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Nashville Predators: 2008-2009 Top 12 Prospects

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Shane Malloy, Prospect Insider
1/11/2009 1:38:20 PM
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In their brief history, the Nashville Predators have done a very good job of drafting and being patient with the developmental process of their prospects. This patience and hard work has allowed them to produce solid NHL players that other NHL teams covet. Over the past few seasons, the Nashville Predators farm system took a huge hit with the trades of Ryan Parent and Scottie Upshall plus a first and third round pick in 2007. This was coupled with a 2006 first round pick for Brendan Witt and those lost assets have to be filled long term. Not to mention the fact that first rounder Alexander Radulov, who no longer plays for the team, was another kick in the pants.

Fortunately the Predators have quickly assembled one of the best young defense cores with Ryan Suter, Shea Weber, Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Klein in the NHL. Right behind them in the system they have the talented Jonathan Blum, Teemu Laakso, Roman Josi and Cody Franson on the way which should buy them some time. Even if two or four of those prospects play to their full potential, the Preds could have a championship high caliber defense.

Another area where the Preds do not have to worry is goaltending where they are flush with talent from the past two drafts.  Last years first round pick Chet Pickard reminds some of Carey Price and is best friends with another Nashville prospect, Colin Wilson. It looks as though Pickard has NHL starting goaltending written all over him. The other netminder is Jeremy Smith, a second round pick from 2007 who is talented and has the ability to become a NHL netminder as well.
A late round pick that has shown some promise in Milwaukee is Mark Dekanich who cut his teeth at Colgate University before turning professional.

The gem prospect of the forwards ranks is last years first round pick Colin Wilson, who one day soon could become a prototypical power center in the NHL. With Jason Arnott getting longer in the tooth, Wilson could be a perfect replacement long term for the Predators. The remaining group of forwards could become role players at some point but they are considered longer term projects.  They all have the one key ingredient character which is a prominent trait in most of their draft choices. They have had one recent forward break into the roster Patric Hornqvist but since he has played games required at the pro level he has been moved off this list.

The Santorelli brothers Mark and Mike both have the intangibles but will need a couple years in the AHL. They could be the wild cards of the group since each of them has the potential to play on a third line and maybe the second line or not at all. The other two forwards, Blake Geoffrion and Nick Spaling, require the same time frame for development and could find a role for themselves in two to three seasons.

The Predators will need two solid drafts in the next couple years to replenish the ranks fully especially skilled forwards so it will be interesting to see which direction they take. 

Colin Wilson - Center, 19 (1st round 7th overall 2008)
Currently with Boston University (NCAA)

The second generation NHLer had a standout freshman season at Boston U and played exceptionally well overall at the U20 WJC for Team USA as an underager in 2008. He has followed that up with a strong sophomore season so far and an excellent performance at this most recent WJC. His freshman numbers were excellent with 35 points in 37 games and he is following it up posting 21 points in 16 games halfway through the season.

A strong 6 foot 1 and 215 pound two-way pivot who might be more suited on the wing to utilize strength and power game. He showed his hockey sense is on par with his elite peer group as Wilson is a consistent point producer and always finds a way to contribute. His puck skills and passing ability are very good and he gets the puck away crisply and on target. He does not see the ice as well as some other high end prospect centers so he might be more productive as a power forward on the wall. To his credit he stickhandles through traffic well and can control the puck with players banging into him without losing the puck or his intended direction.

Wilson's one drawback is his skating as he is not the fleetest of foot and his quickness and footspeed need an upgrade but to his credit he is agile and has great balance on his skates. Fortunately he does his best work inside the dots where foot speed is not an issue and as long as he is an average overall skater that will be good enough. The one thing he does great is shoot the puck and regardless whether it his slap, snap, wrist or backhand it come off his stick fast and makes great decisions on which one to use. His shot is heavy, accurate and he gets if off the ice almost instantly which makes it harder to gauge for goaltenders.

He is a solid smart defensive player who understands the little tricks and nuances of how to use his body position more effectively and tie up sticks to eliminate players. Wilson knows where he needs to be on the ice in the defensive zone and he keeps his feet moving at all times while having a keen eye out for players darting in and out of seams. His ability control the puck along the boards and slow the play down helps his teammates get back to position and he makes safe smart decisions when getting the puck out of the zone.

