Predators CHL season review

By Glen Erickson

As the clock struck midnight on Mar. 19, the night regular season play across the CHL ended, each of the Nashville Predators’ 11 prospects found themselves on teams headed for postseason play. Unfortunately, due to injuries, not all of them will see the ice during the playoffs.

Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
Alexander Radulov
Nick Fugere

Ontario Hockey League
Ryan Parent
John Vigilante
Cal O’Reilly
Scott Todd
Vaclav Meidl

Western Hockey League
Cody Franson
Lauris Darzins
Stanislav Balan
Kyle Moir

Alexander Radulov, RW – Quebec Remparts (1st round, 2004 Entry Draft: 15th overall)
Height: 6’1. Weight: 190 lbs. Age: 19.

The statistics tell much of the story in Radulov’s huge QMJHL campaign. The right-winger led all scorers with 61 goals and 91 assists in 62 games.

Radulov registered at least one point in 50 consecutive regular season games, the second best mark in QMJHL history behind only Mario Lemieux, who posted a point in 61 consecutive games for Laval during the 1983-84 season. Radulov also led the QMJHL with 10 shorthanded goals. On the last night of the regular season, Radulov established a Remparts team record with seven goals and four assists in a 16-3 win over Rimouski.

Radulov has confirmed he is a reliable offensive talent, a player the Preds have to give a serious look to in training camp. In the meantime, all eyes will be on Radulov in what the Quebec Remparts hope will be a lengthy playoff run. If Radulov can maintain a consistent offensive contribution amid the increased attention he is likely to receive from the defense, he may silence the critics who questioned his fortitude during a mediocre performance during big games at the 2006 WJC.

Radulov will receive serious consideration as the QMJHL’s nominee for the CHL Player of the Year. He spent most of the season playing alongside another highly-touted youngster, center Angelo Esposito, who posted 98 points in his rookie season.

Ryan Parent, D – Guelph Storm (1st round, 2005 Entry Draft: 18th overall)
Height: 6’2. Weight: 200lbs. Age: 18.

In 60 games with the Guelph Storm this season, Ryan Parent scored four goals and added 17 assists while accumulating 122 penalty minutes. However, in Parent’s case, it’s not necessarily about the numbers.

“Ryan is definitely a leader on our team,” confirmed Storm head coach Dave Barr. “He’s a consummate professional in terms of his preparation for games. Ryan just does everything he possibly can do to do his job well. He’s 100 percent dedicated to helping his team win.”

Early in the regular season, Parent was paired with rookie phenom Drew Doughty, a 16-year-old from the London area. Currently, he’s paired with Kyle Wharton (CBJ) in an effort to focus on shutting down the top lines on opposing teams. Heading into the playoffs, Barr is looking to the pair to neutralize some of the top offensive players in the conference.

“We’re healthy going into the playoffs,” Barr acknowledged. “We’ll be counting on Ryan to play against high-end forwards. For example, if we meet London, they have three of the top scorers in the league in Robbie Schremp (EDM), David Bolland (CHI) and Dylan Hunter (BUF).”

Barr has been in contact with Nashville regarding Parent’s development, confirming he and the Preds are seeing the same areas of improvement. Parent, a gifted skater and a reliable defensive player, is likely to return to the OHL next season.

“I think Ryan will be back here next season,” Barr suggested. “With Nashville’s depth in terms of young defensemen, I’m not sure they have to force Ryan to play professionally as an underage.”

Parent was part of Team Canada’s top defensive pairing at the WJC along with tournament MVP Marc Staal (NYR), collecting a gold medal in the process.

John Vigilante, LW – Plymouth Whalers (Free Agent)
Height: 6’0. Weight: 195 lbs. Age: 20

John Vigilante played this past season as an overager with Plymouth Whalers, scoring 24 goals and 53 assists in just 55 games.

On Feb. 11, the native of Dearborn, Michigan, seriously injured his hand after blocking a shot against the Barrie Colts. He returned to the lineup late in the season and should be ready for the playoffs.

“It was pretty bad,” explained assistant coach Todd Watson recently regarding the injury. “He had to have some pins put in his finger, but he may be ready to return at the end of the regular season schedule.”

