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Preds Assistant GM Paul Fenton Recaps USA Hockey's Evaluation Camp

by Staff Writer / Nashville Predators
Predators Assistant General Manager Paul Fenton has stepped his schedule into high gear as the elite international hockey schedule has started to pick up this month. Fenton spent last week at USA Hockey’s Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, NY. This week asked him about his impressions from Lake Placid. How did the three Preds prospects – Jonathon Blum, Jeremy Smith, and Colin Wilson – look during the Evaluation Camp?
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Paul Fenton: Very good, very good. Colin Wilson wore the C for the Blue Team, before he was “traded” to the White Team for the last two games. Jon Blum wore the A for the Blue Team. Jeremy Smith started one game that I saw and I thought he did very well. All three have a very good chance on being on the World Junior Team. I would say Wilson and Blum are pretty close to locks for that team. Jeremy Smith should make the team, depending on the direction USA Hockey is going with their goalies this year. In general, can you discuss how USA Hockey’s contingent looked during the Evaluation Camp?
PF: I think it’s a very strong group. It’s led mostly by the kids who have come through the National Team Development Program, but if you look at some of the outside forces like Blum, Smith, Zach Bogosian (the #3 overall pick in 2008 Entry Draft by the Atlanta Thrashers), I think USA Hockey has a strength now in numbers and you’re finding players from all different areas in the United States and/or Canadian Juniors (and are US citizens). If the US isn’t one of the elite hockey nations, I think we’re starting to challenge for that every year. Did any players really stand out?
PF: I thought Colin was excellent. His strength, his power was really evident. A kid going in to this year’s draft, Jordan Schroeder, who will play for the University of Minnesota this year, was impressive. He should be a very high draft pick. I thought James Van Riemsdyk (the #2 overall pick in the 2007 Entry Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers) was very good from an offensive standpoint. He showed can take it to the level that’s expected of him. Those are the three that stood out the most for me. Across the three teams in Lake Placid (US, Finland, Sweden), did any of the 2009 Draft Eligible players stand out?
PF: Jordan Schroeder has the possibility of being a top-10 pick this year. He certainly didn’t disappoint any of us at the camp with his play from an offensive standpoint. He certainly will be one of the guys we’ll be following around a lot this year, but hopefully – to be honest – we’re not in a position to get him unless we’re able to trade up. The defenseman from Sweden, Victor Hedman, he’s terrific. He’s one of the top two players in the draft this year, in my opinion. Probably right now, he is the No. 1 player in the draft. There’s so much hype over John Tavares, but Hedman has continued to get bigger, stronger, better; playing bigger in all the big games as he goes along here. He’s a 6’5” defenseman that’s mobile, can move the puck, can defend, can add some offense. He’s got a quality that all scouts look for. With the World Junior Tournament in Ottawa, there’s already a lot of pressure on Canada to win the Gold, but where does Team USA rank this year? What are the chances of Team USA placing in the medals?
PF: I certainly think USA is capable of placing. Canada, regardless of whether the tournament’s in Canada or not, puts pressure on itself to be the elite hockey nation, but I would not put anything past the Swedes or the Russians or the US. I can see all three competing. And that’s not to take anything away from the Finns either, because they will be right there, as far as I’m concerned. There’s quite a bit of competition. I think Canada will be the favorite, but I think the rest of those teams will be right on its heels. It should be a great tournament. Sliding back to the Preds here. Can you talk about Jon Blum’s progression from last summer to where he is now? What’s the biggest difference in his game now?
PF: Mostly Jon has grown and been able to get some rest over the summer. He’s been in the position because they’ve been such a good team the last few years to go to the Memorial Cup two of the last three years. And after he was drafted last summer, coming down to our Development Camp and then the USA Hockey camps, he’s really never had the opportunity to just stop, work out, and weight train. This summer he has and he certainly looks like he has filled out and even grown in height a few inches. When we drafted him, he was a kid who needed to add size and it looks like he’s done it this year. What does he need to work on to become an elite pro?
PF: It’s just going to be timing with his size. He still needs to fill out a little more. But that said, he still could challenge to play in Nashville, but I don’t think we have any urgency to do that. If he can get bigger and stronger over the years, then I think the progression of everything he does – because he is absolutely as smart as they come with hockey sense – and if he’s able to add the size, then everything else will fall into place with him. Similarly, can you talk about Jeremy Smith’s progression from last summer to where he is now?
PF: We find that goaltenders usually take a little bit longer, so we’re in no rush at all to rush him into anything. When he’s done in Plymouth (OHL), he’ll turn pro and step in to Milwaukee. He’ll just take the progression from there. We’re seeing his game transition into a pro-style game, seeing him mature. With goaltenders sometimes it takes them a lot longer to mature into National Hockey League level players. We’ve seen it through our goaltenders through the years who have been able to climb the ladder and eventually take over a starting position. We’ve added some depth at the position, but Jeremy’s biggest competitor is himself. If he can develop his talent as we think he can, then he’ll definitely have a spot with the Predators. A lot has been written about Colin Wilson this summer. How close is he to being able to compete at the NHL level?
PF: Colin is physically ready to play at the National Hockey League level now. We just think another year of playing at the college level and maturing both on and off the ice will be the most important for him in the long run. He hopefully will go back to Boston and have a dominating type of year where he is going to both put points on the board and learn to be a leader, learn to carry his team to a higher level. If he’s able to do that, then a year from now the sky’s the limit for him. Could he challenge for a job in Nashville? Yeah. Could he not be ready and need more time in school or a year in Milwaukee? Yes, that’s a possibility, too. We don’t have a timetable on him, but like all of our prospects we are trying to gauge and see how they progress. Hopefully they’ll be the ones to determine whey they are ready to play. What signs will you look for this season at Boston University to let you know that he’s ready for the next challenge?
PF: Again, we’re not going to put a timetable on him. I think it’s him; how he plays, how he reacts to going back to school, how dominant he is on the ice. You never want to take a kid out of a place where he’s not doing what he’s supposed to do. In his case that would be dominating like he’s capable of dominating. He certainly has the size, but he’s only 18 so it’s also a maturing thing. We have to let him sort things out. If he plays like he’s capable of playing then he has a very good chance to play for us in the near future.

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