The Nashville Predators bread and butter since the earliest days of the franchise has been player development, and that continues as the Milwaukee Admirals – Nashville’s primary developmental affiliate at the American Hockey League level – opened training camp on Monday. As they do many years, the Ads will see an influx of young talent as they look to make their 11th consecutive playoff appearance in 2012-13, a streak matched only by the Connecticut Whale.
Predators General Manager David Poile and Assistant GM Paul Fenton have been on record saying this year’s group has them excited as any that has come through the system so let’s take a look at some of the players expected to make the biggest impact when the regular season starts on Oct. 12 at Grand Rapids.
The future is bright for the organization, as evidenced by the handful of Predators prospects making the jump to full time North American professional hockey in 2012-13. They come from overseas, the major junior ranks, and from the NCAA. Here’s a look at eight to watch heading into camp:
Defense. Shoots left. 6-1, 207 lbs.Born, Island Park, N.Y., July 15, 1990.
(Nashville's fourth choice, 168th overall (sixth round), in 2010 Entry Draft).
Bitetto joins Milwaukee after a pair of seasons at General Manager David Poile’s alma mater, Northeastern University (Hockey East), where he did not miss a game, compiling 35 points (7g-28a) in 72 games. A hard-edged defender who is extremely effective at clearing out attackers, Bitetto can play physically and move the puck/produce points when necessary – he ranked among the ECAC defensive leaders in points as a freshman, and among USHL defensive leaders in goals and points in his final season with the Indiana Ice in 2010-11.
Right wing. Shoots right. 5-11, 177 lbs.Born, Huddinge, Sweden, July 27, 1991.
(Nashville's third choice, 126th overall (fifth round), in 2010 Entry Draft).
A quintessential “Predators” player, Cehlin has quickness to produce chances in the offensive zone, but also plays a hardworking, two-way game. He jumps the pond after playing the past three seasons with Djurgarden of the Swedish Elite League, where he put up solid numbers despite playing against men, some nearly twice his age. Cehlin’s coming out party came at the 2011 World Junior Championships where he was named one of the nation’s three best players by the coaches while tying for team lead in points (4g-2a-6pts).
Defense. Shoots left. 6-4, 202 lbs.Born, Borlange, Sweden, May 24, 1990.
(Nashville's seventh choice, 102nd overall (fourth round), in the 2009 Entry Draft).
He’s accomplished all he can in his native Sweden, so Ekholm officially begins his North American career in 2012-13 (he played two games at the beginning of last season with Nashville before returning home). The 2011-12 campaign was a dream season for this highly touted prospect; he not only helped Brynas claim the 2012 Le Mat Trophy as Swedish Elite League champions, but won the 2012 Borje Salming Award – Sweden’s equivalent of the Norris Trophy. All this comes just one season after Ekholm was named the league’s Rookie of the Year, an award won by the likes of Nicklas Bäckström, Loui Eriksson and Henrik Zetterberg. The do-it-all defenseman has tremendous upside, but first needs to adapt to the AHL’s smaller rinks and style of play.
Goaltender. Catches left. 6-5, 199 lbs.Born, Uppsala, Sweden, April 4, 1991.
(Nashville’s first choice, 38th overall (second round), in the 2011 Entry Draft).
Tall, athletic goaltenders who use their size effectively have become mainstays in the Nashville Predators organization, and Hellberg is just the latest to come through Milwaukee. He’ll most likely spend 2012-13 backing up veteran Jeremy Smith and learning the nuances of the North American game, but could earn more starts depending on how quick he learns.
Center. Shoots left. 5-11, 188 lbs.Born, Calgary, Alta., June 5, 1988.
(Signed as a free agent on March 10, 2012).
A “Swiss Army Knife” type player, Maclellan can fit into the lineup anywhere and contribute. He joined the Predators at the conclusion of last season to learn the pro game, but his first contest with the Admirals will be his professional debut. Smart and detailed in all areas of the game, Maclellan completed his four-year collegiate career at Brown University in 2011-12 as the 23rd player in school history to record 100 points, registering 101 points (46g-55a) in 121 games. The team’s offensive leader in nearly every statistical category each of the last three seasons, he wore the “C” as a senior, and was named to the Lowe's Senior CLASS Second Team for being a “total student-athlete who used his platform in athletics to make a positive impact as a leader in the communities.”
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Defense. Shoots right. 6-1, 204 lbs.Born, St. Eustache, Que., September 13, 1991.