Vigilante played in all situations this season, a stalwart for Plymouth on special teams. A veteran of four OHL seasons, he’s not one to be rattled when heading into opposition rinks. The club is pleased he was able to sign with Nashville last December.

“He’s a great leader for us,” Watson confirmed. “When he signed the pro contract, I think it was almost a case where, whatever your job might be, when you do a good job and then you get a reward or an honor, it’s like an affirmation or a real confidence boost. There was almost a little extra jump in John after he signed.”

A huge proponent of the new NHL rules, Vigilante likes what he sees as the potential for the speed of the game to increase even more and more. A workhorse who loves being on the ice, Vigilante elected to forego a career in the NCAA to play in the OHL. As the Whalers’ captain, Vigilante takes pride in his commitment to preparation on games days and understands his role in ensuring his teammates are ready to play every night.

Due to injuries, Vigilante has played with a number of teammates this season. He has had particular success with Dan Collins (FLA), who also missed an extended period this season due to a back injury.

Cal O’Reilly, C – Windsor Spitfires (5th round, 2005 Entry Draft)
Height: 5’11. Weight: 180 lbs. Age: 19

Perhaps the most consistent producer on a banged up Spitfires roster, O’Reilly has put up impressive numbers during a tumultuous season in Windsor. In 68 games, the durable third year center has posted 18 goals and 81 assists.

Ideally, the Spitfires play O’Reilly between Bryan Bickell (CHI) and Patrick Davis (NJ), who according to assistant coach Bill Bowler, make up one the OHL’s top lines. However, due primarily to injuries, O’Reilly has been rotating with different linemates throughout most of the 2005-06 campaign.

“Cal is what you might call a quiet leader,” explained Bowler. “He always works hard, just loves the game and loves to compete. He’s got terrific vision and really plays smart in all situations.”

According to Bowler, the Spitfires are pretty banged up heading into the playoffs.

“It’s a lot easier to prepare for the playoffs when you’re healthy,” Bowler said. “It’s a little tougher when you’re having to play some guys in different positions. When we’re healthy, we really like our 20 guys. And we’ve been tough at home this season. But there have really been a lot of changes and adjustments this season.”

As a playmaking center, O’Reilly should get a good look from the Predators at training camp. If he can adjust well to the physical demands and speed of the game at the professional level, he has potential to fill an important role in an organization looking to build depth up the middle.

Cody Franson, D – Vancouver Giants (3rd round, 2005 Entry Draft)
Height: 6’5. Weight: 205 lbs. Age: 18

In 71 games, Cody Franson registered 15 goals and 40 assists, good for third place among league defensemen. His playing partner Paul Albers led the WHL with 62 points. Four of the top five scoring defensemen in the WHL played in the B.C. Division.

Franson has played a ton of hockey this season, especially during the second half of the WHL season as the Giants were able to fend off the Kelowna Rockets and claim first place in the tough B.C. Division. Major injuries along the Giants blue line kept Mark Fistric (DAL) and Brendan Mikkelson (ANA) out of the lineup for extended periods. In their absence, the coaching staff was forced to rely more heavily on Franson, a second year rearguard from Sicamous, BC.

Upon his return from the Predators training camp, Franson had some specific developmental goals to which he has lent focus on throughout the regular season.

“The Predators asked me to get stronger and faster,” Franson said. “I suppose that’s normal for any young guy, but they told me they were happy with my camp.”

Franson has become proficient in getting shots through to the net, due in part to his ability to vary velocity. He is very strong on the puck and often produces efficient first passes from his own end. He is learning how best to utilize his size to keep opponents away from the front of his net. With his long reach, Franson is difficult to beat one-on-one.

Franson is another player who adds depth to an already deep list of Nashville prospects on defense. He is likely to return to Vancouver next season, as the Giants will host the 2007 Memorial Cup championship.

Vaclav Meidl, C/RW – Saginaw Spirit (3rd round, 2004 Entry Draft)
Height: 6’5. Weight: 215 lbs. Age: 19

In 56 games this season, split between the Plymouth Whalers and Saginaw Spirit, Vaclav Meidl has posted nine goals and 22 assists along with 120 penalty minutes. The native of Havirov, Czechoslavakia, Meidl was also played in the WJC as a member of the Czech team.

