Predators Top 20 prospects

By HF Staff

Top 20 at a Glance

1. Ryan Suter, D
2. Shea Weber, D
3. Scottie Upshall, RW
4. Alexander Radulov, RW
5. Pekka Rinne, G
6. Ryan Parent, D
7. Kevin Klein, D
8. Konstantin Glazachev, LW
9. Teemu Laakso, D
10. John Vigilante, F
11. Greg Zanon, D
12. Cal O’Reilly, C
13. Cody Franson, D
14. Lauris Darzins, RW
15. Ryan Maki, RW
16. Libor Pivko, LW
17. Kevin Schaeffer, D
18. Vaclav Meidl, C
19. Patric Hornqvist, LW
20. Scott Todd, D

1. Ryan Suter, D
Height/Weight: 6’1, 196 lbs.
Drafted: 7th, 2003

After a solid season in the AHL with the Milwaukee Admirals, Ryan Suter has made an impact in Nashville as a rookie. Suter has helped the Predators to their best start in franchise history at 33-16-6. At only 21 years of age, Suter has helped take the burden off of defensive mainstays in Nashville Kimmo Timmonen, Marek Zidlicky, and Dan Hamhuis, averaging 23 shifts per game and 17:03 minutes of ice time in his rookie campaign. Suter has contributed 14 points (1 goal, 13 assists) this season including a helper in his first career game on Oct. 5, 2005 against San Jose. He currently ranks third among Nashville defensemen with a +7 plus/minus rating.

Suter has achieved numerous honors in his young career. He made the all-rookie team in the WCHA in 2003-04, and was named to the All-Tournament team at the 2005 World Junior Championships recording eight points, including seven assists to lead all tournament defensemen in scoring. In his third and final WJC, Suter was the captain of Team USA. He won a gold medal with the team at the WJC in 2004.

2. Shea Weber, D
Height/Weight: 6’3, 213 lbs.
Drafted: 49th, 2003

Shea Weber is part of one of the most solid defensive pipelines in hockey. Weber, a bruiser with a flair for offense, looks to be on his way to an NHL career. Weber has played most of the year in Milwaukee in the AHL. In 41 games, Weber has 25 points, second among Admirals defensemen and first in goals with 11. Weber was a key part of Milwaukee’s power play, with eight goals. He also kills penalties and has a shorthanded tally. The 20-year-old from Sicamous, British Columbia made his NHL debut on Jan. 6, 2006 in a 3-1 loss in Nashville to Detroit. Weber has played five NHL games this season registering an assist. He averages 12:41 of ice time when playing for the Predators.

Weber, 20, has been paired with veteran Rick Berry and Greg Zanon in Milwaukee where his game continued to improve. Weber is tough but has become more disciplined. After 388 penalty minutes in three years of juniors, Weber has only 40 penalty minutes in 41 games in the AHL. Weber is an incredible skater. He plays a very physical game, but will look for the big hit over his defensive responsibility occasionally.

Weber brings big game experience to the Predators. He helped Kelowna claim the Memorial Cup in 2003-04. Weber’s successful 2004-05 season saw him make the WHL West First All-Star team. He won the WHL playoff MVP award and helped Team Canada to the gold medal at the 2005 WJC.

3. Scottie Upshall, RW
Height/Weight: 6’0, 197 lbs.
Drafted: 6th, 2002

Although a knee injury slowed his development, Scottie Upshall is turning into the player Nashville wanted when they selected him in the first round of the 2002 NHL entry draft. Upshall, who started the season in the AHL, was called up to the Predators on Nov. 1, 2005. Playing as a grinder, Upshall has produced 13 points (4 goals, 9 assists) in 32 games this season for the Predators. Upshall has dominated AHL competition this season with 29 points, including 16 goals in 15 contests with Milwaukee. After a two-week demotion in January, Upshall was called up again on Jan. 24. Upshall averages just over 10 minutes of ice time in Nashville, but makes the most of it. He has a +5 plus/minus rating as well as 28 penalty minutes. He was sent back down to Milwaukee on Jan. 27. His intensity on the ice has given him a lot of minutes and respect on the ice.

