Four Nashville Predators draft choices were among 22 players (age 19 and under) that will represent the United States at the 2008 World Junior Championships in Pardubice and Liberec, Czech Republic, Dec. 26, 2007 - Jan. 5, 2008.
2006 second-round pick Blake Geoffrion will be representing his country for the second time at the tournament, having won a bronze medal at the 2007 tournament in Sweden. Forward Ryan Flynn
, defenseman Jon Blum and goaltender Jeremy Smith
will be making their first appearances in the red, white and blue.
Playing in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association for the Wisconsin Badgers, Geoffrion, a Brentwood native, has already more than doubled his 36-game freshman point totals from 2006-07, notching 14 points (6g-8a) in just 14 games. That ranks him tied for sixth in the conference, and second on his Wisconsin squad. Nashville selected Geoffrion with its first pick (second round, 56th overall) in the 2006 Entry Draft.
Also in the WCHA, Flynn has playing more of a checking role for the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Still, the gritty, physical winger has posted eight points (3g-5a) and 12 penalty minutes and his well on his way to topping last season’s 46-game total of 13 points (5g-8a).
A Nashville prospect also paces all WHL defensemen in points, as 2007 first-round selection Jon Blum has posted 33 points in 31 games for the Vancouver Giants. Just Sunday, Blum tied a franchise record for assists in a game (4), lifting the Giants to a 6-1 victory over the Portland Winter Hawks.
On the back end, Smith has been as good at stymieing offensive rushes as Blum has been at starting them. A member of the Plymouth Whalers, Smith was tabbed in the second round of last year’s draft, and currently paces the Ontario Hockey League in both save percentage (.931) and shutouts (3). His efforts have earned him Canadian Hockey League Goaltender of the Week honors for the week ending Nov. 11, and OHL Player of the Week accolades for the week ending Nov. 25.
Of the other seven Predators prospects plying their trade in North American cities other than Nashville and Milwaukee this season, several are producing standout numbers in both the college and major junior ranks.
Playing a bit to the east of Geoffrion and Flynn at Notre Dame, 2007 third-round selection Ryan Thang
has been frequently visiting the red light district. The 5-11, 186-pound Chicago native has 10 goals through 18 contests for the Fighting Irish, ranking him amongst the Central Collegiate Hockey Association’s leaders in that category.
North of the border, a pair of Nashville draft picks are catching eyes in the major junior ranks. 2007 fourth-round pick Mark Santorelli, a Burnaby, B.C., native is pacing the Western Hockey League in points (54) and assists (38) through 31 games, and was named WHL Player of the Week for the period ending Dec. 3. Santorelli, whose older brother Mike is also in the organization playing for Milwaukee, has led the second-year Chilliwack Bruins to a respectable 16-12-3 mark thus far in 2007-08.
In the OHL, Nick Spaling
, a second-round pick from a year ago, has posted 26 goals and 45 points in just 28 contests for the Kitchener Rangers, helping his team to a dominant 22-4-2 record. His goal total is tops on the high-flying Rangers and third in the league, while his point total ranks him ninth in OHL scoring. The Palmerston, Ont., native was named OHL Player of the Week for the period ending Oct. 21 after recording six goals and two assists for eight points in three games that week. Just Monday, Spaling was named to the 37-man Team Canada Evaluation roster that will be used to pick the final team to head overseas.