A physical forward who can carry defenders to the net and draw penalties while maintaining puck possession. His size and strength allow him to remain effective in traffic and fight for loose pucks and causes defenders to cheat his way which opens up space for his linemates. He will go out of his way to make hits and play a rough physical style and can be a handful for defenseman and smaller centers trying to cover him. Has very well schooled by his father ex-NHLer Carey Wilson and knows what is expected of him and prepares like a pro on and off the ice. Expect a mature dedicated top line forward that has a good work ethic, intangibles and will be a reliable teammate in the playoffs.

Chet Pickard - Goalie, 19 (1st round 18th overall 2008)
Currently with Tri-City (WHL)

A big netminder at 6 foot 3 and 216 pounds who covers allot of area in the crease and uses his size to his advantage when being aggressive to cut the angles or deep in his crease covering down low. In his fourth season in the WHL and after backing up Carey Price he has flourished the past two years has steadily improved as a starter. 

Pickard shows good balance on skates and when he drops down he keeps his body upright and not slumped over. His positioning and mechanics are technically sound and consistent which allows him to make the first save look easy. Once he drops down he recovers quickly and shows excellent strength and endurance and does not seem to get worn down physically. He is quick laterally and displays good agility for goaltender with that size and can cover post to post due to his surprising flexibility.

Does a great job not allowing rebounds to go into the slot and he absorbs pucks like a sponge on consistent basis. Can flash a pretty quick glove hand and uses it well to cover space and he is getting better at directing puck with his blocker. Mentally and emotionally he appears tough and resilient and does not get rattled with traffic in the crease. He communicates well with his defenseman and they will defend him with vigor because he battles hard for them and does not cast blame. Has shown the ability to carry a team far in the playoffs and has the potential to be a number one goaltender in the NHL.

Jon Blum - Defense, 19 (1st round 23rd overall, 2007)
Currently with Vancouver (WHL)

A smart puck moving defenseman with the hockey sense to make fast decisions under duress and to contribute offensively. He is at his most dangerous after he has avoided the first wave of forecheckers and can exploit the retreating forwards and defenseman with a quick pass up a seam. Has above average skating overall due to his lack of strength, power and a extra gear, but to his credit his agility, quickness and lateral movement are excellent. He does a good job defensively when he can use his quickness to avoid contact and move the puck. He judges gap control and which angles to take very well and always has an active stick.

Since he is only 6 foot 1 and 180 pounds he can get overwhelmed physically and cannot contain NHL power forwards down low and needs help in front of the net. He is dangerous on special teams and can quarterback the power play but his slap shot lacks zip and needs some work. If he can gain 15 pounds and add the power and speed to his skating then he could develop into a top three puck possession type defenseman.

His big game experience in two Memorial Cups and WJC Championship for Team USA will go along way in his maturity as a player. To his credit he has developed into a strong leader on and off the ice and should develop into a good NHL defenseman.

Jeremy Smith - Goalie, 19 (2nd round 54th overall 2007)
Currently with Plymouth (OHL)

Has come a way with two solid seasons in 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 for Plymouth and is beginning to show some ability to develop into an elite netminder.  He has compiled a record of 46-19-5 along with great save percentages in back to back years going .923 and .921. He has been fortunate to have garnered some big game experience in the Memorial cup and WJC for Team USA which should help hasten his development.

This season however things have not gone as well as Smith had hoped but all goaltenders go through at least one challenging season. Smith maintains a compact package in the crease and does not show many holes while moving post to post. Maintains good balance and positioning and usually not forced to make a scramble secondary saves. Tends to play butterfly too often and needs to be more of a hybrid goaltender as the top of the net can be exposed. Flashes a good glove hand and he shows good control angling pucks off his blocker. Displays fast feet and reflexes and moves quickly around the net as has the agility to stay on top of the action. 

He needs to add strength to his 6 foot 0 and 180 pound frame as he could susceptible to injury along with physical and mental fatigue that comes with being thin. He has the capability to play in the NHL one day and will need a few years in the minors to refine his game and get stronger.

