Colin Wilson tops Nashville Predators deep pool of prospects

By Connor Jennings
Photo: Nashville Predators top prospect Colin Wilson will be expected to contribute in a big way for the Predators in 2010-11. (Photo Courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

The Predators have such a deep wealth of talent, it is nearly impossible to pick only 20 to rank. But these 20 exemplify what has quickly become the Predator way: hard work, all round talent, playing on all ends of the ice, and making few mistakes. Nashville may lack elite scorers or shutdown defensemen, but they have a tremendous wealth of all around players that should keep the team in the playoffs for years to come.

The latest additions to the top 20 include 2010 first-round draft pick Austin Watson, trade acquisition Matt Halischuk, and 2009 draftees Michael Latta, Craig Smith, and Gabriel Bourque.

Top 20 at a glance:

1. (2) Colin Wilson, C, 8.0B
2. (1) Jonathan Blum, D, 8.0B
3. (3) Cody Franson, D, 7.5B
4. (5) Charles-Olivier Roussel, D, 7.5C
5. (4) Chet Pickard, G, 7.5C
6. (11) Taylor Beck, LW, 7.0B
7. (NR) Austin Watson, RW, 7.5C
8. (7) Ryan Ellis, D, 7.5D
9. (10) Roman Josi, D, 7.0C
10. (6) Zach Budish, RW, 7.5C
11. (8) Cal O’Reilly, C, 7.0C
12. (NR) Matt Halischuk, RW, 6.5B
13. (15) Nick Spaling, LW, 6.0B
14. (14) Blake Geoffrion, LW, 6.5C
15. (NR) Michael Latta, C, 6.5C
16. (17) Andreas Thuresson, RW, 6.0C
17. (20) Mark Santorelli, RW, 6.5C
18. (NR) Craig Smith, C, 6.5C
19. (16) Anders Lindback, G, 6.5D
20. (NR) Gabriel Bourque, LW, 6.5C

1. (2) Colin Wilson, C, 20

Drafted 1st round, 7th overall, 2008

In the constant battle for the title of top Predator prospect, Colin Wilson has taken a narrow lead over Jon Blum. After starting the season slowly in the NHL, Wilson was reassigned to the AHL where he scored nearly a point per game pace, a performance that earned him another call up to Nashville. Offensively, he performed well enough with the Predators, scoring eight goals and 15 points in 35 games of somewhat limited action. At times though, it was obvious many aspects of his game needed an overall upgrade. He was poor in the faceoff circle from the onset of the season, and by the playoffs, was not lining up for them at all. Wilson was also frequently outmuscled along the boards.

As with all prospects, there was some question as to what Wilson could to at the AHL and NHL levels. While those questions have not been firmly put to rest, there is no longer any question Wilson is a forward with top six potential in the NHL.

Expect to see him make Nashville’s opening day roster and this time, stay in the NHL for good.

2. (1) Jonathan Blum, D, 21
Drafted 1st round, 23rd overall, 2007

Nashville’s 1B prospect (for now), Blum had an impressive rookie season in the AHL. In 81 games with the Admirals, Blum scored 11 goals and tacked on 30 assists. He also impressed in the playoffs, netting eight points in just seven games.

Blum, is a solid top-pairing defenseman who plays a fairly complete game. He should end up as a high quality NHL defender at some point, and could most likely handle NHL action in a limited role right now. However, playing for the defense rich Predators means he won’t get his real shot at starting until next year. For now, he can focus on becoming a better rounded defenseman in the AHL.

3. (3) Cody Franson, D, 23
Drafted 3rd round, 79th overall, 2005

Franson had an impressive rookie season, posting six goals and 15 assists in 61 contests for Nashville. He became the second defenseman in Nashville history to break the 20 point plateau in his first season, following the recently departed Dan Hamhuis. Along with his good puck-distribution ability, Franson also has great size at 6-5 and an enveloping wingspan. He is not considered a physical force in his own end however, preferring to tie opponents up rather than to lay them out.

The 23-year-old has already proven himself at the AHL level, and made a solid first impression in his initial taste of NHL action. There is a bit of a position battle going on at the back end of the Predator blue line, but Franson looks to have his starting spot locked down for the foreseeable future. He signed a two-year deal this summer, and will try to avoid a Ville Koistinen-esque flame-out.

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

Roussel had an impressive playoffs in 2008-2009, and carried that over into this past season. The former second round pick posted forward numbers while playing defense, with 15 goals and 51 points in 64 games. He had a less impressive playoff, scoring a lone point as the Cataractes were eliminated early. Hopefully, that trend will not continue as Roussel moves to the Montreal Juniors this upcoming season.

The young Canadian is similar to other Predator defenders in the sense that he has relatively few weaknesses, but Roussel can boast more offensive talent
than others. He is a raw talent, with a top tier ceiling, but could still use some years of polish as the defensive situation works its way out in Nashville.

