Predators Top 20 prospects

By Jason Menard

The deadline trade for Peter Forsberg was a stark demonstration that the future is now for the Nashville Predators. Good drafting and astute management placed the club in a position where dealing prospects could return what it thought was needed to put it over the top.

While the loss of Ryan Parent, Scottie Upshall, and a first and third-rounder in the upcoming draft would be steep for any club, the Predators’ depth in prospects enabled them the flexibility of going for it all without completely compromising the future.

With the graduation of Shea Weber to the big club and trade of Parent, the conventional wisdom the the Predators have one of the top defensive stables is now overstated.  While still a decent group, only six of the Predators top 20 prospects are defensemen.  Top defensive prospect Cody Franson will turn pro in the fall.

Top 20 at a Glance

1. (2) Alexander Radulov, RW
2. (6) Cody Franson, D
3. (5) Kevin Klein, D
4. (8) Cal O’Reilly, C
5. (9) Teemu Laakso, D
6. (12) Patric Hornqvist, LW
7. (4) Pekka Rinne, G
8. (NR) Mike Santorelli, RW
9. (NR) Ville Koistinen, D
10. (NR) Rich Peverley, C
11. (11) Blake Geoffrion, LW
12. (NR) Mark Dekanich, G
13. (10) Denis Kulyash, D
14. (13) Grigory Shafigulin, C
15. (19) Ryan Flynn, RW
16. (14) John Vigilante, LW
17. (NR) Ryan Maki, RW
18. (16) Kevin Schaeffer, D
19. (20) Brandon Segal, RW
20. (18) Konstantin Glazachev, LW

Key: Rank, (Previous Rank), Name, Position, Age, How Acquired

1. (2) Alexander Radulov, RW, 20
Acquired: 1st round, 15th overall, 2004

Success has followed this 6’1 winger from Nizhi Tagil, Russia. A key figure during the Quebec Remparts’ Memorial Cup run last season, Radulov made only a brief appearance in the AHL before making the jump full-time to the main stage with the Predators. And he’s shown promise this season that he’s ready to assume a long-term starring role.

In only 11 games with the AHL‘s Milwaukee Admirals, Radulov tore up the league with six goals and 18 assists. That effort, combined with a stellar showing in training camp, prompted the Preds to call him up and he’s continued to display his prodigious offensive gifts. He’s accounted for 17 goals and 19 assists in 61 games. He’s also seen ice time in a number of situations, averaging 11:29, and has added five power-play goals and four game winners to his resume. Most impressively, he’s bought into the defensive aspect of the game, posting a solid +18 rating to date.

And things are only looking brighter – he still has plenty of room to grow into his frame and get stronger. His immediate success in the NHL at age 20 has been a boon for Nashville and gives the NHL yet another Russian youngster to keep an eye on.

2. (6) Cody Franson, D, 19
Acquired: 3rd round, 79th overall, 2005

Big things are expected from this young blueliner out of Salmon Arm, BC. Of course, when one’s 6’5 and north of 215 pounds, big is a familiar word. Franson’s continued offensive development and potential played a role in letting the Predators feel comfortable about parting with Parent in the Forsberg trade. Franson was part of Canada’s gold-medal winning World Junior Hockey championship squad and acquitted himself nicely with two points in six games. And the experience on the world stage should serve as good preparation as Franson’s Vancouver Giants club is the host team for this year’s Memorial Cup.

Any success the Giants will have will likely be predicated on Franson’s solid offensive play. In 59 games he’s scored 51 points, paced by 17 goals – a .86 point per game pace that exceeded his breakthrough .77 point per game pace from last season. Franson took an elbow to the head on Feb. 25 and was out of the line-up, but returned to play the final two games of the season.

Franson still has plenty of maturing time ahead of him as he continues to fill out that lanky frame of his. He’s expected to be a dangerous contributor once his physical presence catches up to his offensive prowess.  He will turn pro this fall.

3. (5) Kevin Klein, D, 22
Acquired: 2nd round, 37th overall, 2003

The Kitchener native has made three trips to Nashville this season, but has yet to make a significant impact on the club or see much playing time. And that frequency of movement appears to have had an impact on his overall game.

Klein enjoyed a breakthrough campaign last season with 42 points in 76 games with the AHL‘s Admirals, but this year his stint in Milwaukee hasn’t been as successful. In 66 games he’s only scored five goals and added 15 assists, but he is on the plus side at +1. Klein was out with a knee injury, but now with an upper-body injury, and he’s expected back for the playoffs. In three games with the Predators this year, he has averaged 16:36 in ice time and has one goal.

