Forsberg, Jarnkrok lead Predators' top 10 prospects

Sunday, 08.10.2014 / 3:00 AM
Adam Kimelman  - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

For the Nashville Predators, patience has remained an important part of developing their younger players. That was reinforced by watching what top prospect Filip Forsberg went through.

The heralded 19-year-old center made the Predators' roster on opening night last season but struggled in his adjustment to the North American game, scoring one goal and five points in 13 games. After a star turn for Sweden at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship, he finished strong in the American Hockey League, scoring 15 goals and 34 points in 47 games for Nashville's affiliate in Milwaukee.

The hope is the patient approach pays off with Forsberg as well as other prospects the team hopes will develop into building blocks for the future.

Here's a look at the Predators' top 10 prospects, according to NHL.com:

1. Filip Forsberg, C

How acquired: Trade (Washington Capitals), April 13, 2013

Last season: 47 GP, 15-19-34, Milwaukee, AHL

Forsberg, who turns 20 Aug. 13, started last season in Nashville but struggled to adjust to the North American game. He got back on track with an outstanding run at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship, where he helped Sweden win the silver medal, led all players with 12 points in seven games, and was named the tournament's most valuable player. The 6-foot-1, 186-pound forward finished the season in the AHL and is poised to continue his ascent.

"Last year was a little bit of a transition year to North America for him," Predators chief amateur scout Jeff Kealty said. "You saw at the World Juniors what he could do, the performance he had there. Now it's just a matter of continuing to mature. We had him at our development camp … and you could see the maturity and the next step in his game. We viewed him all along as a high-end offensive talent and we think it's just a matter of time for him.

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

2. Calle Jarnkrok, C

How acquired: Trade (Detroit Red Wings), March 5, 2014

Last season: 63 GP, 18-27-45, Grand Rapids/Milwaukee, AHL

Acquired at the 2014 NHL Trade Deadline in exchange for David Legwand, Jarnkrok was a player Kealty said the organization had been tracking since before he was drafted. Seeing the 5-11, 156-pound forward up close last season confirmed their thoughts about the 22-year-old, especially the way he and Forsberg gelled playing on the same line in the AHL. That was enough for Jarnkrok to get into 12 games with the Predators.

"Hopefully you got a little glimpse of the future there with the chemistry they could have," Kealty said. "With Jarnkrok you've got a highly skilled centerman who can make plays and distribute the puck. And then you've got a guy like Forsberg on the wing that can shoot and he's got that great release. The two of them, their games really complement each other well."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

3. Colton Sissons, C

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 50), 2012 draft

Last season: 62 GP, 25-19-44, Milwaukee, AHL

The 20-year-old made a seamless transition to the pro game in his first professional season and impressed enough to earn a 17-game NHL call-up. The 6-1, 187-pound forward had one goal but displayed a strong two-way game that drew the attention of the Predators.

"He does so many things for you," Kealty said. "He's a very good two-way player. He competes hard in all areas of the ice, kills penalties, can play the power play, can play against top people. He also produces. He had 25 goals last year as a young, first-year pro in the American league. He played 17 games in Nashville, but if he were to have been in Milwaukee the whole year he may have scored 30. That gives you an idea of what he's all about. You take that type of production combined with all the other qualities and he's going to be an important player for us down the road."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

4. Austin Watson, LW

How acquired: 1st round (No. 18), 2010 draft

Last season: 76 GP, 22-24-46, Milwaukee, AHL

Two 20-goal seasons in the AHL have the Predators hoping the 22-year-old power forward is ready to make the full-time jump to the NHL this season.

"We hope that he's ready to come into camp and push for a job," Kealty said. "He's had two years in Milwaukee, scored 20 goals in each season. He's a two-way player, he's a big body (6-4, 193), got some versatility where he can play center or the wing. It's a maturity process with him. We've seen growth in that every step of the way. We hope he's ready to take that next step."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

5. Kevin Fiala, LW

How acquired: 1st round (No. 11), 2014 draft

Last season: 17 GP, 3-8-11, HV71, SWE

The 18-year-old Swiss-born Fiala impressed everywhere he played, and the 5-10, 180-pound forward was the only player in the world to register a point at the 2014 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, the World Junior Championship and the 2014 IIHF World Championship.

