Predators Top 20 prospects, Spring 2010

By Connor Jennings

The Nashville organization continues to build around high-quality defensemen, with five of their top ten prospects manning the blue line.

Top 20 at a glance

1. (3) Jon Blum 8.0C
2. (1) Colin Wilson 8.0C
3. (5) Cody Franson 7.5B
4. (2) Chet Pickard 7.5C
5. (7) Charles-Olivier Roussel 7.5C
6. (6) Zach Budish 7.5C
7. (4) Ryan Ellis 7.5D
8. (8) Cal O’Reilly 7.0C
9. (12) Mike Santorelli 7.0D
10. (9) Roman Josi 7.0D
11. (13) Taylor Beck 7.0D
12. (14) Alexander Sulzer 6.5C
13. (10) Mark Dekanich 6.5C
14. (15) Blake Geoffrion 6.5C
15. (11) Nick Spaling 6.0B
16. (17) Anders Lindback 7.0D
17. (-) Andreas Thuresson 6.0C
18. (16) Ryan Thang 6.0C
19. (-) Robert Dietrich 6.0C 
20. (-) Mark Santorelli 6.5D

1. (3) Jon Blum, D, 21
Acquired 1st round, 23rd overall, 2007

In his first AHL season, Blum has shown he has the ability of a first pairing defender. The 21-year-old has played in all 57 games for the Milwaukee Admirals this season, scoring five goals and 21 assists. The reigning CHL defenseman of the year has helped guide Milwaukee to a 31-20-1-5 record.

Blum is an offensive defenseman with incredible skating ability. But he has more than held is own on both ends of the ice. The only question marks surrounding him in the past have been his size and strength, something he has been working on this season. His NHL-caliber mobility and presence, combined with a growing strength and toughness, show why Blum should have a long career on an NHL blue line.

2. (1) Colin Wilson, C, 19
Acquired 1st round, 7th overall, 2008

Wilson has struggled with injuries in his first year of professional hockey, and hasn’t had the impact some expected. Wilson made the NHL team out of camp, but struggled with a groin injury and was sent to Milwaukee after 10 games and two points. Wilson also struggled at first with the Admirals with only five points in his first 15 games, but he picked it up during the months of January and February with nine goals and 24 points in 19 games. That earned Wilson a return trip to the NHL, where he has since posted a goal and an assist in four games.

Wilson has relatively few weaknesses. He has size, strength, skill, and hockey sense, as long as he stays away from injury he should be a productive NHL player.

3. (5) Cody Franson, D, 22
Acquired 3rd round, 79th overall, 2005

Franson has shown very good ability in the NHL this season. He played all of five games with the Admirals before being called up to the big club. Franson has stuck with the Predators since then, scoring five goals and adding 11 assists in 43 games.

Franson has all the size needed for an NHL defenseman at 6’5, 214 pounds, but he also has the skating and offensive ability generally seen in much smaller players. Franson also has a hard slap shot that he gets off as quick as a wrist shot. Franson is a near lock to stay right where he is in the NHL for a very long time.

4. (2) Chet Pickard, G, 19
Acquired 1st round, 18th overall, 2008

Pickard turned pro this season, after a stellar WHL career. Splitting time with Mark Dekanich, Pickard has posted a 14-11-2 record, to go along with a 2.71 goals against average and .897 save percentage. The two-time WHL goaltender of the year is having an up and down season overall, with months where he had a 3.52 GAA (January), and a 1.66 GAA (November).

Pickard is very strong in the mental aspect of the game. He has all the ability of a starting NHL netminder, but needs to adjust to the faster pace of the professional game. The former first rounder should continue to steal starts away from Dekanich, and should soon win the starting job for the Admirals.

5. (7) Charles-Olivier Roussel, D, 18
Acquired 2nd round, 42nd overall, 2009

Roussel showed vast improvement last season, and has only continued this season. His numbers from the blue line look like those of a playmaking forward. The second-round pick has carried momentum from his spectacular playoff last season (18 points in 21 games) into this season, with 14 goals and 34 assists in 57 games for the Shawinigan Cataractes of the QMJHL.

The 18-year-old is a long way from the NHL, especially with the glut of young defensemen Nashville has at or near the NHL level, but he still has a bright future ahead of him. Roussel can fulfill any role, but excels offensively. However, being the youngest player in the organization means he has plenty of time to polish his game.

6. (6) Zach Budish, RW, 18
Acquired 2nd round, 41st overall, 2009

Budish has had an adequate freshman season for Minnesota, but most importantly he proved he has recovered fully from his ACL tear that forced him to miss an entire season. He has posted seven goals and eight assists in 30 games for the Golden Gophers.