Solid offensively and growing more responsible defensively, Klein must continue to work on his strength and positioning to handle the bigger, stronger players at the NHL level.  He will likely see more time with Nashville next season.

4. (8) Cal O’Reilly, C, 20
Acquired: 5th round, 150th overall, 2005

O’Reilly’s transition to the professional ranks has been fairly smooth as the young Ontario native has been able to translate his impressive offensive showing into effective play at the AHL level.

The young center’s playmaking skills have never been called into question, with no better example than his his final season with the OHL‘s Windsor Spitfires when he tallied 81 assists. As an AHL rookie he’s shown continued strength at the offensive end of the ice with 15 goals and 41 assists in 73 games in Milwaukee, making him the second leading scorer on the team and tied for eighth among league rookies at just 20 years old.  He plays on both the power play and penalty kill.

Not blessed with outstanding size, the 180-pounder who falls a hair or two under 6’0, must continue to work on his strength and conditioning in addition to developing a more robust defensive game, as evidenced by his poor -16 rating this season.

5. (9) Teemu Laakso, D, 19
Acquired: 3rd round, 78th overall, 2005

Although Laakso’s been plying his trade in Finland, North American fans got a chance to see the promising blueliner in action during the WJCs – a stage that he’s been increasingly comfortable dominating.

Last season, Laakso led all blueliners in the tourney with three goals. This year, he followed up that performance with another three-goal, two-assist showing in six games. And despite only measuring in at 6’0 and around 200 pounds, he threw every ounce of that weight around incurring 52 minutes in penalties. With five points and a +3 rating, it’s evident that Laakso made the most of his opportunities, when he was able to stay on the ice.

In his second full year with HIFK Helsinki of the SM-Liiga, he’s continued to post solid numbers with nine points in 50 games, with 70 penalty minutes. Laakso must be signed by June 1, and with his military service now finished, is ready and interested in coming to North America.

6. (12) Patric Hornqvist, LW, 20
Acquired: 7th round, 230th overall, 2005

The New Year’s baby rang in his birthday in style, with a solid performance for Team Sweden at the WJCs. He bounced back from the disappointment of being cut from the squad last season to be an effective contributor, scoring one goal and two assists and earning a +4 plus/minus rating in seven games.

At 5’11, Hornqvist is another prospect who isn’t blessed with overwhelming size, so conditioning and heart will play a big role in his future progress. He’s assumed a much greater role with Djurgardens of the Swedish Elite League. Winning the Rookie of the Year award, he’s increased his scoring output by a factor of five, with 23 goals and 34 points in 49 games.

Like fellow Scandinavian Laakso, Hornqvist must be signed by June 1, but could return to play in Europe while under contract.

7. (4) Pekka Rinne, G, 24
Acquired: 8th round, 258th overall, 2004

After a promising 2005-06 season that saw him join the Predators for their playoff run as an injury replacement for Tomas Vokoun, the 24-year-old goaltender had every expectation of retaining his starting role in Milwaukee, and perhaps even earning a backup spot in Nashville.

Unfortunately, injuries suffered during a mugging in a Helsinki nightclub over the summer, including a separated shoulder that required surgery, kept the netminder on the shelf until late January. On a positive note, however, he’s acquitted himself nicely in his return with a 13-6-5 record in 25 games. He’s been able to post a solid 2.32 GAA and .920 save percentage as he works himself into playoff shape.

Although this could be looked upon as almost a lost year for Rinne, a solid playoff run will do much to help him return to form.  At age 24 though, his window of opportunity is shrinking.

8. (NR) Mike Santorelli, RW, 21
Acquired: 6th round, 178th overall, 2004

If there’s one thing that the 21-year-old Vancouver, BC native showed this season is that there wasn’t a shot that he didn’t like to take. In fact, he didn’t just pace his Northern Michigan University squad in shots taken – he lapped them a couple of times.

In 41 games, he put 190 pucks on the net; the second-place shooter only had 96. Fortunately for his club, those shots often hit paydirt, as Santorelli was also the CCHA’s leading regular season goal-scorer with 30 in 41 games.