It has taken a while for Upshall to make it to where he is, but he is proving critics wrong with his strong play for the Predators. The 22-year-old, Fort McMurray Alberta native, now in his fourth season of pro hockey is fast on his skates and has a quick release on his accurate shot. Upshall has not seen time on the top lines in Nashville, instead mostly a third a fourth line player. The Predators have shown confidence in him allowing him on the ice in tight games.

Upshall made his NHL debut on Oct. 15, 2002 and went on to appear in eight NHL games before being sent back to Kamloops of the WHL to complete his junior career. Upshall remained one the team’s key players in the talent rich AHL in 2004-05.

4. Alexander Radulov, RW
Height/Weight: 6’1, 190
Drafted: 15th, 2004

Alex Radulov continues to impress with his offensive prowess, lending optimism to the Predators hunt for a top-end scoring center. During the 2003-04 season, Radulov scored 32 goals and 75 points as a QMJHL rookie. Through 43 games this season, the Preds 2004 first round pick has hit the 100-point mark (36 goals, 64 assists), good for third place in the overall league scoring derby.

In Quebec, Radulov continues to provide offensive leadership for the Remparts, while playing alongside highly touted rookie, Angelo Esposito. If he can maintain his scoring touch and bring more grit to the ice, Radulov can make it very difficult for head coach Barry Trotz to deny him a serious look during the 2006-07 season. The only questions concerning Radulov may relate to how motivated he can remain through the inevitable adjustments associated with the physical demands of professional hockey.

His mediocre play during the 2006 WJC with Team Russia is not likely to detract from his prominence among Predators prospects. Most professional teams are comfortable in allowing their first round draft picks more latitude, especially the potential upside associated with a gifted scorer. Radulov can heighten his profile immensely if he can provide the Remparts with effective leadership through a deep playoff run this spring.

5. Pekka Rinne, G
Height/Weight: 6’5, 207 lbs.
Drafted: 258th, 2004

Rinne has stormed onto the North American pro hockey scene with a lot of success. After leading Karpat to the SM-Liiga championship last season, the Kempele, Finland native signed with Nashville in August 2005. Assigned to Milwaukee of the AHL, in 33 games this season, Rinne is a spectacular 21-12-1. The 23-year-old has taken over the starting job from Brian Finley who won 36 games for Milwaukee last season. Rinne has a GAA of 2.74, fourth among AHL rookie goaltenders and a save percentage of .904.

Rinne’s biggest attribute is his size. He takes up most of the net and covers it well. Rinne is a stand-up goaltender who rarely goes down unless he has to. Rinne has a tendency to give up soft goals which has hurt his overall play this season. He was called up to Nashville on Dec. 14, 2004 after backup Chris Mason suffered a groin injury. Rinne made his debut the following night against the Chicago Blackhawks in Chicago, posting a 5-3 victory, ending the night with 35 saves.

Rinne could very well be the goaltender of the future in Nashville. He is still not a finished product, but is developing at a rapid rate this season.

6. Ryan Parent, D
Height/Weight: 6’2, 200
Drafted: 18th, 2005

Ryan Parent’s stock continues to rise as he provides the OHL’s Guelph Storm with reliable defensive play. He has always been looked upon as a leader, often designated as a captain or assistant captain wherever he plays. At 18, Parent brings maturity and composure to the ice. In 43 games this season, he has collected three goals, 14 assists and a career-high 90 penalty minutes.

The native of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, rose to prominence during the 2006 WJC in Vancouver, where he was paired with the tournament’s top defenseman, Mark Staal (NYR), and could have comfortably received the award himself. Required to play opposite the top offensive players from the USA and Russian team, Parent was especially successful in creating plenty of room for goaltender Justin Pogge (TOR) to see the puck from all shooting lanes.

Parent plays in all situations effectively with intelligence and poise. He skates with great balance and his long reach buys time and space for both he and his teammates. Early in his junior career, Parent played briefly with Kevin Klein in Guelph.

7. Kevin Klein, D
Height/Weight: 6’1, 195 lbs.
Drafted: 37th, 2003

Klein continues to be one of the most technically sound defensive prospects in the AHL. The 21-year-old sees the ice well, skates it out of his zone nearly flawlessly, and has a good eye for passes. Although not a very physical player, Klein is able to rely on his skills to keep the puck out of the Milwaukee net. He has been paired with Greg Zanon for the majority of his nearly two seasons in the AHL. Klein does not panic with the puck, nor does he make bad decisions with it often.

