In Nashville this season, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber provided a sign of things to come for an NHL club deep in prospects along the blue line. No other rookies had as significant an impact. In total, four rookies spent time with the team, three defensemen and one goaltender.
Ryan Suter, D
1st round, seventh overall, 2003
Suter was given the nod from Day 1 by the Predators this season and has proven himself worthy of the team’s confidence. Any questions regarding his durability have been answered as the rookie defenseman appeared in 71 games. The native of Madison, Wisconsin scored one goal and 15 assists in his first professional season.
The Predators have high expectations for Suter, but will have to be patient as he works through the challenges of learning a difficult position. The season played in Milwaukee during the NHL lockout season enabled Suter to gain confidence and a sense of the physical requirements at the pro level after coming from the University of Wisconsin. He’s been partnered for the most part in Nashville with Dan Hamuis, another key defenseman with the current edition of the Predators.
The physical rigors associated with keeping the front of the Preds net clear of opposing forwards will require the 6’1, 190-pound Suter to continue building strength. Over time, it will help if he can bring a more nasty presence to the defending zone. The arrival of veteran rearguard Brendan Witt at the trading deadline will enable Suter and many of the team’s young prospects to observe the positive effects of courage, determination and a bit of a mean streak.
As Suter continues to develop and mature, it is hoped he can elevate his offensive skills. He is mobile and a good puck carrier, which should hold him in good stead given the new NHL rules. His leadership skills are evident as he captained the 2005 United States team at the World Junior Championship. Suter may one day become an important team leader at the NHL level. For the time being, the 21-year-old will be content to learn by observing the work ethic of the veterans around him.
Shea Weber, D
2nd round, 49th overall, 2003
Following the Olympic break in February, Weber received the news that he would be remaining with the Predators for the balance of the regular season. His play has verified the decision made by Nashville brass as the 20-year-old has brought a combination of grit and offensive skill to the Preds blue line corps.
Through the first half of the season, Weber found himself riding the yoyo between the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals and the Predators. All told, he played 46 games with the Admirals, posting 12 goals, 15 assists and 49 penalty minutes. In 28 NHL games with Nashville, Weber picked up 2 goals, 10 points and 42 penalty minutes.
A native of Sicamous, British Columbia, Weber was viewed as a team leader with Kelowna Rockets of the WHL. He has had experience in the Memorial Cup and at the national team level. Weber’s stint with the Milwaukee Admirals demonstrated to the Predators that he was willing to bring a physical presence to the ice, even as a rookie.
Like any first-year player, appearing in the NHL playoffs will help Weber to get a taste of the preparation and intensity required to excel at the pro level. The 6’3, 210-pounder has a knack for getting pucks through to the net and has the ability to recognize when to vary the velocity of his shot. He is willing to play mean when required and possesses tremendous mobility.
As is the case with many young defenseman, they learn best through playing in as many different situations as possible. Weber has been given plenty of minutes in his rookie season, but look for Predators management to bring their young defensive corps of prospects along slowly. The club is very deep along the blue line, an area they can look to for stability now and for some time as long as players like Weber continue to build confidence.
Greg Zanon, D
Signed as Free Agent
By AHL standards, Zanon is a reliable veteran. At the NHL level, he is still considered a rookie. Picked up by the Predators as a free agent, Zanon may be destined to become the “Crash Davis” (the central character of the baseball movie, ‘Bull Durham’) of the AHL. He has been paired with Weber in Milwaukee as well as Kevin Klein, an OHL graduate.
The native of Burnaby, BC, Zanon appeared in four games this season and registered two assists. In Milwaukee, he played 71 games, scoring eight goals and 35 points along with 55 penalty minutes.
Zanon is known within the organization and the AHL as a mature player with a tremendous work ethic. At 25 years of age, aspirations of a lengthy career at the NHL level may be difficult for him to realize. However, he stands to be an extremely valuable professional.
Pekka Rinne, G
8th round, 258th overall, 2004
Time will tell whether or not Rinne’s spot duty in Nashville this season has had a lasting effect. One of the challenges facing any rookie player is making the absolute best of any opportunity to showcase their abilities. The native of Kempele, Finland appeared in only two NHL games this season, although he is currently the Preds backup in the playoff round against the San Jose Sharks.
Statistically, Rinne was average at best for the Predators. He faced 40 shots and made 36 saves, posting a 3.81 GAA and a .900 save percentage. He did, however, earn the victory in his only start, a victory over Chicago.
At 6’3, 195 pounds, the 23-year-old Rinne is a big, mobile target. In 51 games with Milwaukee, Rinne had 30 wins, 18 losses and two overtime shootout losses. He posted a 2.82 goals GAA and a .904 save percentage. The pinnacle of Rinne’s AHL career to date has to be earning the start in goal for the PlanetUSA team at the 2006 AHL All-Star Game.
In the short term, Rinne will be in tough behind Tomas Vokoun and playoff starter Chris Mason. He’s getting a taste of NHL playoff action and adds depth among prospects playing in North America and will be close by to answer the call when the Preds require insurance between the pipes.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.