(Nashville's third choice, 42nd overall (second round), in the 2009 Entry Draft).
After five seasons and more than 350 total games in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), Roussel will become the seventh member of Nashville’s 2009 draft class to play games professionally in 2012-13. The puck-moving defenseman who also plays a solid physical game has momentum on his side entering this season after ranking second among QMJHL skaters in plus/minus rating (+48) and among the defensive leaders in points and goals in 2011-12. Success has also followed Roussel – he helped the Saint John Sea Dogs win the Jean-Rougeau Trophy as QMJHL regular season champions, then dominate in the playoffs, winning the 2012 President’s Trophy while going 16-1 in the playoffs and outscoring the opposition 103-39. He won a division title with Montreal in 2011, and helped Shawinigan reach Game Seven of the 2009 President’s Cup Final.
Left wing. Shoots left. 6-1, 209 lbs.Born, Whitby, Ont., September 25, 1991.
(Nashville’s third choice, 94th overall (fourth round), in the 2011 Entry Draft).
Known for his fantastic offensive instincts, Shalla is a natural goal scorer. He wrapped up his junior career last spring as the all-time leading goal scorer in Saginaw Spirit franchise history (133) despite not playing his first OHL season with the Spirit. Even after missing 15 games, he finished eighth in OHL goal scoring in 2011-12 (40), just one season after ranking among the League’s top five in goals (47). He scores his goals in all situations as well, finishing as high as second in shorthanded tallies and 12th in power-play markers.
Right Wing. Shoots right. 6-3, 193 lbs.Born, Ann Arbor, Mich., January 13, 1992.
(Nashville's first choice, 18th overall (first round), in 2010 Entry Draft).
The oldest of 10 children, Watson raises his game when it counts most. Though slotted as a shutdown, two-way forward as a pro, he received the 2012 Wayne Gretzky 99 Award presented to playoff MVP after leading the London Knights to the Robertson Cup title as OHL Champions, tying for fourth in playoff goals in the process (10). He was named to the 2012 Memorial Cup All-Star Team (4gp, 2g-3a-5pts) after helping London advance to overtime of the tournament title game. Though the Knights fell short, Watson already had a Memorial Cup to his credit playing with a star-studded Windsor club in 2009. Watson also represented the United States at the 2012 World Junior Championships, leading the team
in points (9) and assists (6).
Nashville has uncovered some pleasant surprises through signing veterans to two-way contracts – the names Joel Ward, Marcel Goc and Dan Ellis are some of the most notable, but going back further reveal names like Vernon Fiddler, Greg Zanon and Vladmir Orszagh. The Preds will try to uncover another gem from these three first-year Admirals:
Right wing. Shoots left. 6-3, 205 lbs.Born, Kista, Sweden, April 19, 1987.
(Signed as a free agent on June 1, 2012).
One of a couple free agent signings expected to make their North American debut after several pro seasons in Europe, Bang has spent the past six seasons with AIK of the Swedish Elite League. A power forward, Bang plays a physical game and uses his size to create space and excel in the close areas.
Defense. Shoots left. 6-3, 234 lbs.Born, Turku, Finland, January 5, 1989.
(Signed as a free agent on May 30, 2012).
Another European pro jumping the pond, Jarvinen earned a Finnish League silver medal in 2012 after helping Pelicans Lahti reach the league finals last spring. During the 2011-12 regular season, he ranked second among all Finnish league skaters in plus/minus rating (+28) and fourth in penalty minutes (125), while also tying for 14th among league defensemen in assists (18), and tying for 18th at the position in points (23). The big, mean blueliner also has international experience, most recently representing Finland at the 2012 World Championships.
Defense. Shoots left. 6-1, 210 lbs.Born, Calgary, Alta., December 12, 1984.
(Signed as a free agent on July 3, 2012).
Moore is an AHL veteran, having played four seasons with Worchester – San Jose’s developmental affiliate – after ending a decorated four-year career at Princeton University in 2007-08. He brings both experience and leadership to a young Admirals team having served as both captain of the Worchester Sharks, and as a senior at Princeton while being named a First-Team All-American and leading the Tigers to an ECAC title. Moore has six NHL games and a goal to his credit, but is best known for getting under the skin of opposing forwards and dishing out big hits.
Stay tuned as NashvillePredators.com will take a look at the veterans returning to Milwaukee later this week in Part 2 of the 2012-13 Milwaukee Admirals Preview.