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Preds Prospect Update: Feb. 29

by Jay Levin / Nashville Predators
This week's Preds Prospect Report focuses on the Preds NCAA prospects. A pair of Preds prospects will be shooting for Conference Titles this weekend; Zach Budish and University of Minnesota enters the final weekend of WCHA play in first place, while Garrett Noonan and Boston University enters the last weekend of Hockey East play two points behind Conference-leading Boston College. Get the low-down on the NCAA playoff push plus thoughts from Preds Assistant General Manager Paul Fenton on the pro development of the five Preds college kids.

Zach Budish (U of Minnesota)
- The Gophers are near-locks for the NCAA Tournament, but can take a major step forward this weekend by closing out the WCHA Conference title. Minnesota holds a 2 point lead over Minnesota-Duluth with two games remaining. The Gophers host rival Wisconsin Badgers this weekend; a weekend split and the Gophers take the title (Minnesota owns the tie-breaker over Minnesota-Duluth). Budish has been on a hot-streak of late with 6 points (4g-2a) in his last 6 games to improve to 10 goals and 28 points in 35 games this season.

Preds Assistant GM Paul Fenton Discusses College Hockey
On this year's crop of College Free Agents...
"There are definitely some guys out there that we have some interest in. Unfortunately there are probably around 29 other teams that have interest in those same guys, too. We’ve identified some guys that if things turn out right, we’d like to sign, we’d make them an offer."

On the chances of any Preds NCAA Prospects turning pro after the end of the college season…
"We think that at least one guy is going to come out of school at the end of this season. In our conversations and routine check-ins, he’s expressed interest in coming out and we think his timing is right for him. There’s a second guy who at the end of the year we’ll approach and see if he’s ready, as well. We like to look more long-term with our prospects, so there’s a process to their development; we want them to be ready when they leave school, we want them to be comfortable with the decision. At the end of the day it is their decision, but we’ll weigh-in on whether we feel they are ready or whether we feel they might be best served by remaining in school."

On 2009 Second Round Pick Zach Budish's progress from last season's knee injury…
"Budish has had a very good second half to his season. I think part of that was just him getting re-acclimated to playing again. He missed the last two-thirds of last season with major knee surgery; to come back from it and be productive just took him a little bit more time. He seems to have taken that next step. What we have found in most every player is that sometimes it takes them a year to fully recover from major knee surgery. Now he has had two (knee surgeries) in the last three years. Hopefully this year he has got over the hump and he’s not going have that happen again.

We were high on him on Draft Day and I still think he projects as a top NHL player. You shouldn’t take anything away from a guy because of injury; he hasn’t lost anything because of the injuries, it’s just slowed how quickly he’s developed. It will be up to him to what his thoughts are on coming out (of college) and playing pro hockey or continuing with his education and development at Minnesota."
Garrett Noonan (Boston Univ.) - The Terriers are a lock for the NCAA Tournament, but still enter the last weekend of Hockey East play in second place in the Conference, 2 points behind Boston College. BU plays a weekend home-and-home against fellow Preds prospect Anthony Bitetto and a struggling Northeastern team; a sweep by BU and a slip-up by BC this weekend could hand the regular season crown over to BU. Noonan, though, has put together a tremendous 2011-12 campaign with 11 goals and 18 points in 31 games to rank second among all NCAA defensemen in goals.

Chase Balisy (Western Michigan) - The Broncos earned the #3 seed for the CCHA Tournament and Bye this weekend in the opening round of Tournament play. WMU will host the highest seeded team to win this weekend's three CCHA Opening Round series. Balisy closed out the regular season with 12 goals and 32 points in 36 games to rank T-5th in the CCHA in points, while his 4 game-winning goals were tied for third in the Conference. Western Michigan enters the Conference tournament on the bubble for an NCAA Tournament bid, currently sitting #17 in the PairWise Rankings (NCAA hockey's version of baskeball's RPI rankings); only 16 teams earn bids to the NCAA Tournament, so a strong showing in the Conference Tourney is likely needed to earn an invite to the post-season dance.

Anthony Bitetto (Northeastern) - Bitetto has had a solid season this year, despite Northeastern's team struggles. A physical defenseman, Bitetto has scored 4 goals and 13 points with a +4 plus/minus rating in 32 games this season. The Huskies, though, have gone just 12-15-5, including 8-13-4 in conference play, and will need to win the Hockey East Tournament in order to get into the NCAAs.

Nick Oliver (St. Cloud State) - This has been a transition year for Nick Oliver and for St. Cloud. Oliver has scored 2 goals in 29 games during his freshman season, while the Huskies have posted a 14-16-4 record, including 11-12-3 in the uber-difficult WCHA. St. Cloud St. will need to win the WCHA Tournament in order to earn a spot in this year's NCAA Tourney, but the Huskies have a chance to play the role of spoiler this weekend when they host Minnesota-Duluth; UMD still has a chance to win the WCHA regular season title.

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