Meidl returned to Plymouth after Predators training camp with high expectations. As on of the biggest players in the OHL, Meidl was looked upon to build on his physical play.

“Vaclav was a player who was always asking questions,” recalled Whalers assistant coach Todd Watson. “I enjoyed working with him, he was probably one of our better players.

“When he came to North America, he wanted to be an offensive star here, so it took some time for him to adjust to the physical play. I’m proud of him, though, and when you see him starting to do things like block shots, you can tell he’s trying to become a complete player.”

Traded to Saginaw in January, Meidl improved his offensive performance during the second half of the regular season. He will have to continue to focus on developing footspeed and a more consistent physical presence if he expects to become a top prospect in the Nashville organization.

Scott Todd, D – Windsor Spitfires (7th round, 2005 Entry Draft)
Height: 6’5. Weight: 223 lbs. Age: 19

Whether or not Scott Todd will see any playoff action remains to be seen as the fourth-year rearguard suffered an orbital bone fracture in a fight early in March. In 47 games, Todd chipped in with one goal, six assists and 169 penalty minutes, all of which are career highs.

“Scotty played real well for us all season,” acknowledged assistant coach Bill Bowler as the team prepared for its final three games of the regular season. “He’s a big body out there. He does a great job stopping the cycle in our end and certainly holds the blue line for us. He’s respected by his teammates.”

Todd returned from Predator training camp at the beginning of the season, destined to play a leadership role in Windsor. He was sidelined early with a shoulder injury, but returned to play valuable minutes on a club that has fought the injury bug from day one.

“Scotty hurt his shoulder early in the season and it did slow him down,” Bowler said back in October. “He doesn’t shy away from altercations. He’s a good teammate and he’s a player who can get the job done against the other team’s top lines.”

Todd will have to increase his footspeed to make the Predators give him a good look. The recent addition of Brendan Witt provides the organization with size and toughness on the blue line, a role Todd may be able to fill if he can stay healthy and develop through a couple years of seasoning at the professional level. Todd is destined for at least a season or two in the minors.

Stanislav Balan, C/LW – Portland Winter Hawks (7th Round, 2004 Entry Draft)
Height: 6’1. Weight: 160lbs. Age: 19.

In his rookie season, Stanislav Balan has scored 14 goals and 23 assists in 67 games.

Adjusting to life in North America has been a challenge for Balan, who continues to struggle with the English language. According in to head coach Mike Williamson, Balan also has work to do in putting forth a more consistent effort.

”I think we would have liked to have seen the communication progress better than it has,” Williamson said. “And Stan is going to have become a more consistent performer as well. Some nights, he has definitely been our best player. At other times, he just doesn’t seem to be able to get it done.”

That said, Williamson wouldn’t count out the possibility that Balan could return to the Winter Hawks next season as a 20-year-old.

“Because of the way the European draft works, I think we’ll draft two players then look at the group including Stan and keep two of them,” Williamson suggests. “I think Stan would benefit from another year here. I’m not sure he’s ready to play in the AHL.”

Balan, born in Hodonin, Czech Republic, has adjusted well to the physical rigors in the WHL, often playing his best hockey when he gets his nose dirty.

“Stan does well when he plays physically,” Williamson said. “Not huge hits and fights, but when he gets involved, he’s at his best. I think it’s been a big adjustment for him to get used to that game in and game out over a 72-game schedule, compared to the 40 games a season he’s used to playing.”

For most of the season, Balan has lined up with captain Brian Woolger and Kyle Bailey (MIN). He’s played at center and left wing this season.

Lauris Darzins, RW – Kelowna Rockets (9th Round, 2003 Entry Draft)
Height: 6’2. Weight: 185 lbs. Age: 20.

Lauris Darzins finished an abbreviated regular season with 13 goals and 20 assists in 47 games. Offseason shoulder surgery kept him out of the Kelowna Rockets lineup until mid-December. Upon his return, he immediately had an impact offensively, scoring at a point per game pace in his first 15 games.