Cody Franson - Defense, 21 (3rd round 79th overall, 2005)
Currently with Milwaukee (AHL)

The 6 foot 5 and 215 pound defenseman has offensive awareness and capability to become a solid offensive defenseman. His elite passing ability and vision coupled with an excellent shot from the point could make him powerplay quarterback. Considering his size his skating ability is top notch and can be a fourth player on a rush. He will need another year in the AHL to work on his defensive game since it is average from a junior standpoint. In the 2005-06 season, he exploded offensively with 55 points in 71 games and quickly picked up where he left off with 51 points in 59 games the following season.

His experience with Team Canada at the WJC and the Memorial Cup victory with Vancouver will pay dividends down the road as he has learned to play under immense pressure. He stumbled defensively at first in his rookie season in the AHL but has recovered and he still needs to be more physically active as well. There is no denying his offensive abilities and once he rounds out the other aspects of his game he should make a quick transition to the NHL.

Cal O'Reilly - Center, 22 (5th round 150th overall 2005)
Currently with Milwaukee (AHL)

Although he is not the biggest pivot at 5 foot 11 and 180 so he will need to get stronger especially in the core to withstand the higher physical price of the NHL. His hockey sense and puck skills are very good and he sees the ice as well as anyone in the AHL. His 79 points in 80 games last year in Milwaukee made many people take notice but will that translate to the NHL. Once again O'Reilly is on pace for over a point a game in the AHL and it remains to be seen if he will earn a shot at the NHL.

His top end skating needs another gear which would come from more strength but he has the agility to avoid most hits. He is decent defensively and clutch on the penalty kill with 5 shorthanded goals. If he work hard in the off-season and does not rely on just skill and shows greater commitment he could play at the NHL level.

Teemu Laakso - Defense, 21 (3rd round 78th overall, 2005)
Currently with Milwaukee (FIN)

The Finn plays an overall solid game with no big flaws; however he does not do anyone thing great. He has begun to show more confidence in his game physically and is more assertive. After the WJC in 2006 he certainly took his physical game to another level amassing 52 penalty minutes in only 6 games. What perhaps was more intriguing was the fact he produced 5 points in 6 games at the WJC along with a team leading +3 plus/minus. He may not have the offensive instincts to put up any significant numbers from the blueline at the NHL level but he can contribute.

Has played three solid seasons in the Finnish Elite League and looked ready for a new challenge and did not take much time adjusting to the North American game. As a rookie in the AHL Laakso looked solid and is reliable in his own end without any major flaws.  

Mike Santorelli - Right Wing/ Center, 23 (6th round 178th overall, 2004)
Currently with Milwaukee (NCAA)

He was recruited and scouted out of the British Columbia Hockey League where he played for the Vernon Vipers. While in the BCHL he was a man among boys posting 96 points in 60 games and dominated every shift. After three years in Northern Michigan under head coach Walt Kyle he has shown steady and marked improvement in all aspects of his game. In his first two seasons he had 30 and 33 points respectively while only playing in 40 games each year. In his junior year Santorelli leads the team with 47 points in 41 games with habit of scoring game winning and short handed goals. He had a solid rookie season in the AHL with 39 points in 73 games and his puck skills and hockey sense have translated over to a higher tempo game.

His defensive game has improved and he must continue to get stronger to compete for loose pucks. He makes smart plays with the puck even at speed and is not afraid to drive to the net and take shots from anywhere. This season his offensive production and work ethic has improve and that impressed the Nashville brass enough to earn himself a call up to the NHL. The 6 foot 0 and 190 pound pivot could develop into a valuable and dangerous third line checking center that could provide some offense. The older brother to Mark Santorelli who will help guide his younger brother through the rigors and pitfalls and being a pro. We could see another brother combination in the not so distant future.

Nick Spaling - Center, 20 (2nd round 58th overall 2007)
Currently with Milwaukee (AHL)

Has been underrated for the most part and been overshadowed by higher profile player but to his credit has produced every chance he has been given under tough circumstances.
Overall he has good puck skills and shows enough vision and hockey sense to play at the next level. His 131 points in 117 games over the past two season are a tribute to his offensive consistency. He distributes the puck well to his linemates and can make plays at speed under duress. He will need to continue to get stronger at 6 foot 1 and 183 pounds to compete at the NHL level but he has enough tools to get there.

