Depth chart for Nashville Predators brimming with talent at all positions

By Connor Jennings
Photo: Forward Austin Watson has 31 goals and 30 assists through 63 games Peterborough. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

Despite the graduations of several key players, the Nashville system has stayed as solid as ever. It has been boosted by quality performances from a number of prospects, despite a few poor performances from highly ranked players.

1. (1) Jonathan Blum, D, 8.0B
Acquired: 1st round, 23rd overall, 2007

After a solid rookie campaign, Blum was having a quality season with Milwaukee before getting his first call to the NHL. In 54 games with Milwaukee, Blum had posted eight goals and 26 assists, good for third on the team in points.

This performance gave the Predators the flexibility to trade away Alexander Sulzer, giving Blum his first taste of NHL action. He has played in seven games with Nashville so far, scoring one goal while playing in the second and third defensive pairings.

Blum has looked fantastic so far in his short time in the NHL, and has added another name to Nashville’s impressive stable of young players. Blum should stick in the NHL, and help lock down the Predator blue line for years to come.

2. (4) Taylor Beck, LW, 7.5C
Acquired: 3rd round, 70th overall, 2009

Beck almost shocked the world by making the Predators’ roster out of camp. Almost. In the end, Beck’s performance wasn’t enough to overcome a team that rarely calls a player up directly from juniors.

Nonetheless, Beck is having an excellent follow-up campaign to his breakout 2009-10 season. In 58 games so far this season, the former third-rounder has scored 40 goals and posted 90 total points. His season puts him in sixth for the overall points lead in the OHL, and seventh for goals. This performance, combined with finishing fourth in overall scoring last season, shows Beck is clearly ready for a higher level of competition.

3. (6) Ryan Ellis, D, 7.5C
Acquired: 1st round, 11th overall, 2009

Ellis had somewhat of a "down" year last season, if you call 61 points in 48 games as a defenseman "down". However, this season, Ellis has returned to putting up top forward numbers, as opposed to just average forward numbers. The Spitfires defenseman has 21 goals and 91 points in 53 games so far this year. Those numbers put him fourth in the league, just ahead of fellow Nashville prospect Taylor Beck.

Despite the gaudy stat line, the former first rounder has the same question as ever following him about: Is he big enough? At a diminutive 5’10, 179 lbs, Ellis has a long way to go in terms of building NHL level muscle. His defensive technique is passable for professional hockey, but the question will always be whether he can survive at that size. Right now, at 179 lbs, the answer is no. Luckily, the 20-year-old has a few years before he needs to try to break the NHL barrier.

4. (5) Austin Watson, RW, 7.5C
Acquired: 1st round, 18th overall, 2010

Nashville’s latest first round selection is having a good season, albeit on a poor Peterborough team. Watson has graced the 31 goal plateau in his first full season with the Petes, with 31 goals and 61 points in 63 games, good for second on the team in scoring.

Watson has not had the best season of prospects on this list, but it is made more impressive when his youth is factored in, as well as the general lack of talent around him. He is still a high ceiling prospect. And while he may not have the numbers of a Beck or an Ellis, yet, Watson still has plenty of development time before reaching the NHL level.

5. (7) Roman Josi, D, 7.0C
Acquired: 2nd round, 38th overall, 2008

A long time Swiss standout, Josi is in his first season of North American hockey this year in Milwaukee. So far, he has been nothing short of impressive. The young defenseman currently ranks second among Admiral defenseman in points, behind only top prospect Jon Blum.

Josi has six goals and 30 points through 52 games this season, placing him fifth on the team in points. The second rounder is a little on the small side, but he is only 20, and has excelled in his first taste of North American action. With Blum gone, Josi should take over as a top pairing defenseman for Milwaukee. He will need to spend a few more seasons adding bulk to be able to handle the rigors of the NHL, but he appears to be well on his way to a successful NHL career.

6. (2) Charles-Olivier Roussel, D, 7.0C
Acquired: 2nd round, 42nd overall, 2009

Roussel is having a down year from last season. In his first year with the Montreal Juniors, the blueliner has seen a large drop off in his statistical production. The second round pick has scored only four goals and 22 assists in 52 games this season, a significant decrease from the 15 goals and 36 assists he had last year.

However, the question is how much of the down year is actual regression, and how much is playing on a new, lesser team. Roussel is 19 years old, he has years ahead of him. This year certainly won’t kill his standing as a prospect, but he’s going to need to show that this year was, in fact, a fluke.

7. (10) Blake Geoffrion, RW, 7.0B
Acquired: 2nd round, 56th overall, 2006

With the graduation of several prospects to the NHL, there was a rather large offensive void left in Milwaukee this season. Geoffrion, along with fellow newcomer Linus Klasen, has helped fill that void admirably. Fresh off of an impressive senior season at Wisconsin, Geoffrion picked off right where he left off when he got to Milwaukee. In 45 games this season, he has scored 11 goals and 37 points, good for second on the team in scoring.

