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Sissons, Leipsic know chance awaits with Predators

by Tal Pinchevsky

TORONTO -- With the Nashville Predators in transition, forward prospects Colton Sissons and Brandon Leipsic are hoping to get a long look at training camp.

"They always want the young guys to get stronger and keep developing. That's the standard for us younger guys in the organization," Sissons said Saturday at the 2014 NHLPA Rookie Showcase. "Times are changing there and there's a new coach and a little bit of turnover, so I think they're looking for younger guys like us to make a push at camp to make the roster this year. I think they'll give us a pretty good opportunity for that."

After the Predators missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a second consecutive season, they made wholesale changes this summer. Barry Trotz, the only coach in Predators history, was replaced by Peter Laviolette, and the forwards were bolstered by the acquisition of wing James Neal in a trade and the signing of free-agent centers Mike Ribeiro, Derek Roy and Olli Jokinen.

The Predators have gained a reputation for drafting and developing players through their system. Many of their marquee names, including captain Shea Weber, goaltender Pekka Rinne and forwards Colin Wilson and Craig Smith, were drafted by Nashville and spent some time with their American Hockey League affiliate in Milwaukee.

If recent history is an indicator, the same could eventually be said of Sissons and Leipsic, who were drafted by Nashville in the second and third round, respectively, in the 2012 NHL Draft, and are ranked third and sixth among Predators prospects by Sissons has the jump on his friend, having played 17 games with the Predators last season after completing his junior career with the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League. Sissons, who scored one goal and four points in the NHL, hopes to crack the Nashville roster in training camp but is ready for a potential stay in the AHL.

"Their go-to statement is the road to Nashville goes through Milwaukee. Nine-tenths of the guys in Nashville have spent some time in Milwaukee, maybe even a few years," Sissons, a center, said. "That's kind of the way the organization works. It's just part of the process. It's a good spot. They develop us pretty well down there."

Leipsic, a left wing, is entering his first pro season after a successful career with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL, where he led the league in scoring in the 2012-13 season. He's prepared to hone his skills in Milwaukee, paying particular attention to his strength, but the Winnipeg native has seen firsthand how the jump from junior to Nashville is possible.

One of Leipsic's former Portland teammates, defenseman Seth Jones, spent his entire rookie season with Nashville after being taken No. 4 by the Predators in the 2013 NHL Draft. Leipsic isn't expecting to make the same impact as Jones, but he is aware the precedent has been set.

"It's pretty rare that you see guys that make the jump right to the NHL like [Jones]. He's a rare talent that can make that seamless transition," Leipsic said. "It's going to be my first year pro, so there's going to be a lot of learning curves when I'm in the American League. It will be exciting."

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