The junior winger played a large role in what limited success the 15-24-2 squad enjoyed. And his commitment to a solid two-way game resulted in him earning a +6 overall rating. With his senior year ahead of him, expect Santorelli to exhaust his university eligibility before making the jump to the pro ranks.

9. (NR) Ville Koistinen, D, 24
Acquired: Signed as a Free Agent, 2006

After five full seasons in the Finnish Elite League with Ilves Tampere – including leading the league in defensive scoring in his final year — the 24-year-old native of Oulu was signed by the Predators and joined the AHL’s Admirals.

The switch to the North American ice surface appears to have agreed with the fleet-footed Koistinen as he’s posted good numbers in Milwaukee. In 54 games, the 6′, 185-pound blueliner has accounted for eight goals and 28 assists, a -5, and is a staple on the power play. 

And although a concussion was a factor this season in limiting his number of games played, he still showed enough to be named to the PlanetUSA roster for the AHL All-Star game. Koistinen has been a solid depth acquisition for the club and could end up bringing a high reward for minimal risk.

10. (NR) Rich Peverley, C, 24
Acquired: Free agent signed in 2007

Peverley’s stellar play in Milwaukee gave him the opportunity to sign an NHL contract and has seen him called up to the Predators when the club experiences injuries.

The Guelph, ON native rose up the ranks through the ECHL since leaving St. Lawrence University. The found his niche in Milwaukee, performing at greater than a point-per-game clip with 64 points in 61 games, buoyed by 28 goals.  He remains the Admirals leading scorer by 12 points.  He’s yet to bulge the twine at the NHL level, but has accounted for one assist in his 13 games, averaging 7:31 in ice time.

Peverley earned his Mar. 4 call-up through grit and hard work. And despite putting up solid numbers wherever he’s gone, he continues to be overlooked by the masses. Finally reaching the NHL level, Peverley has the determination to silence his doubters once and for all.

11. (11) Blake Geoffrion, LW, 19
Acquired: 2nd round, 56th overall, 2006

Of all the Predators’ prospects, Geoffrion may have the most pressure on his shoulders. After all, when you’re vying to become a fourth-generation NHLer and your lineage includes a great-grandfather whose often mentioned in discussions of the NHL’s greatest player — Howie Morenz — and a grandfather who was one of the originators of the slap shot, Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion, expectations tend to run a little higher.

As a freshman at the University of Wisconsin, Geoffrion has enjoyed limited success with only two goals and four assists in his 36 games. He fought to play on the scoring lines, but was often relegated to a checking line without much special teams time. He also played a limited role in helping the U.S. earn World Junior bronze this season with one assist in seven tournament games.

Time is on the winger’s side as he has plenty of eligibility left to grow into that 6’2 frame of his. And with an increased role on the Wisconsin squad ahead of him, he should have a solid chance to build on his potential.

12. (NR) Mark Dekanich, G, 20
Acquired: 5th round, 146th overall, 2006

As the workhorse between the pipes for Colgate University, the 20-year-old North Vancouver native posted similar numbers to
what he did in his sophomore season, but with a weaker team in front of him, didn’t get as far.  He experienced an injury during practice in early March, and missed games during the conference playoffs because of it. 

Last season, Dekanich earned a 2.29 GAA and .924 save percentage en route to posting a 18-11-6 record. This season, he ended up with an almost-identical 2.33 GAA and .923 save percentage, but only had a 15-17-4 record to show for it.

At 6’2 and just over 190 pounds, Dekanich covers the net well. And with another year of collegiate eligibility and solid organizational goaltending depth before him, there’s no rush to get him to the pro ranks before he’s ready.

13. (10) Denis Kulyash, D, 23
Acquired: 8th round, 243rd overall, 2004

This 6’2 blueliner is another low-risk, high-reward prospect in the Predators system. And although his development seemed to take a step backwards this season with Moscow Dynamo of the Russian Super League, and in fact was sent down to the First Division, a switch to North American ice may help kickstart his stalled career.

In 48 games this season the defenseman has scored three goals and added nine assists, numbers that are a fair bit less impressive than his 12-goal, five-assist performance from the previous year. However, he’s continued to show a willingness to engage in physical play complemented by solid offensive instincts.

Blessed with a solid shot and adequate skating, Kulyash needs to refine his overall skills a bit more to solidify his potential of being a solid pro.

14. (13) Grigory Shafigulin, C, 22
Acquired: 3rd round, 98th overall, 2003

Shafigulin’s fifth season with Lokomotiv of the Russian Elite League has been his best, posting solid numbers of five goals and 16 assists in 54 games.