5. (4) Chet Pickard, G, 20
Drafted 1st round, 18th overall, 2008

Pickard had a decent first season in Milwaukee, but failed to beat out the more experienced Mark Dekanich for the starting job. Pickard was 14-16-3, with a 2.85 goals against average and .892 save percentage, as opposed to the 27-16-4/2.33/.914 line of Dekanich.

However, the departure of Dan Ellis means Dekanich will most likely end up as the reserve goaltender behind Pekka Rinne, leaving Pickard as the de facto starter for the Admirals.

Pickard still has the talent to be a starting NHL goaltender, and will have to show more of that in his second season in Milwaukee. Despite his skill and pedigree, Pickard has little margin for error, as Anders Lindback, Jeremy Smith, and Atte Engren are all waiting for their shot at the job if Pickard slips up.

6. (11) Taylor Beck, LW, 19
Drafted 3rd round, 70th overall, 2009

Beck made one of the larger leaps in these rankings, powered by another season of vast improvement in the OHL. Last season, Beck had posted a 15 goal, 37 point improvement from the previous year. This year, he made another large jump, improving by 17 goals and 35 points, for a season total of 39 goals and 93 points in just his third OHL season. The 19-year-old also addressed another worrying statistic. Prior to this season, Beck had been held pointless in 11 career playoff games. That changed this season, as he netted six points in five games as the Storm were eliminated early.

Beck clearly has offensive ability, and has shown a willingness to drive to the net. The former third-rounder has been improving rapidly, and should end up being a top six NHL power forward.

7. (NR) Austin Watson, RW, 18
Drafted 1st round, 18th overall, 2010

In his second OHL season, Watson showed an improvement similar to that of Beck at that age. With his time split between two teams, the 18 year old Watson scored 20 goals and 54 points in 52 games. Watson also netted two goals in his four playoff games this season.

The first round pick is another prototypical Predator prospect, meaning he can do almost everything well, and has few weaknesses in his game. Watson also has a decent offensive arsenal, and should make his way to a top six forward slot in the NHL eventually.

However, he is raw, so he will need a little time before he makes the jump to the pros.

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

Ellis took a step back from his exceptional 2008-2009 season, though he still posted statistics that would put many forwards to shame. The 2009 first rounder scored 12 goals and added 49 assists in 48 games. He did manage to turn it on in the playoffs, just as he did last year, lighting up the opposition to the tune of 33 points in only 19 games.

The 19-year-old is clearly a very good offensive player, and has improved his play in his own zone. However, his problem is the same as ever: at 5-10 and 172 pounds, he could be too small for the NHL. However, he has shown he can handle the OHL quite well, and needs to move on to see how he handles the more physical AHL. He is very young and very skilled, so it will be interesting to see if his size is a limiting factor in the end or not.

9. (10) Roman Josi, D, 20
Drafted 2nd round, 38th overall, 2008

This past season, Josi continued to improve as he adjusted to the Swiss Nationalliga A. He went from 24 points in 42 games last season, to nine goals and 21 points in only 26 games this past season. He played fewer games due to the fact that he represented Switzerland in the Winter Olympics, battling through injury in order to do so.

The second rounder already has a lot of high-level playing experience, but needs to work on his overall size and hitting ability. He signed an entry-level contract over the summer and is expected to play in North America for the upcoming season.

10. (6) Zach Budish, RW, 19
Drafted 2nd round, 41st overall, 2009

Budish had an adequate season his freshman year at Minnesota. He wasn’t a primary scorer in the talent rich Minnesota program, but he put up decent numbers in a secondary role as a freshman. In 39 games, he scored seven goals and tacked on 10 assists.

The 19-year-old is a winger with power forward potential. He has good size at 6’3 223 pounds, soft hands and an offensively creative mind. With Minnesota forwards Tony Lucia (SJ) and Jordan Schroeder (VAN) going pro, Budish should see more opportunities to contribute offensively, particularly on the power play.

11. (8) Cal O’Reilly, C, 23

Drafted 5th round, 150th overall, 2005

O’Reilly again spent time in Nashville this past season, again failing to impress. He did well in Milwaukee, scoring 40 points in 35 games, but floundered in Nashville, with only two goals and nine assists in 31 games. He did not make the playoff squad for the Predators.

The 23-year-old is running out of opportunities to show he can hold down a job. He is a hard working player, a heart and soul type of guy with good leadership qualities and playmaking ability. However, that has failed to translate into success so far in his career. O’Reilly will be offered a job this upcoming season, and he needs to impress, because the deep Nashville farm system will not allow for many more opportunities.

12. (NR) Matt Halischuk, RW, 22
Acquired via trade with New Jersey, 2010

Halischuk came to Nashville, along with a second round pick, in a trade for Jason Arnott. He spent a small amount of time with the Devils last season, though he failed to impress in limited action. He has however shown he can perform at lower levels, with 22 points in 32 games with Lowell last year, and deserves another shot in the NHL.