Klein has passed last season’s point (27), goal (6), and assist (21) total already. He leads Milwaukee defensemen in points and assists. Klein finished his rookie season with 16 points in AHL 65 games. Klein’s biggest contribution to Milwaukee is his discipline. He has taken only 12 penalty minutes in 45 games. As a result, Klein has seen more ice time including special teams play where he has three goals on the power play and one shorthanded. Klein has a +4 plus/minus rating.

Klein made his NHL debut on Dec. 3 in Nashville in a 4-3 shoot-out win over Philadelphia. He was paired mostly with Zanon who was also called up at the time. Klein took 24 shifts for 13:56 of ice time. This NHL experience should be valuable as Klein will contend for a full time role in Nashville next season.

8. Konstantin Glazachev, LW
Height/Weight: 6’0, 186 lbs.
Drafted: 35th, 2003

Glazachev is back with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv along with fellow Nashville prospect Grigory Shafigulin. Glazachev is nearing his point total from a year ago in the Russian Super League with 11 including a career-high seven goals in 25 games this season. The 20-year-old played 24 games last season for Novosibirsk Siber of the Russian Super League after nine games with Yaroslavl, the team he competed with the previous two seasons.

Glazachev is an intense player who plays the power forward role. Hailing from Arkhangelsk, Russia, Glazachev is criticized often for trying to do it all himself. He needs to learn how to use his teammates more effectively. It is unclear if or when Glazachev will sign with the Predators to play in North America. With the trade of Timofei Shishkanov to the St. Louis Blues, Glazachev is now the top Russian prospect on the wing in the Nashville system. He may take over Shishkanov’s role in Milwaukee as early as next season.

9. Teemu Laakso, D
Height/Weight: 6’0, 196
Drafted: 78th, 2005

Laakso, 18, will likely require some seasoning at the AHL level, although he is currently playing professionally with IFK Helsinki where he has two goals in 39 games this season. How he adjusts to the professional game in North America remains to be seen.

Laakso has experienced the highs and lows associated with the pursuit of a professional hockey career, evidenced by his rebound from an ankle injury that kept him out of the 2005 U-18 World Championship. He has achieved success on North American soil in recent years, winning the 2004 Viking Cup championship in Camrose, Alberta.

Recently in Vancouver, he was very obviously up to the physical challenges during games against North American opponents at the WJC, but his durability will be tested when he elects to play closer to Nashville. Laakso created a huge and favorable impression as he logged a ton of ice time for the Finns. During the medal round, he scored Finland’s biggest goal of the tournament, a quarterfinal winning tally in overtime to give his team a 1-0 victory over Sweden.

10. John Vigilante, F
Height/Weight: 6’0, 195
Free agent signee

Now in his fourth OHL season, Vigilante is likely to play in his 300th career game later this season. He should surpass the 250-point mark for his career as well. In 49 games this season, Vigilante has scored 23 goals and added 48 assists for the Plymouth Whalers.

Signed as a free agent by the Predators in December, the native of Dearborn, Michigan, could potentially fill a role in an area the organization has struggled to strengthen over the years. Vigilante is an offensive minded forward who should benefit from the new NHL rules. While ‘defense first’ has been he philosophical edict in Nashville since the inception of the franchise, he is a player who could bring offensive creativity to the mix.

Vigilante’s presence in the Preds organization should serve as testimony that perseverance is a quality professional hockey teams consider. While his arrival may be somewhat unconventional, he will have to maintain his commitment to make a serious impact in Nashville.

11. Greg Zanon, D
Height/Weight: 6’0, 211 lbs.
Free agent signee

Originally a draft pick by the Ottawa Senators, Zanon is in his third season in pro hockey, all with the Milwaukee Admirals. Captain of the team, he is an outspoken player who directs the defensive corps while on the back line. He has been paired mostly with Klein the last two seasons, but has seen time alongside rookie Weber this year. Zanon is a quality defensive partner and teacher. He is a very mature player for a 25-year-old.

Although not the most talented player, Zanon has a good work ethic and is responsible defensively. He leads the Admirals with a +14 plus/minus rating. Zanon has 23 points this season (6 goals, 17 assists) in 42 games. Three of his goals have come on the power play. Zanon is a very durable player, having played in all 80 regular season games, plus all seven of Milwaukee’s playoff games last season.

