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.
“He is arguably the best goalie in the world at his age.” Dont worry, Art Williams has not bought another NHL team. Thats just Nashville Predators GM David Poile describing his five-star goaltending prospect, Brian Finley.
The Preds rewarded Finley with a three-year contract worth just over $6 million and up to over $9 million on Wednesday, two hours before the junior player contract deadline expired. For the next three seasons Finley will make $512,500; $512,500 and $1.025 million. As part of the deal he also recieves a signing bonus worth $1.025 million. The rest of the deal includes several bonuses and performance clauses that make up the contract. The contract’s financial numbers are just over what Preds prospect David Legwand signed at the end of last season.
Finley is expected to back up Tomas Vokoun for about the first week of the season while number one goalie Mike Dunham works out to get back in shape after missing all of training camp over a contract squabble. After the week, Finley will be sent back to Barrie where he will resume his junior career.
What a difference a day makes. As of Monday morning, standout prospect Brian Finley had a legitimate chance to beat out Corey Hirsch for the backup goaltending job in Nashville and defenseman Richard Lintner was just settling in for another season with the Milwaukee Admirals of the IHL. By the end of the day, Finley was facing a certain trip back to the junior ranks, while Lintner had a return ticket to the Predators and a roster spot for the coming season.
Finley can only blame himself for the sudden turnaround in his status. It may have been his outstanding performance during the preseason that pressured veteran goaltender Mike Dunham into finally signing a new contract and thus eliminating the need for a backup goaltender behind would-be starter Tomas Vokoun. At the very least, Finley’s strong showing gave the Predators more leverage in negotiations. He capped the preseason by shutting out the Florida Panthers on 18 shots during a half-game outing in the final exhibition game. The impressive effort improved his preseason goals against average to 1.62 and his save percentage to .929. Despite those numbers, Finley will now be returned to the Barrie Colts of the OHL, where Nashville hopes he can continue to elevate his game.
The first three roster cuts are complete and the remaining Nashville Predators prospects are entering the most important weekend of their careers. Nashville plays three games in as many nights and the trio of contests will offer the final chance for most prospects to earn roster spots. Here is the second of two reports that will provide updates on all the notable prospects who have participated in the Predators rookie camp and NHL training camp …
Ed Hill (6)
During the Nashville rookie camp, Ed Hill showed that he has the basic tools to be a successful NHL defenseman. He has a solid all-around game and is a smooth skater with good passing ability. He does not have any glaring weaknesses, but he will need to step up his game in the near future. He will return to the Barrie Colts of the OHL this season, where he is a teammate of fellow Predators prospect Brian Finley. If Hill can raise the level of his game over the next couple of years, he could develop into a very good prospect.
Karlis Skrastins (6)