"Every step of the way, he showed the high-end offensive ability he had and he showed us the real competitiveness that he had," Kealty said. "And that flare where he wanted the puck, wanted to make a difference. And when you combine the two, the talent that he has and the competitiveness that he has, we really think he's got the potential to be a top-line player down the road."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

6. Brendan Leipsic, LW

How acquired: 3rd round (No. 89), 2012 draft

Last season: 60 GP, 39-59-91, Portland, WHL

Though the scoring numbers for the 5-foot-9, 165-pound forward look impressive, the Predators were just as happy to see the 111 penalty minutes the 20-year-old was assessed last season. The hope is that mix of skill and grit carries over as he starts his professional career this season.

"That shows you some of the feistiness and agitation he's got," Kealty said. "We've said since we drafted him that we'd love to have him be a Brad Marchand- or Brendan Gallagher-type player."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

7. Felix Girard, C

How acquired: 4th round (No. 95), 2013 draft

Last season: 58 GP, 11-32-43, plus-30, Baie-Comeau, QMJHL

Girard, 20, was a captain the past two seasons with his junior team, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see the 5-10, 185-pound forward grow into a leadership role as he starts his professional career.

"He's all character, all leadership," Kealty said. "Everything he does is for the benefit of the team, and quite simply you need those types of guys to win. He's excellent on faceoffs, two-time defensive player of the year in the Quebec league. He competes like mad, he's strong, can play in a lot of different roles for you. He's one of those guys that makes you better and harder to play against. … There's certainly a lot of ingredients that he has that you want on your team that are going to help you win."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

8. Juuse Saros, G

How acquired: 4th round (No. 99), 2013 draft

Last season: 44 GP, 16-16-8, 1.76 GAA, .923 SVP, HPK, FIN

Whether he was playing for his club team in Finland's top professional league, at the World Junior Championship or the World Championship, the one thing the 19-year-old did was win. And last season he won a lot, including the rookie of the year in Liiga, a gold medal at the WJC and a silver medal at the Worlds.

"He's one of those kids that is mentally strong and as tough as you're going to find at that position," Kealty said. "That's a very important quality. He's not the biggest guy in the position (5-10, 178) but I think that this kid is one of those guys that finds a way to overcome that. He has terrific instincts; he sees the play really well. … He's one of those guys that when it counts the most he seems to rise to the occasion. That's the type of guy you want in the net when it comes down to it. I think he's got the ability to be a special player one day."

Projected NHL arrival: 2017-18

9. Jack Dougherty, D

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 51), 2014 draft

Last season: 55 GP, 6-16-22, USA U-18

As much as his skill on the ice stands out, what impressed most about the 18-year-old was the seamless transition he made from high school hockey to the United States National Team Development Program last season.

Most players in the program need two seasons to develop, but the 6-1, 186-pound freshman quickly assimilated and turned into the program's best defenseman. He'll continue that development at the University of Wisconsin next season.

"Jack made that adjustment in one year and handled himself quite well," Kealty said. "For some kids, that would be a little overwhelming. But he handled himself quite well and had a very good year. … He's a very sound two-way defenseman. He's got good mobility, he moves the puck well, he contributes at both ends of the ice and he competes hard. He's a guy that will be able to do a lot of different things for you."

Projected NHL arrival: 2017-18

10. Miikka Salomaki, RW

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 52), 2011 draft

Last season: 75 GP, 20-30-50, Milwaukee, AHL

In his first season in North America, the 21-year-old Finnish power forward didn't disappoint, tying for fifth in scoring among AHL rookies.

"He's a bull," Kealty said. "He's 5-foot-11 and about 205 pounds. He's extremely strong on his feet, very hard with the puck. In a lot of ways he's probably better suited for the game in North America because he can get into the corners and battle for pucks. He's got a little bit of an underrated skill set. … He's another guy that can contribute and has that hard competitiveness and mentality that's going to make you a better team and help you win."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

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