With the way each of the Nashville Predators rookies were trending, it was only a matter of time.
The Preds closed out their appearance at the 2016 South Florida tournament with a 7-0 drubbing of the Washington Capitals on Tuesday morning, putting an exclamation point on what was a successful trip to the Sunshine State in more ways than one.
Not only does the win leave a better taste as the group heads back to Nashville, but the overall growth each player showed over the course of the long weekend accomplishes the main goal of the excursion.
“We’ve seen a lot of individual improvements from game one to today,” Milwaukee Admirals Head Coach Dean Evason said. “The team game was improved, but it gives these guys an opportunity now to go to main camp feeling real good about themselves. Again, how we played was good as a team, but really good individually.”
The Preds tallied first for the second consecutive game as Shane Walsh deposited his second goal of the tournament less than five minutes into the contest. Seven minutes later, Eric Robinson took a feed in the slot just as time on a Nashville power play expired and went five hole for a 2-0 Predators advantage.
Before time was out in the opening frame, Anthony Richard found Kevin Fiala streaking toward the cage, and Fiala redirected the feed into the back of the net for his second of the tournament and a 3-0 lead after one.
Nashville added a fourth marker in the second period when Max Gortz converted on a shot from the left circle, before Robinson, Fiala and Vladislav Kamenev rounded out the scoring for the Preds.
For Evason, the play he saw from Fiala over the past few days stood out for all the right reasons, good news for the Preds prospect who may have the best chance of any at the tournament to crack the NHL roster this season.
“Kevin, that’s the most consistent we’ve seen him for three hockey games that we’ve seen, even last year, as good as he played for us in Milwaukee,” Evason said. “When I say consistent, he consistently worked in all three hockey games. He worked and he skated, and if Kevin does that every night…he’s going to have success at the NHL level.”
Goaltenders Juuse Saros and Jonas Gunnarsson split the duties in net for the Preds, combining to turn away all 27 Washington shots on the day.
“Today was the best game of our tournament and we really came together as a team and stuck up for each other, so it was nice to play behind those guys,” Saros said. “It was a good experience for all the guys, and even though we didn’t get the results in the first two games, we found ways to win today.”
One of Tuesday’s offensive stars, Robinson wouldn’t mind sticking in Florida, considering the team’s final result and the work that led to it.
“It’s always fun seeing guys develop,” Robinson said. “We wanted to play better the first two games, but any time you're getting better, it’s a good thing. We’re trending up; unfortunately the tournament’s ending - I wish we could keep playing - but it’s a really good experience.”
From here, the rookies return to Nashville to join the rest of the Preds as main training camp gets underway Thursday with off-ice testing, and the younger participants will be returning with some confidence of their own.
“I thought we all played well, regardless of who got points and who didn’t,” Robinson said. “The development was pretty cool to watch.”