Budish is a complete player, with the size, strength, and speed needed to be an effective power forward at the NHL level. He was considered a boom or bust type of pick going into the draft, and is definitely headed in the "boom" direction.

7. (4) Ryan Ellis, D, 19
Acquired 1st round, 11th overall, 2009

Ellis hasn’t been quite as good as his stellar season in 2008-09, but he still puts up the type of points one would expect from a forward. Last season he put up a staggering 22 goals and 89 points in only 57 games. This season Ellis has posted nine goals and 48 points in 40 games, well off last year’s pace. But Ellis will likely have another year to try to break the OHL scoring records for defensemen.

Ellis has all the offensive ability a defender could ever need and then some, but he still would be very small for an NHL defenseman. He has an outstanding shot, is dynamic on the power play, and most importantly is very solid defensively, but being only 5’9, 183, the odds are against him. The first rounder could be an effective player if he adds some strength to his frame.

8. (8) Cal O’Reilly, C, 23
Acquired 5th round, 150th overall, 2005

O’Reilly has spent the season bouncing between Milwaukee and Nashville. He began the season with Milwaukee, scoring seven points in only three games. This earned him a call-up to the Predators, one in which he was scoreless in six games. He continued to be successful with the Admirals, scoring nine goals with 31 assists in 35 total games there. With two more trips to Nashville in between, O’Reilly finally stuck at the NHL level in late January, and has five points in 10 games since. His NHL totals are two goals, seven assists, and nine points in 23 games with Nashville.

The fifth rounder has excellent vision. He has shown a strong scoring touch in the minors, and has recently showed the same abilities with the Predators. He may never be a star, but O’Reilly is a good complementary player.

9. (12) Mike Santorelli, C, 24
Acquired 6th round, 178th overall, 2004

Mike Santorelli has been having another strong AHL season, and another lackluster NHL one. This season has been similar to last season for Santorelli, a season in which he scored at the AHL level (27 goals, 43 assists in 70 games), but couldn’t find his scoring touch with the Predators (no points in seven games). This year he opened with the Predators, spending 25 games there, but he only came up with two goals and an assist. However, in Milwaukee he posted 19 goals and added 13 assists in 33 games.

Santorelli has clearly shown he has the ability to score in the AHL. However, his scoring abilities are already well known, and he must continue to work on the other facets of his game if he is to stick in the NHL. He needs to share the puck, and continue to work in the weight room, to go along with his already magnificent hands and scoring touch. If he does, Santorelli could be a scoring-line winger with the Predators.

10. (9) Roman Josi, D, 19
Acquired 2nd round, 38th overall, 2008

Josi has continued to play with the Swiss team SC Bern, with 20 points in 24 games, but is also representing Switzerland in the 2010 Winter Olympics. Josi dealt with a broken finger earlier in the year, putting his Olympic status in serious doubt. He healed in time however, and is looking to help solidify the Swiss defense.

Josi is seen as one of the most complete players to come out of Switzerland in recent memory. Josi does it all, and has the polish to carry his game to the NHL, but his forte is on the offensive end. He has a booming shot, deceptive speed, and good defensive positioning, but he could use a bit more time in the weight room. If he adds strength, Josi is on the fast track to being a quality NHL player, as long as he doesn’t get clogged in the Nashville defensive pipeline.

11. (13) Taylor Beck, LW, 18
Acquired 3rd round, 70th overall, 2009

Beck is having a breakout season this year with the Guleph Storm of the OHL. In 67 games last year, he managed 58 points, but this year Beck has already scored 29 goals and 77 points in only 52 games.

Beck made another huge jump in his progression this season, and is well on his way to becoming an NHL power forward. He has good size for a winger, and has already demonstrated his good hands and scoring touch, but can still work on his skating.

12. (14) Alexander Sulzer, D, 25
Acquired 3rd round, 92nd overall, 2003

Sulzer is another player who has split time between Milwaukee and Nashville during the 2010 season. He has been strong with the Admirals, with four goals and 15 assists in 19 games. He has also been with the Predators multiple times this season, most recently called up in the wake of the injury to Franson, and has played in 19 games, with two points. The defender is also representing Germany in the Olympics.

Sulzer is strong physically, along with being strong on both ends of the ice. He will never be a household name, but Sulzer should be a solid blueliner on any club.

