Minor-league affiliate for Nashville Predators loaded on defense and in goal

By Connor Jennings
Photo: Goaltender Chet Pickard has been something of a disappointment in his first season of professional play. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

For the first time in a few years, Milwaukee isn’t completely loaded with Nashville Predator prospects. As opposed to their usual glut of extremely talented players, the Admirals find themselves with only a moderate number of very talented players. Despite a number or graduations, Milwaukee fans needn’t worry, since the Predator pipeline is far from running dry, they only need to wait for the next wave to arrive from the junior level.

Jonathan Blum, D, 21

Top prospect Jonathon Blum seemed to have figured out the AHL in his rookie season last year. This year, there has been no regression. The young Blum has yet to look out of place among professionals through two seasons, and has shown he can do just about anything you could ask a defender to do. Blum, despite being surrounded by less talent, has put up a similar season to last year. He has four goals and 19 points in 35 games, putting him on pace to post similar totals. He has played a solid, intelligent game, and seems immune to pressure.

Teemu Laakso, D, 23

The Finnish defender has been having a solid season when he has been healthy enough to play. Just like the past two years, Laakso has spent much of the year banged up, and has missed some games. However he is on pace for a career high in games played, and has already tied his career high in points with 13. Laakso is getting old for the AHL level, and his problems are the same as ever. Teemu has the talent to play in the NHL, but just can’t seem to stay healthy.

Roman Josi, D, 20

The young Swiss defenseman has impressed in his first North American season. The experienced blueliner has shown his polish and poise this season, despite being younger than most other players on the ice. He has been scoring at a decent clip as well, with 13 points through 29 games this season. Josi is very young, but is already a very complete player. The impressive defender has convinced some that he can handle anything you throw at him, and may be able to handle the rigors of the NHL right now. However, he will most likely spend a couple years starring in Milwaukee, since the Predators aren’t exactly combing the streets for defensemen.

Linus Klasen, LW, 24

Milwaukee’s high profile European import started his season off with a bang, and kept his momentum going throughout this season. After spending three very good years in the Swedish Elite League, Klasen came to North America, and immediately led the Admirals in scoring. He has almost a point per game while with Milwaukee, scoring 15 goals and 27 points in 29 games this season. The impressive performance earned him a trip to the music city, though he has yet to record a point in four games of limited action. An extremely talented all around player, it’s only a matter of time before Klasen finds his scoring touch in the NHL. If he sticks in the NHL, Milwaukee is going to need to find someone to patch the massive offensive hole left by the departures of Klasen and Mueller.

Chet Pickard, G, 21

The highly regarded Pickard has seriously disappointed this season. Due to Mark Dekanich playing out of his mind this year, Pickard only got a few starts at the beginning of the season. In four games, Pickard gave up goal totals of three, three, two, and four, for a 3.47 goals against average, .885 save percentage, and a demotion to Cincinnati. The change didn’t help much. Pickard put up a 3.22 goals against average with a .888 save percentage to go with an absolutely woeful 1-5-2 record. Pickard played slightly better in a December call up, giving up 0, 3, and 3 goals for a 2.29 goals against average and a .919 save percentage. Still, Pickard has been a major disappointment this season. He can’t seem to stop the puck low, and hasn’t been able to cover his five-hole all season. Pickard has the talent but is clearly shaken. He needs to bounce back, or he will get jumped quickly by Nashville’s other goaltending prospects.

Jeremy Smith, G, 21

As for the guy competing with Pickard, Jeremy Smith hasn’t exactly impressed during his opportunity. After spending last year in Cincinnati behind two seemingly better prospects, Smith got an opportunity to back up Mark Dekanich when Pickard was sent to the ECHL. In ten games with Milwaukee, Smith is 5-4 with a 3.09 goals against average and a .901 save percentage. Nobody is going to get much playing time behind Mark Dekanich with how he has been playing, but Smith needs to perform well in order to beat out the higher draft pick Pickard, and darkhorse Atte Engren for next year.

