Surprises In Predators Camp

By Greg Andrade
Training camp has generated a number of surprises for the Nashville Predators this season. As camp began earlier this month, there were several favorites to challenge for roster spots, including newly signed Russian center Denis Arkhipov, Swedish winger Jonas Andersson and right wing Scott Hartnell, who was Nashville’s fifth overall pick in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. Arkhipov and Hartnell have not disappointed and both have had strong training camps. Arkhipov has shown the skill and sniping ability that has quietly made him one of the better prospects in the NHL, while Hartnell has impressed the organization enough with his hard work and tenacious play to warrant an immediate contract and a long look in training camp from the Predators.

Andersson, however, was surprisingly sent down to Milwaukee of the IHL yesterday. Entering the pre-season, Andersson was considered to be the most NHL-ready prospect in the Nashville system. He has a full season of North American hockey under him, after spending last season with North Bay of the OHL, and he is also a tremendous skater who has no problem keeping up with NHL-calibre players. But the unexpected success of other players in camp has pushed Andersson out of the picture for now.

Instead, undrafted players like center Greg Classen and left wing Ryan Tobler have surprised the organization and may have the best shot at making the team. Classen, who was signed as a free agent after a successful four years at Merrimack College, has been the most impressive prospect for the Predators this fall. Classen was outstanding during the rookie tournament held in Traverse City, Michigan earlier this month and carried that success into the NHL training camp and pre-season. Classen has looked right at home at the NHL level and been the most consistent goal scorer in scrimmages and exhibition games. In two exhibition games so far, Classen has two goals, including one power play tally. His performance has forced head coach Barry Trotz to take a long look at the center position, which also includes David Legwand, Sebastien Bordeleau, Greg Johnson, Randy Robitaille and Arkhipov. If Classen makes the team, it virtually guarantees that Arkhipov will be sent down to Milwaukee.

Tobler has also been impressive in the pre-season and has turned heads with his gritty two-way game. Tobler was signed as a free agent after a strong showing with the Predators’ affiliate in Milwaukee. He was originally brought into the team as an enforcer, but last season he showed considerable improvement offensively with 19 goals and 28 assists in 78 games. Tobler has shown similar ability in training camp, combining toughness and production, which are two things that Trotz loves to see. He also scored a goal in his one exhibition game so far. Left wing is a thin position for Nashville at the moment and Brantt Myhres is the only other tough guy in camp, so Tobler has a real chance to make the team.

Here are the 39 players still remaining on the Nashville roster:

CENTERS – Denis Arkhipov, Sebastien Bordeleau, Greg Classen, Greg Johnson, David Legwand, Mark Mowers, Randy Robitaille.

LEFT WINGS – Sean Haggerty, Ville Peltonen, Cliff Ronning, Jeremy Stevenson, Ryan Tobler, Mike Watt, Vitali Yachmenev.

RIGHT WINGS – Tom Fitzgerald, David Gosselin, Scott Hartnell, Patric Kjellberg, Brantt Myhres, Rob Valicevic, Scott Walker.

DEFENSEMEN – Drake Berehowsky, Bubba Berenzweig, Alexandre Boikov, Rory Fitzpatrick, Bill Houlder, Cale Hulse, Richard Lintner, Craig Millar, Marc Moro, Yujiro Nakajimaya*, John Namestnikov, Karlis Skrastins, Pavel Skrbek

GOALTENDERS – Mike Dunham, Brian Finley, Jan Lasak, Chris Mason, Tomas Vokoun

* – special invitation, Nakajimaya is not being given an opportunity to make the team