Sixteen Predators prospects are in town for conditioning camp this week, and nashvillepredators.com is taking the opportunity to catch up with each of them and get their thoughts on last season, the Predators camp and more. Below is Part 1 of a four-part series that will continue this week.
Photo by John Russell
Acquired: Ninth round, 2003 Entry Draft
Team: Kelowna (WHL)
Q. How did you feel this past season went for you?
A. Well, last season was kind of tough for me because I had shoulder surgery. So I didn't play for two months. I really worked out hard in the gym so that made my comeback easier. I think I came back in really good shape and got the game rhythm going right away. This season I think I got more consistent toward the end. I think there have been a lot of positive things in my game. I got more consistent and played better each night. Then unfortunately I got injured in the playoffs again. My knee, MCL. So I really had a good first round, scoring five goals in six games and all the lines on our team were really clicking. Then I was out and we had to move up guys and we didn't have the chemistry anymore. So we lost in the second round when I didn't play. It was pretty disappointing to watch. After that I had to go back home and try out for the World Championships, Team Latvia national team. My knee felt better at that time and I made the team. I ended the season on a good note.
Q. What was the World Championship experience like?
A. That was awesome. The whole championship was in Riga, Latvia and that's my hometown. My family had a chance to see my games and all my friends. Playing in front of your hometown crowd is an awesome experience. It gives you that extra jump. I played for the under-18 junior national teams. It's a special feeling. And [the World Championship] was an even bigger experience. And it was fun to play with really good players and against good players.
Q. What was it like to play in front of the boisterous Latvian fan base?
A. The thing is Latvia doesn't have strong hockey during the season. They don't have good quality championships there. So the fans are hungry to see good hockey and the World Championships was the only chance of the year. So they see good hockey only two weeks, and they were hungry to see it. I think that's why they were so pumped and excited. As I said, all of our national team players are not playing in Latvia. So it's a great chance for the fans to see them when they come back and see how they've developed.
Q. What has been your favorite part of camp so far?
A. Probably meeting the new guys and it's exciting to be a part of the Predators organization. This whole thing--even [Tuesday], testing is probably not the most fun thing in the world, but you feel that there's a goal after that. So you do it with a purpose. Even though some things are tough here, it's still fun. I can't name one thing.
Q. Are you itching to get on the ice after days of off-ice testing and activities?
A. We're hockey players and playing hockey is the most fun. When the season ends, you're kind of like, "Oh, finally, the season ended. Now I can get some rest." After like two or three days you want to get back on the ice and shoot some pucks. It's going to be a fun day [Thursday] because we get to go on the ice for the first time. All the guys probably started skating when they were five. It's our lives.
Photo by John Russell
Acquired: Fifth round, 2005 Entry Draft
Teams: Windsor (OHL), Milwaukee (AHL)
Q. What are your thoughts on last season and your development?
A. I think I improved a lot from the year before. I put up better numbers and took the stuff I learned from training camp last year and kind of put it in my season. I felt I did pretty well and the teams I was a part of did pretty well. It was nice to be in Milwaukee for the playoff run too. That was pretty exciting. I learned a lot.
Q. Can you talk a little more about the Milwaukee experience and getting asked to go there after your season at Windsor ended?
A. When the end came in Windsor, I was kind of disappointed. Then I got the call the next day to come up there [to Milwaukee]. It was a pretty good following day. I got in a few games and played a bit. It was exciting and I learned a lot of what I need to do to make the jump.
Q. And the playoff run with Milwaukee must have been a pretty thrilling ride?
A. Yeah, it was good to be part of that. Just to see what happens at that stage and see how the best hockey at the AHL level is going to be, in that final series there.
Q. Do you think the experience and instruction you received at training camp last year helped you over the season and coming in here?
A. For sure. It helped me a lot. I saw what I needed to improve and what I need to work on. I hope to learn some stuff at this training camp [in September] and the conditioning camp here and bring that back to wherever I'm playing next year. I'm going to try to learn some stuff that I need to do, with my conditioning and my size and strength, have fun and learn as much as I can.
Photo by John Russell
Acquired: Free agent
Team: Ilves Tampere (Finland)
Q. How did you feel last season went for you?
A. It was good. I got a lot of playing time, every game like 25, 20 minutes per game. It was fun. A lot of power play time and the coaches trusted me.
Q. Do you know Teemu Laakso (another Finnish prospect at the camp)? Does it help to know someone here?
A. It helps because two guys who don't speak English very well, we can think about together which words mean what. It's helped a lot. When we came here we missed a flight--Chicago to Nashville--and we had some problems at the airport. We lost our sticks somewhere. That's why it's a good thing there's another Finnish guy.
Q. What are your thoughts on being signed by the Predators earlier this year?
A. It's a great opportunity for me. The biggest one in my life. I've been playing in Tampere [Finland] all my career. I've lived there 18 years and it's the first time I'm moving somewhere else. It's a big thing for me and a big opportunity.
Q. Were you surprised to hear from the Predators when they offered you a contract?
A. Yeah, a little. I was an undrafted player and our coach in Finland said to me in January something about if I wanted to go to play in North America. I said, "Of course." I was a little bit surprised but I'm happy about that.
Photo by John Russell
Team: Guelph (OHL)
Q. What were your thoughts on receiving an invite to come to conditioning camp here in Nashville?
A. I was definitely excited. They called me before the draft--a week before--and told me I was coming down here for camp. There was a possibility that I might have gotten picked up in the draft and obviously I wouldn't have come. But I never did and I'm very excited I'm here. It's a beautiful facility and the people are great. I'm having a good time.
Q. Is it fair to say you know Ryan Parent pretty well from your OHL team, Guelph?
A. Yeah, Ryan Parent, he's a really good guy and a pretty good friend of mine. We were teammates this year in Guelph. He's a first-rounder in Nashville so he's got a lot of skill. Yeah, we're good buddies.
Q. How did you think last season went for you?
A. Last season I thought I had a pretty good season. I put up some pretty decent numbers. I owe a lot of credit to my coach in Guelph, Dave Barr. He's a really good coach and he put me out there a lot and I just succeeded.
Q. What was your first day of conditioning camp like?
A. Actually we just kind of came in and did some physical testing with the doctors and then we got to meet the [hockey operations] staff of the Predators and shake everyone's hand. It was cool to meet some people that work here, that played in the NHL before. Idols of mine.