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NHL.com: Preds prospect depth has team beaming

Monday, 08.18.2008 / 10:38 AM / Features
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NHL.com: Preds prospect depth has team beaming
Nashville Predators GM David Poile will match his prospects against any other team\'s youngsters. Poile feels some of his kids are ready to step in right now, while others will be ready to contribute soon.

The Predators liked Colin Wilson so much they gave up their second-round pick in June's draft to ensure they would get him.
David Poile is ready to play a game of my prospects vs. yours.

The Nashville Predators' GM likes his chances.

Poile and his staff, including chief amateur scout Jeff Kealty, have stocked the Predators system so full in recent years that not only does the team's present look bright with some young stars and a new ownership group, the future is right on par.

"Right now I'd stack our prospects up against anybody else's," Poile told NHL.com last month after the Entry Draft.

Here's a positional look at who he is talking about.

CENTER


Colin Wilson -- The Predators liked Wilson so much they gave up their second-round pick in June's draft just to move up two spots from No. 9 to No. 7 to ensure they would get him.

He's the prototypical power forward the organization feels it was lacking. Wilson, who is 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, was the Hockey East Rookie of the Year this past season after putting up 35 points in 37 games for Boston University. He had six goals and an assist for Team USA at the 2008 World Junior Championships.

"We just think he's the all around type of center that we have been looking for that we don't have," Poile told NHL.com. "He's a player that can play in all situations. He has good offensive instincts and he's shown that. He's a guy that can play defensively and he's shown that. He has good size. He'll be a big, strong center, which is something we have been coveting."

Mike Santorelli -- The older of Nashville's Santorelli brothers -- he's 22 -- is coming off a successful AHL rookie season for the Milwaukee Admirals. He had 21 goals and 21 assists in 80 games. Santorelli had 110 points in 121 games over three seasons for Northern Michigan from 2004-07.

He was the Predators sixth-round pick (No. 178) in 2004, but has shown enough development over the past four years that Nashville's brass is hoping he can make the jump to the NHL this season.

"He made the adjustment from Northern Michigan and learned about longer schedule and stronger players," Kealty told NHL.com. "He has good offensive skills, and is rounding out his game now. The offensive skill set is in place for him, and with all that he's learned he could make a big jump. We're hoping for him."

Mark Santorelli -- The younger Santorelli in the Predators' system -- he's 19 -- won the Bobby Clarke Award as the WHL's leading scorer for 2007-08. He had 27 goals and 74 assists for 101 points in 72 games for the Chilliwack Bruins.

Mark a fourth-round pick (No. 119) in 2007, who had 82 points in 72 games the year before, is graduating to the professional ranks and should play with Milwaukee next season.

"Like his brother, he has terrific offensive skills," Kealty said. "He makes the people around him better with the way he sees the ice and can make plays. His scoring needs to pick up a bit in terms of pace, but he can play up to the pace so we think he'll move up to the American League next year and the higher tempo will help. As he gains leg strength his skating skills will come out."

Nick Spaling -- This 19-year-old prospect, a second-round pick (No. 58) in 2007, had a fantastic season for the Kitchener Rangers in the OHL. Spaling finished with 72 points in 56 games after being drafted in the second round of the 2007 Entry Draft.

Don't expect to see Spaling turn pro just yet, but he's another prospect the Predators have their eye on. He's 6-1 and roughly 180 pounds, and he plays a cerebral game. Spaling was named the OHL's Most Gentlemanly Player this past season.

Cal O'Reilly -- After another successful season for Milwaukee, O'Reilly is another prospect hoping to make the jump to the NHL this year, the final one on his three-year entry level contract.
   
O'Reilly, a fifth-round pick (No. 150) in 2005, has 34 goals and 110 assists for 144 points in 158 AHL games over the past two seasons. He had 79 points in 80 games this past season after registering 65 in 78 in the 2006-07 season.
   
Ben Ryan -- The Predators' first fourth-round pick (No. 114) in 2007, Ryan just finished his freshman season at Notre Dame, where he put up 26 points in 47 games as the Irish made the NCAA championship game.

Ryan is known as a smart and creative two-way player. He's physical both off and on the puck, has decent hands and can play around the net. He needs more collegiate seasoning before thinking about turning pro.