Scoring at nearly a point a game is an impressive performance for any AHL rookie, and it earned him a call to the injury riddled Predators. He has done well in limited action so far, playing in five games and scoring twice. This move makes Blake the fifth member of his family to reach the NHL ranks. He has the bloodlines, with two Hall of Fame players in the family, and the talent to be a fulltime NHLer, it’s just a matter of continuing the success he has so far had in professional hockey.

8. (8) Zach Budish, RW, 7.5D
Acquired: 2nd round, 41st overall, 2009

Budish continues to be a difficult prospect to evaluate. The former second round pick has immense talent, but cannot seem to stay on the ice. He was coming off of a serious knee injury entering the draft, which is why he fell to the second round, and this year he managed to injure the other knee. Budish crashed his moped and tore his ACL, knocking him out for the season.

Budish barely had time for the season to start before he got injured, though he did well in the seven games he played, scoring twice with four assists. He has vast potential, he had a solid freshman year and is absolutely massive for his age, weighing in at 6’3 220lbs at age 20. However, if he is ever going to develop the way he could, he’s going to have to stay on the ice.

9. (11) Michael Latta, C, 7.0C
Acquired: 3rd round, 72nd overall, 2009

Yet another prospect on the OHL‘s top scorer list, Michael Latta has sustained his success after his breakout year the previous season. Playing alongside fellow prospect Taylor Beck, the two have formed one of the most potent duos in the OHL, despite playing on a team that finished eighth in the conference.

Latta has played in 63 games this season, posting 33 goals and 84 total points. The 19-year-old also leads the team with 151 penalty minutes. He has shown an immense drive in improving as a hockey player, and while he may not be as talented as others, he could be able to carve a role in professional hockey. Latta has the added benefit of having minimal pressure on him, considering he is a lesser known prospect in the organization.

10. (15) Anders Lindback, G, 6.5B
Acquired: 7th round, 207th overall, 2008

A now familiar name to Nashville faithful, Lindback has filled in admirably in his first season of North American hockey. He came over from Sweden this season for training camp to compete for the backup goaltending job in Nashville. He won the competition, relegating Mark Dekanich to Milwaukee once again, and earning the right to play second fiddle to Pekka Rinne.

The seventh round draft pick has been fantastic, posting a 2.58 goals against average, to go with a .910 save percentage and a 10-5-2 record. The mammoth goaltender has been stellar behind Rinne, and he’s had to be, considering the multitude of netminders waiting in the wings to take his place if he falters. If he keeps up this level of production, Lindback has a bright NHL future ahead of him.

11. (NR) Mark Dekanich, G, 7.0C
Acquired: 5th round, 146th overall, 2006

Last season, it had appeared Dekanich was on his way out as a prospect. It seemed he would be passed over in favor of the higher ceiling of Chet Pickard. However, Pickard’s struggles this season have let Dekanich once again reign supreme in Milwaukee, and he has been nothing short of spectacular.

Dekanich has almost singlehandedly kept Milwaukee in the playoff race, putting up a stellar season almost identical to his counterpart in Nashville, Pekka Rinne. He has put up a 2.07 goals against average, with a .929 save percentage and a 22-10-5 record. He also appeared in one game with the Predators, looking average at best. However, the AHL veteran Dekanich has shown he can completely and consistently dominate that level of competition. He deserves a shot in the NHL, but he may not get one with all the goalies jockeying for time in Nashville.

12. (3) Chet Pickard, G, 7.5D
Acquired: 1st round, 18th overall, 2008

Pickard has had a season that can be called mediocre only at best, and as a result he is free falling through the prospect rankings. Pickard started the season in Milwaukee, but played very poorly in October, going winless with a .885 save percentage and 3.47 goals against average. The performance earned him a demotion to Cincinnati, trading places with Jeremy Smith.

Things have yet to improve for Pickard with the Cyclones of the ECHL. He has looked worse than both rookies, Brian Foster and Marc Cheverie, posting a 3.22 goals against average, .883 save percentage, and 9-13-2 record, a miserable line for that level of competition. He had another small stint with Milwaukee, doing fairly well, but not impressing enough. Pickard is talented, and should get another chance to show what he can do, but he needs to show this year was a fluke or he will be passed by other goalies. With the depth in Nashville’s system, he doesn’t have that many chances, and can’t afford many performance like this year.

13. (9) Matt Halischuk, RW, 6.5C
Acquired: Trade with New Jersey, 2010

Halischuk was handed a big role on the Admirals to start the season, and he performed reasonably well in that role. He was looked towards for a major source of offense, and he responded with 11 goals and 23 points in 37 games. The performance may not have been staggering, but it was enough to earn him a call to Nashville.

With Nashville he has been less than impressive. In 16 games so far, Halischuk has scored only a single goal, with three assists to go with it. The season brings his total to seven points, in 37 career NHL games. That isn’t enough production. Granted he has been getting bottom line minutes, but he needs to show more than this if he wants to guarantee himself a job in the NHL.