Mark Dekanich, G, 24

Coming off of his worst professional season (a paltry 2.33 goals against average and .914 save percentage), Dekanich has been absolutely spectacular in net for the Admirals. The fifth rounder has put up a 13-5-3 record, with a 1.85 goals against average and a sterling .934 save percentage. Dekanich has only given up four or more goals in two games, and has only had four games with a save percentage less than .900. To counter those few poor games, he also has three shutouts this year. Dekanich lost the battle for the backup job in Nashville, but has clearly proven he can dominate the AHL. If the Predators don’t add him to the NHL club soon the way he’s been performing, someone else will.

Andreas Thuresson, RW, 23

Thuresson is one of the higher scoring players for the Admirals, though that speaks more to a lack of top flight scorers than the play of Thuresson. The Swedish winger is having a worse year than his last, since he has only three goals and 14 points through 36 games. He hasn’t scored a goal since October 24, and has only two total points in the month of December. Thuresson is not the type of prospect that’s going to be handed anything on the NHL team, and hasn’t done anything this season to raise his profile.

Matt Halischuk, RW, 22

A summer acquisition, Halischuk has struggled to stay on the ice. He’s been bothered with injuries all season, but has been one of the Admirals best scorers when healthy. The undersized wing has seven goals and 13 points in 23 games this year. It’s possible Halischu
k would have gotten the NHL call instead of the less experienced Linus Klasen and Chris Mueller, had he been healthy.

The gifted prospect will need to remain healthy this season as the Admirals need his offensive abilities.

Mark Santorelli, LW, 22

While his brother Mike has lit the lamp 10 times in his first 30 games with the Florida Panthers, Mark continues to toil in Milwaukee. Santorelli is slowly improving his point totals this season, as he seems to do every year. He has seven goals and 13 points through 31 games this year. He is on pace to improve slightly from his totals of 11 goals and 24 points from last season. Santorelli has been improving, however, he is not progressing at a pace that suggests he will see extended time in the NHL anytime soon.

Blake Geoffrion, C, 22

Another player who has seen his season cut short by injuries, Geoffrion is having a solid rookie season for Milwaukee. He has three goals and 12 points in 24 games this season, and has picked up his play recently after missing most of November. The Wisconsin graduate is certainly talented enough to produce in the pros like he did in college, it’s just a matter of adjusting to the league. With time, Geoffrion will be one of the top scorers on the Admirals, provided he doesn’t get called up before then.

Gabriel Bourque, LW, 20

Another rookie, and very young player, Gabriel Bourque is having a decent season for someone reaching the pro ranks for the first time. He has four goals and 10 points in 36 game this season, but has picked his play up lately, with two of his goals and four points in December. Since the main criticism of Bourque is his size, the learning curve at each level is expected to be steep, considering players get bigger and stronger at each level. Due to that, there is little reason for concern that Bourque hasn’t lit the world on fire in his first professional season. If he continues not producing, it could be a problem, but he still has a few years to show he can figure out this new level of competition.

Ryan Thang, LW, 23

Always considered a defensive forward, Thang showed a bit of scorer’s touch last year, with three goals and six points in 12 games. That has all but disappeared this year, since he has only four goals and 11 points in 34 games. He does however have a plus-six rating, which is second among Milwaukee forwards.

Ryan Flynn, RW, 22

A similar player to Thang, Flynn has been miserable on the offensive end this year. The Minnesota product couldn’t score very much while in college, and that has not improved during his first full season with Milwaukee. He has only a single point, an assist, in his 21 games with Milwaukee. His only point came in mid November, so it’s been more than a month since he chipped in on the offensive end. This is a player who had only two goals and eight assists during his senior season in Minnesota. At this point, it doesn’t look like he has the offensive ability to make it in professional hockey. He plays defense like a defender, but, unfortunately, he also plays offense like a defender. His numbers are unacceptable, he will need to improve vastly if he is ever going to have a professional career.