"I think he's in a good situation at Notre Dame," Kealty said. "His game is only going to continue to develop there."

WINGS


Blake Geoffrion will be entering his junior season at the University of Wisconsin after putting up 30 points in 36 games for the Badgers.
Blake Geoffrion -- One of the organization's top power forward prospects, Geoffrion will be entering his junior season at the University of Wisconsin after putting up 30 points in 36 games as a sophomore for the Badgers.

Geoffrion, who had only six points in the same amount of games as a freshman, could be a year away from turning pro. The Predators hope their first pick (second round, No. 56) in 2006 steps up his offensive production even more this coming season.

He is, by the way, a Brentwood, Tenn. native and the member of the Nashville Youth Hockey League to be in the NHL.

"He had a really good year, and jumped up in his production," Kealty said. "He's a good two-way guy. That's the core of his game. He kills penalties, blocks shots and has a physical aspect to his game. He blossomed on the offensive side this year, and should take on more of a leadership role at Wisconsin. It's a year-by-year analysis with him."

Ryan Thang -- Thang is a teammate of Ryan at Notre Dame. He actually had slightly better offensive numbers, posting 32 points on 18 goals and 14 assists in 47 games. But that was a comedown after he had 41 points in 42 games as a freshman.

The Chicago native, picked in the third round (No. 81) in 2007, is more of a scorer than Ryan. He plays a high-energy, physical game.

"He didn't produce quite as much as he could have his sophomore year, but he did score 20 goals as a freshman," Kealty said. "Expectations might have been too high, but he finished the year strong."

Patric Hornqvist -- The Swedish product may be the prize of the Predators' prospects right now and will be given every opportunity to make the NHL roster coming out of training camp. Hornqvist was a seventh-round selection (No. 230) in 2005.

He still has not played a season in North America, but he has spent time in Nashville at various prospect development camps so Kealty doesn't believe next season will be a foreign experience for him. Hornqvist's English is good, too, so he shouldn't have a language barrier holding him back.

Hornqvist, who the Predators signed to his entry-level contract last summer, had 30 points in 53 games for Djurgardens of the Swedish Elite League this past season. He was the SEL's Rookie of the Year in 2006-07 after scoring 23 goals.

"We have him signed and he'll be in training camp," Poile said. "I really believe he will make the Predators this year. I think he can really be on our team."

DEFENSEMEN

Jonathon Blum finished this past season with a career-high 18 goals and 45 assists for 63 points with the WHL's Vancouver Giants.
Jonathon Blum -- The Predators used the 23rd selection in 2007 on Blum, a mobile, offensive-defenseman with good passing ability and vision.

Blum, who signed his entry-level contract in December, has played the last three seasons in the WHL for the Vancouver Giants. During his time in Vancouver he posted 138 points in 197 regular-season games and another 24 points in 50 playoff games.

During the Giants' run to the Memorial Cup championship in 2007, Blum had nine points in 22 playoff games. He finished this past season with a career-high 18 goals and 45 assists for 63 points.

Blum, who also played in the 2008 World Junior Championships for the United States, very well could be the future quarterback of the Predators power play, but he has another year of junior hockey left.

Kealty said he would have to "knock the socks off" the Predators' staff during training camp in order to make the squad.

"The one thing we have never done is rush our prospects because we're concerned about them being solid players for us five, six, seven years from now," Kealty said. "We're in a fortunate situation with our D that we don't have to force our guys. It would be great if he came in and pushed, but our plan right now is for him to go back to Vancouver and go back to world juniors with the U.S."

Cody Franson -- The Predators' second third-round pick (No. 79) in 2005, Franson played two seasons in Vancouver with Blum and had a breakout professional debut last season. He was voted to the AHL's All-Rookie team after putting up 36 points in 76 games for Milwaukee.

Franson, like Blum, is an offensive defenseman, although he is 6-foot-5. In three full WHL seasons (2004-07) he racked up 119 points in 194 games. Franson was named to the Memorial Cup All-Star Team in 2007.

He's on the Predators radar for a roster spot this coming season.

