10. (9) Marek Mazanec, G, 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 179th overall, 2012
Saros has garnered much of the attention in Milwaukee for his outstanding play as a rookie but Mazanec has been equally impressive. Now in his third pro season, the 24-year-old from Pisek in the Czech Republic continues to refine his game and uses his size and athleticism to advantage. He has three of the Admirals’ four shutouts. Mazanec could push for an NHL spot next season, either with the Predators or elsewhere.
9. (8) Justin Kirkland, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 62nd overall, 2014
Like Val-d’Or, the Kelowna Rockets are enjoying an outstanding season in the Western Hockey League and Kirkland has been right in the middle of things. The Rockets’ fourth-leading scorer with 22 goals and 24 assists in 52 games, Kirkland plays the proverbial 200-foot game and is effective in all three zones. He uses his size and strength effectively in tight areas and has a quick release with an accurate shot. Injured late in the year last season, he should have a much larger role as the Rockets try to get back to the Memorial Cup this spring.
8. (11) Max Gortz, RW, 7.0C
Drafted 6th round, 172nd overall, 2012
Few could have predicted the success Gortz is enjoying in his first pro season in North America. Like Gaudreau, he was expected to play a lower line role for the Admirals. Instead he has been a team leader. Due to injuries and call-ups he was gradually given more responsibility and has flourished. The third-leading goal scorer for Frolunda in the SHL last season, Gortz played a key role in Milwaukee’s 10-game unbeaten streak in November. One of the bigger players in the Nashville pipeline, he has impressed Admirals’ coach Dean Evason with his ability to play in all situations and his defensive awareness in addition to his scoring.
7. (7) Yakov Trenin, C, 8.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 55th overall, 2015
Trenin impressed in both the Predators’ prospect camp and during the full training camp last summer, earning an entry-level NHL contract. After a relatively slow start for Gatineau, he is again one of the Olympiques’ top scorers and is also excellent on face-offs. Trenin’s unorthodox skating style — something many scouts felt was the reason he slipped to the second round — is still a concern and he was a late cut for Russia’s U20 team prior to the 2016 World Juniors. Trenin is an assistant captain for the Olympiques. He has significant playmaking ability and offensive instincts with a willingness to compete on both ends of the ice.
6. (12) Jack Dougherty, D, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 51st overall, 2014
Highly-regarded coming out of the USA Hockey National Team Development program when he was drafted, things could not have gone worse for the Minnesota native in 2014-15 as a freshman at Wisconsin. The Badgers weren’t very good and Dougherty looked overwhelmed at times as an 18-year-old at the college level. He was subsequently released from the USA U20 team during its Lake Placid camp in August.
Signed to an entry-level contract by Nashville in July, Dougherty is making the most of his opportunity in junior hockey with Portland. His defensive game remains a work in progress but he is using his size and speed to advantage and is flourishing seeing loads of ice time with the Winterhawks. Dougherty is Portland’s top scoring defenseman and is third on the Winterhawks with 61 penalty minutes.
5. (5) Viktor Arvidsson, LW, 7.5C
Drafted 4th round, 112th overall, 2014
The 2015-16 season has been a bit of a roller coaster for the diminutive 22-year-old from Skelleftea, Sweden. After making the Predators out of training camp and appearing in three of the team’s first seven games he was returned to Milwaukee at the end of October. Playing in all situations for the Admirals, he scored eight goals with ten assists in 17 games and was summarily recalled by the Predators. He has not yet received the type of ice time he experienced both in the AHL and in Sweden but his five goals in 28 games is encouraging. At 5’10 and 176 he is sometimes muscled off pucks by bigger, stronger opponents but Arvidsson does not back down from challenges.
4. (2) Juuse Saros, G, 8.0C
Drafted 4th round, 99th overall, 2013
Saros has silenced many of the critics who felt he was too small to be successful in North America. Like Mazanec, the 20-year-old from Hameenlinna, Finland has provided solid goaltending on a nightly basis for Milwaukee, a big reason the club is battling with Rockford for the top spot in the Central Division. The strength of Saros’s game is his positioning and a competitive nature that allows him to make second and third saves on plays. In two seasons playing in Finland’s Liiga for an HPK squad that was frequently overmatched he often was called on to keep his team in the game. Some goalies are not as successful with a stronger team and a lesser work load but Saros has adjusted well and is ready when called upon to make a big save.
3. (4) Vladislav Kamenev, C, 8.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 42nd overall, 2014
Kamenev has made a smooth transition from his natural wing position to center in his first season with the Admirals and was one of the top forwards for Russia at the World Juniors. The 19-year-old uses his size to advantage and is a sniper when given the chance to shoot, particularly on the power play. He was selected to play in the AHL All-Star game but was unable to attend due to an injury. Kamenev was named Russia’s top forward as the team won a silver medal in Finland, though his tournament came to an unfortunate end when he received a misconduct penalty in the gold medal game’s final minutes. Long-term Kamenev figures to be a big part of the Predators’ future.
2. (3) Jimmy Vesey, LW, 7.5B
Drafted 3rd round, 66th overall, 2012
Vesey has developed as expected during his four-year career at Harvard and scouts have little doubt that he can be an effective forward at the NHL level. He has been the source of much speculation as to whether he will sign with Nashville and join the Predators following Harvard’s season or not sign and become an unrestricted free agent in August. Vesey is saying all the right things and could have an immediate impact for Nashville, which has struggled to score goals this season. More a playmaker than a pure goal scorer, Vesey is a cerebral player who reads the game well and makes those around him better.
1. (1) Kevin Fiala, LW, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 11th overall, 2014
Perhaps no player has had more of a challenging first half than the 19-year-old from Switzerland. The Predators’ first round pick in 2014, Fiala hoped to make the NHL club in training camp but was instead assigned to Milwaukee and struggled early in the year. He did not join Switzerland for the 2015 World Juniors, remaining in Milwaukee. He appeared in five games with Nashville in January before being returned to the Admirals. Despite his up-and-down season, Fiala’s skill set and offensive instincts are at an elite level and with time and experience he could be a consistent scorer. While he is undersized for an NHL winger, he continues to have the highest ceiling among Predators’ prospects and should be a consistent scorer one day. The decision to allow Fiala to play in all situations with Milwaukee rather than seeing limited time at the NHL level should pay dividends.
Follow Tony Piscotta on Twitter via @Piscottas_Way