Is not a physical player by style and will not initiate contact or linger in the slot for long periods of time. He tends to be a thinking mans player you tries to use what the opposition gives him. If respectable defensively and is not a liability and tends to keep is head on a swivel and an active stick. Has missed some time to illness and is not the same player and the long playoffs and Memorial Cup experience helped bolster his confidence. Has made the transition to the AHL this season and has not looked out of place posting 21 points in 37 games so far.

Mark Santorelli - Center/Left Wing, 20 (4th round 119th overall, 2007)
Currently with Milwaukee (AHL)

For a fourth round pick he is a good overall prospect with enough tools in his tool box to become a valuable pro player one day. He has exploded offensively over the last two seasons posting 183 points in 144 games while winning the WHL scoring title in Chilliwack last year with 101 points. His hockey sense and ability to find the seam and develop scoring opportunities for himself and his teammate are his biggest assets. He has a quick release on his wrist, snap and slap shot and it has good accuracy overall. His puck skills are underrated and he can make passes and plays at full speed with his vision and soft hands.

He must continue to work on his game without the puck and add another gear to his stride although he is a decent skater overall. He has the frame at 6 foot 1 to add some strength and weight to his 187 pounds and he will need to if he wishes to compete consistently in the AHL. He has not produced offensively at the level Santorelli had hoped for in his rookie season in the AHL so patience will be needed. Expect Santorelli to take a couple more seasons in the AHL before getting a shot at the big club and is a project at this point. 

Blake Geoffrion - Left Wing, 20 (2nd round 56th overall, 2006)
Currently with Wisconsin (NCAA)

The 6 foot 2 and 195 pound swift skating Geoffrion made a good impression at the WJC for Team USA last year. He is one of those players brings energy and accountability to any lineup. He did not receive the opportunity in Wisconsin since he was a freshman with 6 points in 36 games two seasons ago.

Has decent puck skills and makes the most of his opportunities with a good work ethic and hustle and is willing to get his nose dirty. Has good wheels and uses his speed well in both zones especially on the forecheck and back check. Has a pretty good overall shot but it could get a way a little quicker.  Has played on a  line with Kyle Turris and his numbers have improved to 30 points in 36 games along with 52 penalty minutes as a sophomore. He is expected to develop into a respectable third line or fourth line player in the NHL after college and some time in the AHL.

Roman Josi - Defense, 18 (2nd round 38th overall 2008)
Currently with Bern (SWI)

A smart puck moving defenseman who has played in the Swiss A League for the last two seasons. Not the biggest defender at 6 foot 1 and 183 pounds but he competes against players older than him which show some moxie. He seems to have solid hockey sense and vision while showing the ability to make a decent first pass out of his zone. Plays more of a puck possession style defense and likes to move the puck quickly and keep the forecheckers at bay. It will be interesting to see how he can translate his game to a more physical faster pace style in North America.

Hockey Prospect Radio

Nashville Predators - NHL Entry Draft Record (1998 - 2003)

When looking at the drafting and developing record of a NHL organization it becomes an interesting blend of statistics and circumstances with perhaps some luck thrown in for good measure. Most of the time the General Manager receives kudos for a teams fortunes at the draft table when in reality it is usually never the case in today's NHL. For the most part there are three aspects that make the whole process work; first is the amateur scouting department's ability to evaluate and project talent which may be the most challenging of all. Next the organizations player development department must attempt to mold the prospects by giving the players tools to enhance his talents. Perhaps most importantly is the prospects responsibility to pay the price and sacrifice which generally requires a tremendous work ethic. If one of these aspects fails then the likelihood of a prospect turning into an asset to his organization and having a NHL career becomes remote.

The reason for the analyzing the years from 1997 to 2003 is to first give each NHL organization five years to develop their prospects as players from different leagues evolve differently. Secondly the years from 1997-2003 are the players that should be the building blocks of the core of your team as they will be in the 23-29 year old age range. What makes each organization unique is what they do with the picks they have as management will often trade draft choices for immediate help on their NHL and AHL teams. Now some players may be real late bloomers and eventually make the criteria set in this analysis down the road but at this stage it is fascinating to see the results.