"Our hope is he'll push in training camp, but if he needs more time so be it," Kealty said. "Cody is a big, rangy guy, who shoots and passes the puck extremely well. He learned a lot in terms of the defensive side this year in Milwaukee and made strides. We're looking forward to him coming to camp."

Alexander Sulzer -- The German, stay-at-home blueliner had a successful rookie year in the AHL this past season with 32 points and a plus-1 rating in 61 games. Sulzer is 6-2 and weighs around 215 pounds, so he definitely has NHL size.

As a third-round pick (No. 92) in 2003, Sulzer is also mature enough to make a push for an NHL roster spot. He turned 24 on May 30, but has completed just one season in North America.

"He got good experience playing in a men's league in Germany and he was mature coming over," Kealty said. "He had a good year for us, but had a groin injury late in the year. He was probably our most reliable guy in Milwaukee this year with his two-way game. We definitely see him in our plans."

Roman Josi -- The Predators took Josi in the second round of last month's draft and were pleasantly surprised the Swiss product was still around at No. 38. Josi, a 6-1, 180-pound stay-at-home type was the sixth-ranked European skater in the Draft.

"We really think he's a good player," Poile said, "and maybe one of those guys that we were surprised that got that far down in the draft."

GOALIES

Jeremy Smith -- The Predators drafted this 19-year-old Michigan native in the second round (No. 54) in 2007 after his successful rookie season in the OHL. Smith continued to impress Nashville's execs this past season with both the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL and Team USA in the World Junior Championships.

Smith was the starting goalie for Team USA, and went 4-2 with a 2.40 goals against average and a .894 save percentage. After splitting duties in 2006-07 with Washington prospect Michal Neuvirth, Smith was the Whalers No. 1 this season and went 23-13-4 with a 2.86 goals against average and .921 save percentage.

He didn't fare so well in the OHL playoffs as his GAA ballooned to 7.76 in four games, all losses, but Kealty said that was due in part to a concussion he had suffered earlier in the season and that he might have been burnt out from a long season.

Nashville signed Smith, a lanky, butterfly goalie, to his first professional contract on March 5. He still has another year at Plymouth.

"We see improvements with him all the time," Kealty said. "He has one more year in Plymouth, and I think with a year under his belt as a starter there and knowing how to carry the load it will pay dividends for him."

Chet Pickard -- At No. 18, Pickard was the first goalie taken in the draft last month and the Predators were ecstatic to get him. They believe he's in the running to be Team Canada's starting goalie at the 2009 World Junior Championships and should put up another successful season for Tri-City of the WHL.

Pickard was voted as the top goalie in the Canadian Hockey League this past season thanks to his remarkable 46-12-4 record and 2.35 goals against average in his first season as the No. 1 for Tri-City. He took over for Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price.

"I would say he'll certainly be in the running for Team Canada," Kealty said. "He had an excellent year at Tri-City. I think he led the league in wins and played 90 percent of their games. He was a real workhorse for them, much the way Carey Price was. There are similarities there with his size and his demeanor. He doesn't get rattled by much. He takes away a lot of net and controls his game pretty well."

"We really feel confident that he's ready to play in the NHL. He's got future starting possibilities." - David Poile talking about Pekka Rinne
Pekka Rinne -- The 25-year-old Finn, who was drafted in the eighth round (No. 258) in 2004, is in the running to be Dan Ellis' backup in Nashville. Prior to July 1 he was the only other goalie on the team's NHL roster.

Rinne, who is 6-foot-5, has certainly paid his dues. He's played the last three seasons in Milwaukee, but also got in three games with the Predators. Rinne was 36-22-5 with a 2.47 GAA and .908 save percentage in 65 appearances for the Admirals this past season. He's entering the final year of his contract.

"We really feel confident that he's ready to play in the NHL," Poile said. "He's got future starting possibilities."

Mark Dekanich -- After completing his career at Colgate University, where he was 52-45-16 with a 2.24 GAA and .923 save percentage, Dekanich is ready for the next step of his career, according to Kealty.

"Dek is a little different in that he didn't play junior," Nashville goalie coach Mitch Korn said of the Preds' fifth-round pick (No. 146) in 2006. "He's a little older because he played college hockey, but let's not write him off at all. Dek is a pro now and he's ready to be a pro. I think he's a sleeper."

Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer
Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com

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