The Rockets have seen a number of veteran players miss extended periods due to injury this season. The club slowly returned to a healthy state as it approached the final 10-game stretch of the regular season. Darzins, among others, has made timely contributions to keep the team in the hunt for first place in the B.C. Division through the final weekend of the regular schedule.

Last season, on the road to the Memorial Cup, Darzins collected seven goals and seven assists in 24 WHL playoff games as a rookie, despite playing with a painful shoulder injury. As the current regular season wound down, Darzins assured Hockey’s Future that the shoulder is fine.

“Well, it’s 100 percent now, I came back in December with it 100 percent,” Darzins explained. “I was ready to take hits, to give hits. It’s been really good. But I’m still working on it, trying to build muscle around it.”

Having played three years of junior hockey in Finland prior to his stint in Kelowna, Darzins is a veteran who continues to focus on doing the right things to become a professional.

“There’s always areas to improve,” he says. “I just want to get better every day. I think I haven’t played my best hockey lately. But I will always work hard.”

“The second half of the season, there maybe is not so much room on the ice as in the beginning of the season because playoffs are starting and teams are playing very defensively now. We have to win games 2-1 or 3-2. That’s just how it is now.”

The native of Riga, Latvia would dearly love another trip to the Memorial Cup this season as the Moncton Wildcats will play host. Both Martin Karsums (BOS) and Oskars Bartulis (PHI) are personal friends from Latvia who play for Moncton, which also happens to be one of the top teams in the QMJHL this season.

“That would be awesome,” Darzins grinned. “Latvia is a small country and those guys are my good friends. We grew up playing together. It would be the first time playing against them. We’ve always played on the same teams and on the national team.”

Darzins has played most of the season alongside Clayton Bauer (2006 eligible) and Chris Ray and with Alex Edler (VAN) on the point on the power play.

Kyle Moir, G – Swift Current Broncos (5th round, 2004 Entry Draft)
Height: 6’3. Weight: 185 lbs. Age: 19.

Down the stretch, Moir played solidly in goal for Swift Current as the Broncos held of the Red Deer Rebels for fourth place in the Central Division. The club will need an over-the-top performance from the veteran netminder as they face the league regular season champion Medicine Hat Tigers in the first round of the playoffs.

In 65 games, Moir posted a gutsy 2.84 goals against average for a club that scored only 175 goals. Of the clubs 24 wins, Moir is credited with 23, along with 28 losses, five overtime losses and seven ties. Although the native of Calgary, Alberta, faced a ton of rubber this season, he kept a lot of pucks in front of him with a .914 save percentage.

Over the course of the past two entry drafts, the Predators have built a stable of young goaltending prospects including 2006 AHL All-Star game starter, Pekka Rinne and Teemu Lassila from Finland. Moir will have a difficult task ahead to secure an AHL roster spot come training camp in 2006 and may find himself back in Swift Current next season as a 20-year-old.

Nick Fugere, LW – Gatineau Olympiques (4th round, 2004 Entry Draft)
Height; 6’2. Weight: 230 lbs. Age: 20.

In 60 games, Fugere scored 22 goals, 20 assists and added 140 penalty minutes, well off a career high of 247 during the 2002-03 season. The Olympiques are a legitimate championship contender this year after posting a 40-23-4-3 record, good for fourth place in the Western Division.

Fugere has matured over the course of his four years in the QMJHL, evidenced by his reduction in penalty minutes. He has earned league-wide respect with his physical play and is now able to better pick his spots. When captain Kevin Petit (free agent) went down with an injury this season, the Olympiques were quick to place the ‘C’ on Fugere’s jersey.

He has played some big games as a member of the Olympiques, including a loss to the Kitchener Rangers (OHL) in the 2003 Memorial Cup, where he was arguable the Olympiques best forward with four goals in five games. In the 2004 Memorial Cup, the Olympiques also reached the final, losing 2-1 to the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL.

Whether or not Fugere has become consistent enough to garner a contract with Nashville remains to be seen. His size will always ensure he will be noticed, but questions will arise concerning his skating and mobility. He does not possess dominating offensive skills, but has delivered under the gun. If Nashville chooses to be patient and Fugere’s work ethic continues to improve, he could find himself in AHL next season at best.

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.