13. (10) Mark Dekanich, G, 23
Acquired 5th round, 146th overall, 2006

Dekanich hasn’t been able to repeat his stellar year last year, though his play has still been strong. Dekanich had a 2.09 GAA and .923 save percentage in 2008-09, but this season has a 17-10-3 record, 2.46 GAA, and .904 save percentage. Dekanich has played well, but maybe not well enough to fend off the younger Pickard.

Dekanich has all the necessary tools: he’s big and incredibly athletic. But he needs to put it together with confidence. He still has plenty of ability and potential, but needs to do it soon.

14. (15 ) Blake Geoffrion, LW, 22
Acquired 2nd round, 56th overall, 2006

Geoffrion is showing all-around improvement in his senior year at Wisconsin. Geoffrion has always had quite the pedigree, but this season he seems to be playing up to his name. The second rounder has finally broken both the 30-point and 20-goal plateaus this season, with 21 goals and 35 points in only 28 games with the Badgers.

Geoffrion is a very physical forward, excelling both in front of the net and in his own defensive zone. He also has a hard shot and good skating ability, especially for his size. Geoffrion is a very strong two-way forward who should have no problem as at least a third-line NHL wing in a few years.

15. (11) Nick Spaling, C, 21
Acquired 2nd round, 58th overall, 2007

Spaling is a solid, unspectacular player having a solid, unspectacular season. Last year, Spaling had 35 points in 79 games with Milwaukee, while this year he has nine points in 34 games with Milwaukee and three points in 21 games with Nashville. But points are not where his value lies. Spaling is the type of player every hockey team needs — a strong defensive forward, perfectly suited for the third or fourth line. He combines average size with solid defense. Spaling will likely never get the respect he deserves, but he will fill a necessary role in the NHL for a long time.

16. (17) Anders Lindback, G, 21
Acquired 7th round, 207th overall, 2008

Lindback is having another quality season in the Elitserien. His numbers this season (2.54 GAA, .909 SV%) with Timra are similar to those he had last season (2.57 GAA, .916 SV%) with Brynas. But he is now a clear starter. Lindback has been strong both in regular season play and international tournaments.

Lindback is tall at 6’6, 198, but he also has a deceptive speed. With the goaltending prospects Nashville already has, Lindback is going to have to really show something special to get a chance. At only 21, so time is on his side.

17. (-) Andreas Thuresson, RW, 22
Acquired 5th round, 144th overall, 2007

Another player who has spent much of his season traveling, Thuresson is having a solid season split between the Predators and Admirals. He has spent 29 games with the Admirals, scoring seven goals and adding nine assists, and has spent 22 games with the Predators, scoring a goal and adding two assists. Thuresson has done well in most regards.

Thuresson has already established himself as a strong two-way forward with some goal-scoring ability. He has produced offensively to an extent in the minors, but will most likely find himself on a fourth line or checking line with the Predators.

18. (16) Ryan Thang, LW, 22
Acquired 3rd round, 81st overall, 2007

Thang’s offensive numbers have trended downward over his college career, but Thang has strengthened his game in other aspects.

Offense is not Thang’s game, he’s more of a checking-line forward. The Notre Dame captain has shown a tremendous work ethic, and is very strong in his own end. He has very good puck-handling and leadership, to go with his strong defensive abilities. He will turn pro when this season is over.

19. (-) Robert Dietrich, D, 23
Acquired 6th round, 174th overall, 2007

Dietrich never put up the greatest numbers while playing in Germany, but his numbers have improved since coming to the AHL. He had 19 points in 63 games in his first season with Milwaukee last year, and has improved to 29 points in only 56 games this season.

Dietrich has established himself as a strong offensive defenseman who is at least passable in his own end. Though he is older, he hasn’t been playing North American hockey for very long, and has shown good improvement since his arrival. Dietrich needs to improve as a defender if he is to make it to the NHL, but he has already demonstrated the offensive ability to make it as a power-play specialist, if nothing else.

20. (-) Mark Santorelli, LW, 21
Acquired 4th round, 119th overall, 2007

Mark Santorelli has not yet shown the tremendous offensive talent of his brother, but he is progressing nicely in his second professional season. He scored only seven points last season in 53 games with the Admirals, but has nearly tripled that total this year, with 10 goals and 20 points in 51 games. Santorelli has shown a scoring touch in other leagues, and is just now starting to translate that into the pro game, but he has some potential if he continues to progress.

Even if Santorelli can transition his offensive potential into the pro game, he will need to work on more than just that. Similar to his brother Mike, Mark’s defensive game needs work, as does his skating. He has decent size, but needs to gain strength.