With four years having passed since his drafting, chances are growing increasingly slim that he will ever see the light of day in a Predators uniform. He may prefer to remain in Russia for lifestyle reasons.

15. (19) Ryan Flynn, RW, 18
Acquired: 6th round, 176th overall, 2006

Flynn’s Minnesota Golden Gophers had a stellar regular season, and he played a significant role in the club’s success even as a rookie. In 41 games, he had five goals and 13 points and a +15 plus/minus rating.

Projected as a power forward, at 6’2, 215 pounds, Flynn’s already gotten off to a good head start. And with a roster stocked with NHL-drafted talent, the St. Paul, MN native has the luxury of learning from quality teammates in a successful environment.

16. (14) John Vigilante, LW, 21
Acquired: Signed as a Free Agent, 2005

After a solid, but unspectacular, OHL career that saw him passed over in the entry draft, the 6′, 200-pound Dearborn, MI native was signed as a free agent by the Predators. And he’s rewarded them with the same type of consistent offensive production that marked his career in Plymouth of the OHL.

In 58 games with the Admirals, the rookie pro has scored nine goals and added 18 assists. Not eye-popping numbers, but when combined with Vigilante’s willingness to get his nose dirty and play a physical game, they’re promising. For a grit and sandpaper-type player with good speed, he manages to take very few penalties, just 10 minutes on the year.  Vigilante missed several weeks with a broken jaw during the middle of the season.

With the Whalers, he displayed an ability to put the puck in the net, recording consecutive 24-goal seasons after a 30-goal sophomore campaign. Vigilante could carve out a solid career as a third or fourth-line energy forward.

17. (NR) Ryan Maki, RW, 21
Acquired: 6th round, 176th overall, 2005

At 6’3, 215 pounds, Maki has the size to make an impact in the professional ranks. Although Harvard fell to fifth-ranked Clarkson to end the current campaign, Maki’s senior season was, by all accounts, a success. Playing on the top line with center Kevin Du and left winger Alex Meintel, Maki was amongst the team’s leaders in scoring with 12 goals and 11 assists in 32 games – numbers that were consistent over his past two seasons, which saw consecutive 10-goal campaigns.

While size is his best attribute, the knock against Maki is that his size is not complemented by speed. Should he want to progress through the professional ranks, he needs to continue to work on his foot speed.  The Predators have until Aug. 15 to sign him.

18. (15) Kevin Schaeffer, D, 22
Acquired: 6th round, 193rd overall, 2004

In his senior season with Boston University, Schaeffer was a leader both on and off the ice. In his 32 games, Schaeffer contributed six goals and added four assists from the blueline. In addition, he posted a respectable +7 plus/minus rating.  Schaeffer suffered a twisted knee at the end of February and missed several games.

At 6’1, 200 pounds, the South Huntington, NY native now must make the jump to the pro ranks, but he’s displayed the competitiveness and maturity needed to deal with the pressure of stepping onto a pro roster.

19. (20) Brandon Segal, RW, 23
Acquired: 4th round, 102nd overall, 2002

With four seasons in the AHL under his belt, Segal may be running out of time to make an impression with the Predators. In 70 games, he’s accounted for 19 goals and nine assists though, which aren’t bad numbers.

Unfortunately, considering the younger talent coming behind him – and some of which has already surpassed him – his future appears to be solid as a depth forward at the AHL level. However, at 6’2, 210 pounds, the North Delta, BC native has the quality size that makes him an attractive insurance option to keep around the organization.

20. (18) Konstantin Glazachev, LW, 22
Acquired: 2nd round, 35th overall, 2003

A mid-season trade to Khabarovsk Amur has been beneficial for the 6′, 161-pound winger as he posted 11 points in 22 games there. In all, including his Lokomotiv totals, Glazachev has posted career bests in goals (8) and assists (8).

Unfortunately, a combined -9 rating attests to his continued need to develop his defensive game, and at such a diminutive weight, he would need to add muscle mass to handle the rigors of the longer North American season.

Glazachev is another prospect in danger of plateauing if he doesn’t make the move to North American shores to take the next step in his development. However, in all honesty, little is expected long term from this former second-rounder as he hasn’t displayed the desired progression in his skills.

Missing the cut

Alexander Sulzer, D
Teemu Lassila, G

Holly Gunning contributed to this article.  Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.