Now the Nashville Predators have only been drafting since 1998 and have been at a disadvantage compared to the majority of the other organizations. The Preds have had only eleven NHL drafts to draw from. Now eleven NHL drafts sounds like allot but in reality is a small amount a time to build a consistent contender from scratch. In Nashville's case their oldest drafted player still on the roster is 1998 draft pick center David Legwand at the age of 29. It modern era it generally takes expansion teams a while to build a contender as the Anaheim Ducks took 14 years of drafting and the Tampa Bay Lightning 12 years before they won the Stanley Cup so there is hope for Predator fans. The only exception was the Philadelphia Flyers who started from scratch and won six years later as the Broad Street Bullies.

Criteria of NHL games played that deem a player has been drafted and developed successfully.

  Forwards - Defenceman Goaltenders
1997-2001 125-200 NHL Games required 51-100 NHL Games Played
2002-2003 100 NHL Games required 25-50 NHL Games Played
Pending Player - Represents a player who has a legitimate chance to make criteria.

Nashville Predators Prospects 1998-2003

Year Draft Picks NHL Players Produced (Round/Pick)
1998 8 David Legwand (1/2)
Denis Arkhipov (2/60)
Karl Skrastins (9/230)
1999 15 Adam Hall (2/55)
Martin Erat (7/191)
2000 12 Scott Hartnell (1/6)
2001 9 Dan Hamhuis (1/12)
Jordan Tootoo (4/98)
2002 8 Scott Upshall (1/6)
2003 13 Ryan Suter (1/7)
Shea Weber (2/49)
Kevin Klein (2/37) Pending

Total: 6yrs - 65 draft picks - 11 NHL Players = 16.9% success rate

Success in the first three rounds (1997-2003)

1st rnd Draft Choices: 6 total picks
Undeveloped Prospects: Brian Finley
6yrs - 6 draft picks - 5 NHL Players = 83.3% success rate

2nd rnd Draft Choices: 11 total picks + 1 Pending (*)
Undeveloped Prospects - * Kevin Klein, Andrew Hutchinson, Ed Hill, Jan Lasak, Daniel Widing, Tomas Slovak, Timofei Shishkanov, Konstanin Glazachev
6yrs - 11 draft picks - 2 NHL Players = 18.1% success rate

3rd rnd Choices: 9 total picks
Undeveloped Prospects - Geoff Koch, Brett Angel, Libor Pivko, Mattias Nilsson, Oliver Setzinger, Denis Platonov, Alexander Sulzer, Paul Brown, Richard Stehlik, Grigory Shafigulin
6yrs -11 draft picks - 1 NHL Players = 9.0% success rate

Total: Total: 6yrs - 28 draft picks - 8 NHL Players = 28.5% success rate in first 3 rounds

First Three Rounds - Developed vs. Prospects/NA vs. Euro
Developed players: (8) North American, (3) European
Undeveloped Prospects: (6) North American, (12) European

4th rnd to 9th rnd Choices: 37 total picks
6yrs - 37 draft picks - 3 NHL Players = 8.1% success rate

Shane Malloy provides hockey prospect insight and analysis on his Prospect Insider feature on TSN.ca, Canada's leading sports website. Many sports networks, hockey magazines and major newspapers have drawn upon his expertise and knowledge. His passion for the game and involvement in grass roots hockey from the junior hockey to the National Hockey League is evident. He is currently a host and hockey event reporter on XM Sirius Satellite Radio (Home Ice 204) where he co-hosts a hockey radio show on Hockey Prospects and the Business of Hockey.

Prior to joining TSN, Malloy was the columnist-covering prospects for NHL.com for two years and a NHL and prospect columnist Fox Sports.com for six years.

This document is the intellectual property of Shane Malloy and cannot be used or duplicated in anyway without expressed written consent. Any use of this document without the expressed written consent of Shane Malloy will result in public exposure and legal prosecution.

Weber and Suter (Photo: Brian Kersey/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Brian Kersey/Getty Images)
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