With today's signing on Roman Josi
, it's all but guaranteed that the 19-year old Swiss defenseman will make his North American pro debut in 2010-11. A regular in the Swiss Elite League the past three seasons, Josi has developed into a star player in Europe and has earned spots on the Swiss squad for the past two World Championships. He was also selected for this year's Olympic team, but had to miss the tournament due to injury.
The Preds were thrilled when Josi was still available in the second round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft -- Nashville's scouts had Josi rated as a first round talent -- and are even more thrilled now to have him signed.
Josi, Jonathon Blum
, and Ryan Ellis
form as deep a trio of defenseman prospects as any organization in the NHL; saying nothing of the young d-men already in the NHL (Cody Franson, Kevin Klein
, Ryan Suter
, and Shea Weber
are all 25 years old or younger).
There are other young defensemen in the system, too -- Alexander Sulzer (25) & Teemu Laakso
(22) both split time in the NHL and AHL last season and '09 draftees Mattias Ekholm
& Charles-Olivier Roussel
are progressing as expected.
Josi has been competing outside his age group in the Elite League in Switzerland for the last three years. That experience has allowed his game to mature quickly. Plus, he's learned to play against bigger, stronger opponents. In this year's World Championships he routinely took shifts against the likes of John Tavares and Steven Stamkos during Switzerland's upset over Canada. He finished the tournament with three points and a +3 plus/minus rating, while helping Switzerland to it's best finish in over a decade. During his regular season, he scored nine goals and 21 points, but missed a large part of the season due to injury. Josi fourished in the playoffs with six goals, 13 points, and a league-best +12 plus/minus rating to help Bern capture the Swiss title.
Blum may be the furthest along of the three, if for no other reason than he's the oldest (21) and already has a season of AHL experience under his belt. Nashville's 2007 first round pick, Blum scored 11 goals and 41 points in 80 games during the regular season in Milwaukee. And more importantly, Blum finished the season strong. After opening with eight points and an "even" plus/minus rating in his first 21 games, he posted 33 points and a +17 rating over the final 59 contests, followed by eight points and +3 rating in seven playoff games.
During Milwaukee's AHL playoff run, Preds Assistant GM Paul Fenton said, "We talked about Jon physically not being quite strong enough yet for the NHL. But, you know what? There’s nobody smarter there than Jon Blum. His ability to read plays, to move pucks are elite and it’s only a matter of time until he gets all the rest of that, the tools, to be able to play for us."
Ellis is the most dynamic offensive talent of the three; heading into the 2009 NHL Entry Draft many scouts felt he was already good enough to run an NHL power-play and he put in a good showing during Training Camp last September. After returning to his Junior Club, Ellis battled through an injury riddled start to his season, but rallied for a strong finish with 61 points in 48 games during the regular season and 38 points in Windsor's 23-game march to the OHL and Memorial Cup titles. Despite missing almost half the season, he ranked fourth in the OHL in points by a defenseman during the regular season and then placed second among all scorers (defensemen and forwards) during the post-season.
Over the last two seasons Ellis has a ton of big game experience with back-to-back Memorial Cup titles, along with stints for Team Canada at the past two World Junior Championships (winning the Gold in '09 and Silver in '10). With all that experience it wouldn't be a surprise to see Ellis earn a spot in the NHL in the near future; his talent earned him the No. 19 slot in this year's The Hockey News
The way Blum, Ellis, and Josi have developed since their respective draft seasons, it's not unreasonable to think after another couple of seasons the trio can be logging big minutes together in Preds jerseys.