The Burnaby, British Columbia native made his NHL debut on Dec. 1 in a 2-1 win in Nashville over the Minnesota Wild. Zanon recorded an assist in that game, his only NHL point to date. He played two nights later against Philadelphia before being sent back down to Milwaukee. Zanon’s future is uncertain, although he has improved every year since making the jump to the pros.

12. Cal O’Reilly, C
Height/Weight: 5’11, 180
Drafted: 150th, 2005

A Toronto native, O’Reilly has actually been drafted twice, originally in 2002. The Predators made the 19-year-old their fifth round pick in 2005.

Viewed by Windsor Spitfire assistant coach Bill Bowler as a leader this season, O’Reilly is often the first player on the ice and the last to leave at practice. Blessed with offensive prowess, the veteran center employs great vision and is summoned to play in all situations. A noted playmaker, O’Reilly has scored 12 goals and 59 assists in 51 games this season. He plays one of the most disciplined games in the OHL with only six penalty minutes.

Upon his return from the Predators main training camp in mid-September, O’Reilly assumed his role as a passionate, hard-working player. His effort to share experiences from his professional training camp has demonstrated maturity and made him a respected leader among teammates. His work ethic is sure to keep the Preds attention.

13. Cody Franson, D
Height/Weight: 6’5, 205
Drafted: 79th, 2005

Franson continues to stand out, providing some welcome offensive output along a depleted blue line with the Vancouver Giants. With Mark Fistric (DAL) and Brendan Mikkelson (ANA) out for prolonged periods, Franson and Paul Albers have combined to lead the WHL in scoring as a defensive pairing. With 13 goals and 27 assists in 54 games, Franson is among the top five defensemen in WHL scoring.

Due to the injuries, Franson’s durability and composure are being seriously tested in the tough BC Division. He consistently plays 25 minutes per game, while enduring the physical punishment meted out by opponents who recognize the value of his on ice presence. He is reliable in his own end and often makes efficient first passes from behind his own blue line. He continues to shoot with accuracy and high velocity, consistently generating scoring chances at even strength and on the power play.

Franson, born in Salmon Arm, British Columbia, adds depth to the long-term strength on defense within the Nashville system. He was named the most improved player by the Vancouver Giants in 2004-05.

14. Lauris Darzins, RW
Height/Weight: 6’2, 185
Drafted: 268th, 2003

Darzins, a native of Latvia, is healthy now and contributing the offensive spark the Kelowna Rockets have been counting on. With nine goals and 15 assists in 27 games, Darzins near point per game pace is a welcome addition to a roster depleted early on by injuries.

As one of the club’s 20-year-olds, Darzins watched from the sidelines while nursing a surgically repaired shoulder. He provides the Rockets with tremendous versatility, playing the point on the power play with Alex Edler (VAN). At even strength, he plays alongside Blake Comeau (NYI).

At 15, Darzins left home to play junior hockey in Finland, overcoming the language barrier quickly. Upon his arrival in North America, the mature-beyond-his-years Darzins quickly fell into favor with Rockets management and fans. A confident and well-spoken gentleman, Darzins makes no bones about his intention to play in the NHL soon. He provides the Predators organization with a legitimate offensive threat for the future.

15. Ryan Maki, RW
Height: 6’3, Weight: 215
Drafted: 76th, 2005

Through 21 games this season, Maki has scored five goals and added five assists, which is consistent with his output over the previous two seasons at Harvard. He plays alongside Kevin Du and sophomore Mike Taylor.

His size and grit will always garner a serious look from scouting staff. As his NCAA career progresses, it will be important for Maki to embrace the adjustments required to assume a leadership role both on and off the ice. Since his arrival at Harvard, Maki has provided a physical presence for the Crimson. He is developing into a well-rounded player. Defensively, he has been consistently improving, but the power forward from Medford, New Jersey, will have to continue driving to the net, but with more frequency, intensity and finish. Maki, now 20, has improved his on-ice vision and anticipation.

