The Nashville Predators have had success developing prospects through the NCCA ranks. Five players on the current roster played college hockey -- defensemen Jack Hillen
and Ryan Suter
and forwards Craig Smith
, Colin Wilson
(a 2008 First Round pick), and Brandon Yip
-- with several AHL prospects in Milwaukee knocking on the door for NHL action. The Preds pipeline through the NCAA looks strong with five of the organization's prospects playing college hockey this season.
The Preds have a pair of sophomore defensemen turning heads in the Boston area. Northeastern's Anthony Bitetto
, a 2010 draftee, plays a physical game. A member of the Hockey East All-Rookie team a year ago, Bitetto scored three goals and 20 points as a freshman and has backed it up with a four-goal, 11-point start to this season.
But, Boston University's Garrett Noonan
, a fourth round pick by the Preds last summer, has exploded this season. Noonan scored four goals and 15 points all last season and has already surpassed those totals with 11 goals and 16 points in just 27 games this season, helping BU to a No. 3 ranking in the latest PairWise Rankings (college hockey's equivalent to basketball's RPI ratings) and the inside track to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Since the turn of the calendar, Noonan has been tremendous, scoring six goals and nine points over his last nine games played to move in to a tie for second in the NCAA in goals by a defenseman.
With former BU Terriers Colin Wilson
and Brandon Yip
already on the NHL roster, the Preds scouts know full well about Boston University's ability to develop NHLers. He already has the offensive puck-moving ability pro teams relish and at 6-foot, 200-pounds, Noonan's frame is filling into a pro body. With all of the young defensemen in the Preds system, Nashville can afford to be patient and let Noonan develop, but look for Noonan to remain in the Preds future plans.Chase Balisy
, a sixth round pick last summer from Western Michigan University, has ranked among the CCHA's top scorers all season long. A creative offensive forward, Balisy has benefitted from playing under the tutelage of former NHL Head Coach Andy Murray, a stickler for solid two-way play. Balisy has continued to show offensive creativity while adapting to the added defensive elements of two-way hockey and has scored 10 goals and 28 points in 32 games to rank sixth in the conference in points and tied for fifth in game-winning goals (3). The Broncos got off to a strong 6-0-3 start to the season, but have cooled off since and are on the Tournament Bubble sitting 19th in PairWise Rankings. The NCAA Tournament only goes 16 teams deep, so Western Michigan likely needs to climb up six or seven slots to earn an at-large bid --- or win the CCHA Tournament to earn the conference's automatic bid.
Sticking out West, University of Minnesota's Zach Budish
, a second round pick by the Preds back in '09, has recovered from a knee injury which limited him to just seven games last season. The developing power forward has scored eight goals and 25 points in 31 games this year, showing a well-rounded two-way game with a +17 plus/minus rating, while providing a physical presence on the Gophers top line. Minnesota is currently ranked 14th in the PairWise Rankings and project just inside the cutline for the NCAA Tournament. The Gophers can improve their ranking with a strong finish over the final six regular season games heading into the WCHA Conference Tournament.
Budish, at 6-foot-3, and almost 225 pounds, already has an NHL-ready body and plays a physical NHL-style game. He just needs to regain his skating strength and durability after missing so much time last season. But there are many reasons for Preds fans to be excited by Budish's pro potential.
Fellow WCHA forward prospect, Nick Oliver
, is still adjusting to the college game. A freshman at St. Cloud State, Oliver has scored two goals in 27 games, but with four senior forwards set to graduate at season's end, Oliver is expected to play a more major role next year.