14. (NR) Linus Klasen, LW, 7.0C
Acquired: Free agent signing, 2010

Another difficult player to get a read on, Klasen is a very talented Swede in his first season of North American hockey. A lot was expected of Klasen coming to the United States, he was a point per game played in the highest level of hockey in Sweden. He has performed up to expectation thus far in Milwaukee. In 45 games with the Admirals, he has scored 22 goals, and has 45 total points, despite playing with a dearth of offensive talent on the Admirals.

The showing earned him a short trip to Nashville, where he looked rather unimpressive, being held pointless in four games. It’s hard to fault him for not immediately performing at the NHL level as he is still transitioning to the North American style of game.

15. (14) Craig Smith, C, 6.5C
Acquired: 4th round, 98th overall, 2009

A victim of circumstance in these rankings, Smith has done very well this season in Wisconsin. As only a sophomore, Smith is second on the Badgers in points, and third in goals. He has played 38 total games this year, scoring 17 goals with a total of 41 points. The fourth rounder absolutely came out of nowhere the season before college, and has only improved since then.

Smith might not have been the highest pick, but he has performed like one regardless. He has decent size for a winger, and it seems the sky is the limit, considering he improves vastly every year. He has shown an ability to adapt to and perform at new levels, and with how he has performed so far, it seems like the NHL will be where he ends up.

16. (16) Gabriel Bourque, LW, 6.5C
Acquired: 5th round, 132nd overall, 2009

Bourque has been fairly good this year in Milwaukee, nothing spectacular. But, he has shown a tendency to take a bit of time to adjust when he transitions to a new level or team, and the same thing has happened this year, demonstrated by his improved play of late. The fifth rounder has been one of the better offensive players for the Admirals, scoring 12 goals and 26 points in 62 games through this season.

However, those numbers do not tell the story. Last season, Bourque was traded to the Moncton Wildcats. He scored only 14 points in his first 25 games, but had 29 in his next 21 games (in the playoffs). The same thing may be happening this year in the AHL. Bourque had four points or less in each of the months of October, November, December, and January, but his play has stepped up lately, scoring 10 points in 12 games during the month of February. Bourque has the offensive talent to make it big, but he has to play like he has lately, and learn to adjust to a new situation more quickly. He may not get an extended chance when he gets called to the NHL.

17. (NR) Mattias Ekholm, D, 6.5C
Acquired: 4th round, 102nd overall, 2009

Another Predator prospect in the Sweden, Ekholm has impressed in his first season in the Swedish Elite league. As a 20 year old defender, the fourth rounder has scored double digit goals, and 33 points in 55 games so far this season. His season is very impressive for a young player against the best Sweden has to offer.

Ekholm is a decent two way defenseman, but he needs to work on his overall physical game. He could stand to add some size and muscle, but he is 6’4 with a good frame. In terms of talent, he is a solid all around player, and he should be able to make things happen whenever he arrives in North America.

18. (NR) Taylor Stefishen, LW, 6.5C
Acquired: 5th round, 136th overall, 2008

After things didn’t work out in NCAA hockey with Ohio State, Stefishen turned to the WHL this season. He has performed well in his first WHL season, scoring 21 goals and 61 points, putting him around the top 50 scorers in the league. The performance also places him second on his team in points, and third in goals.

His route as a prospect has already been pretty interesting, from the BCHL to the NCAA to the WHL, but it seems like Stefishen is finally putting things together against a high level of competition. He is a solid all around player, who could use a little bit of work in the defensive zone, but he should be able to find himself a job in professional hockey, so long as he continues to perform, and has left what plagued him behind in Ohio.

19. (NR) Jeremy Smith, G, 6.5C
Acquired: 2nd round, 54th overall, 2007

Another goaltender on the list, Smith has earned his spot with his AHL performance behind Mark Dekanich this season. After a season in the ECHL, Smith earned a trip to the AHL, and has finally started to live up to his billing as a second round pick. After years of putting up no better than average numbers at every level, Smith has dazzled in limited action for Milwaukee.

He has posted a 10-5-1 record, paired with a 2.29 goals against average and 9.23 save percentage this season. Smith has been good, but it hasn’t been enough to unseat Dekanich or Lindback from their perches. Combine that with the higher pedigree of Pickard behind him, and the threat of Engren from overseas, and the future doesn’t look overly bright with Smith and the Predators. He may find a home somewhere else eventually, but things look somewhat bleak for a solid goalie in an organization filled to the brim with just that.

20. (NR) Taylor Aronson, D, 6.5D
Acquired: 3rd round, 78th overall, 2010

In a slot that could go to many players in this system, Aronson has flashed good potential in his second WHL season. The 19 year old defender has played in 65 games, scoring five goals and 34 points on a talented offensive roster. He hasn’t been spectacular, but he has done well in his short time in the league, and should improve with more experience.

The third rounder is just a bundle of skills right now, he doesn’t have great size and he hasn’t shown real consistency, but he has continued to flash those skills this season. He is very young, having only been drafted last year, so he has a few years to hone his skills. He’s a long way away, but for right now the future looks bright for Taylor Aronson.