16. Libor Pivko, LW
Height/ Weight: 6’3, 214 lbs.
Drafted: 89th, 2000

Pivko is having a breakout year in the AHL. Now in his third season in North America, all with the Milwaukee Admirals, Pivko is third overall in the AHL in assists with 38 and is second on the Admirals with 45 points, both career highs. Pivko has also increased his toughness. He has 43 penalty minutes in 40 games compared to 59 penalty minutes in 56 games a year ago in which he missed time due to a knee injury. The 25-year-old from Novy Vicin, Czech Republic is an impact player for Milwaukee. He is the power play quarterback and the team’s top penalty killer. He has three power play goals and a shorthanded goal.

Pivko is a very balanced player. His skating is on par with his shot, but he good both ways which has helped him to a +5 plus/minus rating. Pivko is good for more than a point per game in the AHL, leading to a selection to PlanetUSA for the 2006 AHL All-Star Classic. Pivko should have a legitimate shot at the NHL next season in a full time role. His only appearance in the NHL was on Nov. 24, 2003 in Colorado.

17. Kevin Schaeffer, D
Height/Weight: 6’1, 195
Drafted: 193rd, 2004

This season, Kevin Schaeffer has three goals and six assists through 25 games as a junior at Boston University. He and senior Dan Spang (SJ) make up the team’s top defensive unit.

Schaeffer logs plenty of ice time and plays on special teams. Known as more of a defensive player, the 21-year-old often plays against the opposing team’s top forwards. While this may limit opportunities to flourish offensively, Schaeffer can improve his professional career potential by developing more presence and polish around the opposing goal. He has made some strides this season in terms of electing to shoot the puck. He is credited with 53 shots on goal to date this season, 34 coming on the power play.

18. Vaclav Meidl, C
Height/Weight: 6’5, 225
Drafted: 81st, 2004

In his third season in the OHL, Meidl has found himself dealing with the harsh realities of the business of hockey. On Jan. 10, the long time Plymouth Whaler was traded to the Saginaw Spirit. In 30 games with Plymouth, Meidl chipped in with six goals and 17 points. With the Spirit so far he’s collected seven points in 10 games.

Meidl is huge, one of the biggest forwards in the OHL. He cracked the lineup for the Czech Republic at the WJC, where he picked up a goal and an assist during the tournament while playing on the right wing.

Meidl will have to become more assertive, demonstrating a willingness to utilize his size to create open ice for more offensively gifted teammates. Like many prospects, he can expect some latitude given his physical presence, but he will need to improve his foot speed. Meidl must convince the Predators he is capable of transforming his aggressive, lumbering style of play to fit the new NHL rules.

19. Patric Hornqvist, LW
Height/Weight: 5’11, 178 lbs.
Drafted: 230th, 2005

Hornqvist was selected by Nashville with their final pick at the 2005 NHL entry draft. A native of Sweden, Hornqvist is spending this season with Djurgardens IF Stockholm in the Swedish Elite League. Now 19, he played part of last season with Djurgardens’ junior team, Vasby of the Swedish 3rd league, as well as for Sweden at the U-18 World Championships.

Although he is still young, Hornqvist will have to add some weight to be able to compete in the NHL. Coming from Sweden where the game is mostly finesse, Hornqvist will have to learn how to play the North American game. He is a strong skater and plays well defensively. Hornqvist is not afraid to shoot the puck and is a versatile player who can be used in almost any situation. It is uncertain if or when Hornqvist will come to North America. He has not committed either way for next season.

20. Scott Todd, D
Height/Weight: 6’5, 223
Drafted: 213th, 2005

One of the OHL’s toughest rearguards, Todd has persevered through a nagging shoulder injury. In 36 games so far this season for the Windsor Spitfires, Todd has scored once and added three assists along with 125 penalty minutes.

Todd returned from the Predators’ training camp with increased confidence and an understanding of the commitment required to play at the next level. Given his size, he is able to cover lots of ice. Todd is often summoned to play against the opponents’ top lines. He is viewed by the coaching staff as a good teammate, a player who also has stabilized the Spitfires penalty killing.

As an enforcer in the modern day game, Todd will have to maintain a disciplined style and continue to develop his abilities to play in all situations. Although he was a late pick, his physical tools and leadership skills should earn him an opportunity to grow within the Nashville organization.

Greg Maker, Glen Erickson, DJ Powers and Ken McKenna contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.