The Nashville Predators couldn’t have picked a better way to christen their new facility.
The Ford Ice Center in Antioch, Tennessee, has its official grand opening this Friday, and with that, the Preds will host their first rookie tournament in franchise history, welcoming teams of NHL prospects from the Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning to town. Each squad is scheduled to play three games over four days.
While there’s plenty of excitement surrounding the new building, Predators brass is equally excited to see what unfolds on the ice.
The club has invited 24 of its top prospects to the tournament, including 2014 first-round pick Kevin Fiala, as well as players who saw some time in Nashville last season, such as Filip Forsberg and Colton Sissons.
“We just want these kids to come in and compete,” Predators Director of Player Development Scott Nichol said. “(They were) drafted for a reason. Play to your style, to your strength and showcase your talent. Between all of our teams, these are the next kids that are going to play in the NHL.”
The future will indeed be on display during the weekend. Of all the players expected to be in attendance this weekend, a good amount of them are likely to skate on NHL ice soon, some sooner than others. And some already have.
For the Predators organization, it’s a chance to see how their youngsters stack up against the competition.
“It’s a good measuring stick for our young guys to see where they are against other organizations,” Nichol said. “It’s also great for our scouts to see all those hard hours that they put in and long days of driving all over the country and scouting these kids.”
One of those kids is the aforementioned Fiala. Among the attendees in July when the Preds hosted their rookie development camp, Fiala will get his first chance to skate alongside fellow NHL prospects in a competitive game setting.
The Predators hope that Fiala and his fellow prospects will utilize the experiences gained two months ago in Nashville and apply them to the ice sheets this weekend.
“That’s what development camp is for, to kind of put a stamp on our identity and what our organization expects from these young men,” Nichol said. “It’s the off-ice habits of working out, nutrition; we get them dialed in right away. It’s not going to change overnight, but if they can start at a young age and get into the good habits on and off the ice, I think it carries them into being a real good pro down the road.”
Some of the guys, like Forsberg and Sissons, may be a bit further down that road than others.
While many have never been exposed to the levels of competition that they’ll see this weekend, Forsberg and Sissons know the drill. They’ve been to rookie events in the past and can offer advice to those whose nerves may be a bit more inflated. Having both skated in the NHL last season, Nichol expects that pair to lead the younger players over the next few days.
“They’ll be our leadership for sure,” Nichol said. “They’re born leaders. They’ve always been captains at whatever level they’ve played, so it’s just natural to them. (They’ll) help the young guys to settle their nerves down a little bit because they’ve been in that situation. It’s a good quality to have and those two young men have it for sure.”
And while players like Forsberg and Fiala are expected to impress with their offensive abilities, the roster is far from filled with players whose sole purpose is to put the puck in the net.
“All of our young guys, everyone has such a different identity,” Nichol said. “They bring something different to the table, whether it’s the skill or tenacious hard work, or it’s the body contact or a big physical presence on the backend; it’ll be interesting to see how they all kind of integrate together and show what they can do.”
Ultimately, the Predators organization is anxious to see how the next generation of Preds will perform, but they wouldn’t mind performing well enough to come away with three victories.
“We want to develop and see where we are, but we’re pouring it all in,” Nichol said.