It's not that Jonathon Blum
wanted to go home early, but the Nashville Predators
defense prospect turned an earlier-than-usual ouster from the Western Hockey League playoffs into a bonanza for his development.
For the first time in three years, Blum returned home to Southern California in April to spend an extra two months preparing his body for the Predators' prospect development camp at the end of June.
It didn't hurt that he got to ride some waves on his surfboard, either.
"My first two years I went to the Memorial Cup and had a bunch of camps, so I didn't get back until mid-June," Blum said. "This summer I was back around April 20 and that extra time really helped. You want to go far in the playoffs, but I don't think that time off hurt me. It actually helped me."
Thanks to the extra time, Blum was able to erase any concerns the Predators brass had about his weight -- he came to development camp weighing 180 pounds. He finished the WHL season at around 160 after playing nearly 30 minutes a night for the Vancouver Giants.
With the added muscle he was able to display an explosiveness that has Nashville's scouts teaming with excitement about this gem of a prospect. Blum is likely going to play a fourth season with the Giants, but the Predators are feeling pretty good about selecting him at No. 23 in last year's Entry Draft.
"He's the guy that anchors everything for them in Vancouver," Jeff Kealty, the Predators' chief amateur scout, told NHL.com. "He plays monster minutes. He has terrific hockey sense, moves the puck and gets involved in the offense. The only thing for him is to continue to get stronger and add weight, and he's done that."
Kealty said because of the Predators' depth on the blue line -- they have seven NHL-ready defensemen already on the roster for next season -- it's all but guaranteed that Blum will return to Vancouver.
The 19-year-old defenseman doesn't seem put off by the prospect of another season in juniors. In fact, Blum admits that returning to Vancouver is probably best for his continued development into an all-around NHL defenseman. Blum will be the focal point of the Giants' defense after setting a franchise record for defensemen with 18 goals and 63 points this past season. His 63 points were second on the team and second among all WHL defensemen. He also boasted a team-best plus-27 rating.
"You don't want to count yourself out, but they pretty much said they want me to play another year of junior, which is fine," Blum said. "It doesn't hurt to play a major role on your team back in junior. I will probably be a captain of the team so it's going to be a challenge. It will be different to go back there and lead the team and be the best player on that team."
Still, like any prospect, Blum is thinking about the what-if scenarios.
What if he impresses enough people during training camp? Well, then he could earn his entry-level contract earlier than expected.
What if that happens? Well, then he would be given the chance for a nine-game, NHL tryout before the Predators must decide if they want to keep him or send him back to the Giants.
"I'm going to try my hardest to make that team, to make them have a tough decision to make," he said. "I have to leave that impression and never quit. I have to prove them wrong."
It remains quite unlikely, though, considering Kealty said the Predators never like to rush their prospects, and they have enough defensive depth to return Blum to Vancouver.
"With our depth at defense, I would say unless he really came in and knocked our socks off in training camp that he doesn't figure into the mix for this season," Kealty said. "That certainly doesn't change our view of him as a prospect at all. We never saw him as a guy that will play two years out, but we're pleased with his development."
Should the original plan for Blum's development stay in place, there's a good chance he will again play on the blue line for Team USA in the World Junior Championships in Ottawa. Blum joined fellow Predators prospects Blake Geoffrion
, Ryan Flynn
and Jeremy Smith
on the American squad this past winter.
"It's a matter of growth for him, really," Kealty said. "It's about maturing physically and maturing into his body. The intangibles he has are things you can't teach."
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org