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Predators Prospect Camp Develops More than Just Hockey Players

by Matthew Bontorin / Nashville Predators

Since the Predators first Development Camp back in 1998, the message has remained consistent of what the objective is; the development of young hockey professionals. With an equal emphasis on both on and off ice development, players not only have the opportunity to improve themselves as hockey players, but also as leaders in the community.

Having come from franchises that have developed an ample amount of home-grown talent, new Head Coach Peter Laviolette knows just how important this week can be for these young prospects.

“There are so many positive things that come from these camps,” Laviolette said. “Players are taught what’s good to eat, when to sleep and how to train. They also get a chance to work on their game, their skating and their skills. It’s a terrific avenue for kids to become better pros and better hockey players.”

The camp also allows for first-time participants to meet other players within the organization. Of the 32 prospect’s taking part in this year’s camp, seven nationalities and four draft classes are represented with the players having dressed for games in 20 different leagues in 2013-14. With the wide range of players at all levels of hockey, the camp can be used as a measuring stick.

“These kids are trying to advance themselves in the organization, and every day is an opportunity to do so,” Laviolette said. “You can really make an impression with your work ethic and on-ice play.”

While some players are closer than others, the goal for all these prospects is to eventually make the Predators full-time roster. One player in particular who has been on the cusp of making the everyday lineup is forward Filip Forsberg. The 19-year-old Swede was acquired via trade from the Washington Capitals in April of 2013, less than a year after he was drafted 11th overall in the NHL Entry Draft. Forsberg appeared in 13 games for the Predators last season recording a goal and four assists.

With a small taste of what the NHL is like, Forsberg is hoping he can build off his experience and make the team this upcoming season.

“I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to earn a spot with the Preds,” Forsberg said. “To play in the NHL is my dream, and I’m pretty close, but it’s still going to take some hard work. This camp is a great opportunity to show everyone what you’ve got, especially the new coaching staff. It’s a long journey and I’m still a pretty young kid but hopefully my time is coming this year.”

Another forward who is looking to make the full-time jump is center Colton Sissons. The Vancouver, B.C., native led Milwaukee (AHL) in goals last year while also appearing in 17 games for the Predators. With Mike Fisher out 4-6 months with an Achilles tear, an opportunity has presented itself for Sissons to fill the void.

“It’s unfortunate for a teammate like ‘Fish’ to go down,” Sissons said. “He’s a great teammate and a great leader. The fact is though that these injuries happen, and it provides an opportunity for other players, such as myself, to prove why I should be in the lineup. I feel like I’m good enough to play in the NHL and I’m going to prove it.”

While a select few players are seemingly ready to make the jump to the NHL, most prospects at the camp will be returning to juniors, college or Milwaukee next season. For the Predators 2014 third-round selection out of the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League, Justin Kirkland, it’s all about making a good first impression.

“For me coming in, it’s my first camp so I have to leave a good impression with the coaches,” said Kirkland, who is one of the 12 first-time attendees. “This is their first chance to see me practicing, so I want to show them what I can do.”

Unlike Kirkland, forward Brendan Leipsic is participating in his third Development Camp. Leipsic, who was drafted in the third round in 2012, will be making the jump from the WHL to Milwaukee next year after signing a three-year entry-level contract last May.

“It’s my third camp so I kind of know what to expect,” Leipsic said. “It’s all part of the process of becoming a pro. This will be my first year playing professionally, so I’m looking forward to getting my feet wet. It’s been a long road since getting drafted back in 2012, but it’s been a life-long dream of mine to play in the NHL; this is just part of the process.”

Aside from the on-ice testing and training, the players have gone through a busy schedule that consists of team-building exercises, health seminars and community appearances. Predators Director of Player Development Scott Nichol has stressed the importance of off-ice development throughout the camp.

“We’re teaching the game of hockey but we’re also teaching these kids how to be good professionals,” Nichol said. “Learning how to carry yourself and how to treat people is something that this organization prides itself on. You have to be a role model. We’re looking to teach them to be great players out on the ice and great people out in the community.”

The players were dispersed throughout the Nashville area Thursday serving the community in places such as the Ronald McDonald House, Lighthouse Christian School, Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital, Youth Village, and Camp Widjiwagan.

Predators 2012 third-round pick, and Harvard University junior Jimmy Vesey visited the VA Hospital along with free-agent signee Joe Pendenza and 2013 draftees Wade Murphy and Zach Stepan. The four of them spent the afternoon making visits room-to-room while handing out Preds gear and memorabilia.

“It was a really good experience for me,” Vessey said. “I’ve never been to the VA hospital, so it was a really rewarding. I felt like I connected with a lot of them and was able to thank them for their service.”

With the final on-ice practices wrapping up Friday morning the players will now set their sights on the camp concluding scrimmage Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. CT, at Bridgestone Arena. The players will be broken up into, “Team Blue” and “Team Silver” and face off against each other for the first time as separate groups.

With some players not having played in a competitive game in months, there is plenty of anticipation to get out on the ice. For Predators 2014 fifth-round pick, Finnish defenseman Joonas Lyytinen, playing in front of a North American crowd will be a unique experience.

“I’m looking forward to a good competitive game,” Lyytinen said. “I’m really looking forward to playing in front of an American crowd. They are passionate and encouraging. It’s a great opportunity for me to show my skills.”

The scrimmage will take place in the midst of the Predators Open House that begins at 10 a.m. CT. Fans are encouraged to come out early and scout out seats for the 2014-15 season, while also taking in the various other free activities. The schedule for Saturday’s events and a link to the full press release is listed below:

10 a.m. Doors open

11 a.m. “Golden Ticket” holder entrance to Used Equipment Sale

11:15 a.m. Season-ticket holder entrance to Used Equipment Sale

Noon Single game tickets on sale

12:30 p.m. General public entrance to Used Equipment Sale

1:30-2:30 p.m. Free Public Skate (bring your own skates)

3:30 p.m. Nashville Predators Development Camp scrimmage

5:30 p.m. Prospect autograph session

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