Nashville Predators Rookie Camp is a fast-paced blend of first impressions, on-ice training and competition against not only other NHL team’s top prospects, but between teammates as well.
For the Predators group of two dozen prospects that began their time in Nashville with a 90-minute practice session on the ice at Centennial Sportsplex on Thursday, followed by an intrasquad scrimmage on Friday, the 48-hour, training portion of their camp has concluded quickly with the three-game portion of their schedule on the horizon. The 24 prospects will play together for the first time as a unit when they face Tampa Bay’s rookie squad on Saturday night at 6 p.m. (CT).
“We’re all representing the Nashville Predators, so you want to represent the organization well and go 3-0-0 down in Florida, but you’re also in competition with the other guys,” defenseman Jack Dougherty said. “You focus on your own efforts, but we’re also working to be a team. The intensity and the work ethic from everyone is amazing.”
Alexandre Carrier, a 2015 fourth-round pick participating in his first rookie tournament, says the blend of assimilating to a new environment while also learning more about the Preds’ foundational principals has already made a difference in how he approaches the game.
“Development Camp was also a big help, when I first got here I didn’t know anyone so to meet the guys and not be as stressed out as you were, it’s very helpful that I was able to come to that. We’re going to play against other teams, so it’s going to be a good evaluation to compare how you are to other players. It’s going to be great,” Carrier said.
“We talked to [the prospects] yesterday about making good first impressions and trying to be great,” said Milwaukee Admirals Head Coach Dean Evason, who is leading the Preds rookie team as he has in years past. “Clearly it would be awesome if a guy could score six goals in a game or pitch a shutout, but we want them to be great teammates and get a good start here to their training camp. We want to see a team atmosphere right away, and then within that, we’ll be looking at individuals as well.”
A three-game slate against prospects from the Washington Capitals, Florida Panthers and Lightning offers a unique perspective on scouting each of the Nashville prospects by pitting the group of 18 to 25 year olds against players at the same point in their development. Preds Rookie Camp marks stop No. 1 in the evaluation process for several players that then flows into Predators Training Camp and the preseason during a three-week span.
A first-round pick a year ago, forward Kevin Fiala is hoping to impress the Predators coaching staff initially at the rookie tournament and then at Nashville’s Training Camp next week.
“Last year, I was here (at the rookie tournament) as well,” Fiala said following Thursday’s practice. “Rookie tournament was an important experience for me in my development. I worked hard all summer long to try and make the Predators, and right now I’m taking it day by day at rookie camp.”
“When [Fiala] first came over [to North America], you certainly wouldn’t have thought, ‘Here’s a guy that’s going to play NHL games,’ but then he did last year,” Evason said. “His skill level is second to none. You see it every time he’s on the ice, and he can do some amazing things… He’s matured, and he’s a real good teammate in Milwaukee. I think that’s going to give him an opportunity - a real good opportunity - to play here in Nashville.”
While players like Carrier and Dougherty have aspirations of skating full time in Nashville one day as well, for the two defensemen still in their teenage years, soaking up the lessons that can be learned during rookie camp is their current priority. The six-day camp offers different things to each prospects and the Predators, and that’s OK with the parties involved.
“This has shown me how to be a true professional, and when we come in during the morning we can see the veterans working out and skating, and we get to see what it takes to get to the NHL and stay there,” Dougherty, who will spend this coming season with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League, explained. “It’s also a confidence booster knowing you’re here for a reason and that everyone here is a good hockey player. It helps you carry some confidence back to the regular season wherever you play.”
“All of these guys have different dimensions,” Evason said. “We have guys that are going to be coming to us as first-year guys. We have guys that we really want to target and see where they're at, and then some guys that we won’t see for a few years. We want a real good taste, a real good feel for these guys. And yes, we’re looking forward to playing some games. You want to see the guys play hockey. You can work out, you can train, all that good stuff, but ultimately it’s about playing games against some other men.”