 goals per game in 19 contests. Even with three wins under his belt and a .940 save percentage in three Czech Extraliga games, he has also played on loan to IHC Pisek in the second tier pro league, struggling to a 4.21 goals against average and .885 save percentage. Mazanec needs to prove he can man the net consistently if he wants to sign an entry level deal within the next two seasons.