The 22-year-old is a hard worker, but is always going to be limited by his lack of size and strength. He has the talent to be a solid player, and will get a shot to make the starting lineup in Nashville for the upcoming season.

13. (15) Nick Spaling, LW, 21
Drafted 2nd round, 58t
h overall, 2007

Spaling split his time between Milwaukee and Nashville last season, failing to impress in the latter. He netted 17 points in 48 games for Milwaukee, but an unimpressive three assists in 28 games in Nashville. He did stay with the team for the playoffs, however, failing to record a point.

The former second rounder has all the tools to be an effective two way player, but has yet to show it at the NHL level. He will get more chances to impress this year, and should stick in one of them. He may ever put up numbers or impress fans, but he will fill a role that every championship team needs filled.

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

Geoffrion needed to impress during his senior season at Wisconsin, and with a Hobey Baker award now in his trophy case, he certainly did. The 22-year-old increased his point totals from 28 as a junior, to 28 goals and 50 points during his senior season. He also played for Milwaukee during their playoff run, scoring two goals in three games with the club.

The recent graduate is a two-way forward who is very physical, and has enough offensive ability to eventually develop into a secondary scoring threat. For now though, he will probably showcase his talent in the AHL and wait for the Predators to call his number.

15. (NR) Michael Latta, C, 19
Drafted 3rd round, 72nd overall, 2009

Latta nearly doubled his production in every measurable stat last season. He played in 58 games, scoring 33 goals (up from 14 in the prior season), 40 assists (22), 73 points (36), and 157 penalty minutes (60). Finally healthy, Latta showed the production expected of him when Nashville made him a third round pick in 2009. Latta also appeared in a playoff game for Milwaukee, failing to record a point.

What Latta doesn’t have in height, he makes up for in heart. He is a gritty player, who competes in the corners, but also has good playmaking ability, similar to Cal O’Reilly.

16. (17) Andreas Thuresson, RW, 22
Drafted 5th round, 144th overall, 2007

Thuresson was yet another player to shuttle between Milwaukee and Nashville throughout the course of the season. He scored 14 goals with 19 assists in 50 games with Milwaukee, and amassed three points in 22 games with the Predators. He also showed a smart physical side in his brief NHL cup of coffee, amassing 42 hits and only four penalty minutes.

The 22-year-old falls into the same group of players as Spaling and O’Reilling in that he has some offensive skill in his arsenal, but is more effective as a two-way checking forward. Expect him to compete with the previously mentioned players

17. (20) Mark Santorelli, RW, 21
Drafted 4th round, 119th overall, 2007

Santorelli improved by leaps and bounds last season, but still had just an adequate season. In 68 games, he scored 11 goals and 24 points with the Admirals. He hasn’t quite shown the same scoring touch as he did in the WHL, but he is showing he has the potential to put up those same numbers.

The younger Santorelli has yet to live up to his brother in terms of production, but he has a similar skill set. Both have the ability to be offensive juggernauts, but are somewhat lacking in other areas. Mark needs more time in the AHL to show he can contribute on a consistent basis before he can think of earning a permanent spot in the NHL.

18. (NR) Craig Smith, C, 20
Drafted 4th round, 98th overall, 2009

Smith had a very impressive freshman season at Wisconsin, playing in 41 games, while totaling 8 goals and 33 points in the season. It was a rather unexpected performance from a player who wasn’t expected to be a force on a talented Badgers team.

The 20 year old is a very large, offensively gifted forward. He plays a physical game, camping in front of the net and creating chaos down low.

Smith put himself on the map with an impressive freshman year, if he continues that level of performance he could turn into a very nice surprise for Nashville.

19. (16) Anders Lindback, G, 22
Drafted 7th round, 207th overall, 2008

Lindback has been performing very well in Sweden, a trend that continued last season. He had a 2.46 goals against average with a .913 save percentage with Timra, similar to his performance the prior season with Brynas.

The 22-year-old is a very similar player to Pekka Rinne, a hybrid goalie with very good size. He has shown all he can in Sweden, and will move to North America for the upcoming season. He will compete with Mark Dekanich for the backup job in Nashville, but will most likely end up backing up Pickard in Milwaukee.

20. (NR) Gabriel Bourque, 19
Drafted 5th round, 132nd overall, 2009

Bourque has continued to produce at a very young age, following up his 61 point performance with a 16 goal, 52 point season last year, though it was split between Baie-Comeau and Moncton of the QMJHL.

The former fifth-rounder is very young, and very small, but that hasn’t stopped him from putting up good numbers so far in his career. He is a speedy, offensively gifted forward, with enough talent to score in the NHL, so long as his size allows it. He might not be the prototypical forward, but if he keeps producing, people will have to take notice of him.