Many NHL teams struggle to convince their European prospects to come and play junior or minor league hockey in North America, but three Nashville Predators prospects are making a strong case for that traditional path to the NHL. Jonas Andersson, Martin Erat and Konstantin Panov have had explosive starts to the 1999-2000 season in the CHL and their success in the North American game may put them years ahead of their European counterparts who choose to stay home and develop.
Andersson, a 6’2″ 189-pound Swedish winger, was a surprise second round draft pick this summer, but the Predators were convinced that he was an excellent prospect. Perhaps the biggest factor in his selection was his pre-draft interview with general manager David Poile, in which he expressed his dedication to an NHL career and his willingness to play junior hockey in North America. After an oustanding rookie camp, Nashville assigned Andersson to the North Bay Centennials of the OHL, where he is already tied for the league lead in rookie scoring and is the top offensive player on his team. Through the first two weekends of the season, Andersson has five goals, four assists and nine points in just five games.
Erat is an undersized Czech Republic winger who was selected in the seventh round of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft and he has made an equally impressive impact in the junior ranks. In his first six games with the Saksatoon Blades of the WHL, he has four goals and three assists for seven points, which is good for second in the league in rookie scoring. Erat is only 5’9″, but if he can develop into a dominant scorer, he might overcome his size disadvantage and have a chance at an NHL career.
Panov already has experience in North America, after playing all of last season with the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL. The Russian right wing was selected by the Predators in the fifth round of the 1999 draft, after scoring 33 goals and adding 30 assists in his rookie season with the Blazers. After only two weeks of the new WHL season, Panov appears set for a breakthrough year. He has a league-leading eight goals and three assists in just five games for Kamploops. At 5’11″, Panov lacks the size that NHL teams love, but if he continues to score at his current pace, nothing may be able to hold him back.
All three of these prospects have clearly taken advantage of their opportunities and are proving they can excel in the North American game. They will also benefit from the increased visibility they have as players in the junior ranks. With more scouts watching them and more opportunities for Poile to see them in person, they have a better chance to move up the organizational rankings and challenge for NHL jobs in the near future.