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Prospect Updates with David Poile

by Staff Writer / Nashville Predators
With the hockey season nearing the midway point and the World Junior Championships about to start, sat down with Preds GM David Poile to talk about the progress of the prospects in the Predators system. Are there any prospects who have stood out through the first half of the season?
David Poile: I think our scouts have done an outstanding job in drafting and identifying the upcoming talent and for the most part, that’s how the Predators have been built. I think the last couple of drafts we have had have been very good and the class of last year in Colin Wilson and Chet Pickard—our first round picks—have both been selected to play on the World Junior Teams. Wilson for the United States and Pickard for Canada. We hope Pickard will be the starting goaltender for Canada and Wilson we are pretty sure will be the number-one center for the US team. Two years ago, our number-one pick was Jonathon Blum and he has had an outstanding year in Vancouver with his team—which leads the Western Hockey League and is one of the top rated teams in junior hockey this season – and arguably may be the most valuable player in juniors this year. Blum is going to be anchor of the US team this year in the World Junior. In addition to that, we have Roman Josi who’s played over in Switzerland and is actually playing with Martin Gellinas who recently joined that team. We hope to get some good scouting reports from Marty about him. Our seventh round pick Jani Lajunen has made Team Finland for the World Juniors which, for a seventh round selection, speaks highly of our draft team. The World Junior Championships start right after Christmas. How important are big international tournaments to help young players develop?
DP: When you look back at the history of the World’s Juniors, it’s the highest profile tournament you can play at that age and the highest level of competition that you can play against. It’s great to watch these players against each other. In our case, Pickard, Blum and Wilson are arguably our three best prospects at age 18 or 19 and they are up against the other NHL teams’ best prospects, so it is a good measuring stick for them and for us as how the future looks in terms of what you have coming forward. I’ve always felt that at the World Championships (in the spring) and the World Junior Championships, what players have contributed has seemed to be a good barometer of what to expect in the future. Is this tournament maybe bigger for a college player like Colin Wilson since NCAA rules prevent college players from participating in NHL training camp?
DP: There is no question that whether you watched Colin Wilson at BU or you watch him at the world championships, this would be the best viewing because he is going to be against the best players in his age group. So whatever success he has will probably be somewhat of a determinant of how he feels his game is and whether he should stay in school or come out. This will also be a barometer for whether we think he should come out of school and where we think he fits in next year. If the US was to win and he was part of that or if his performance was such that you thought he was one of the best players, you are certainly going to be thinking. Much has been made of the defensemen in the Preds system. Can you talk about the progress of the three defensemen playing in Milwaukee - Alexander Sulzer, Teemu Laakso, Cody Franson?
DP: In Milwaukee our team has obviously been bolstered by sending down (Ryan) Jones and (Patric) Hornqvist at the beginning of the season and Jed Ortmeyer who has just come back from injury and the team to me is now one of the best in the American Hockey League.

On defense we think we have some really good prospects. Alexander Sulzer is third in defensemen scoring in the AHL. He was a player that we really liked last year as a high-end prospect. Unfortunately he got hurt and missed a lot of games at the end of the season, but we thought he had a chance to make the team at the end of training camp – and his training camp was pretty good but not good enough to unseat anyone on our NHL roster. Right now, based on all of our reports, it looks like he is a guy that if we were going to have a call-up, he’d be the first guy we would call.

Cody Franson is a really big player in stature; he is Shea Weber’s size with really good hands and good offensive abilities. He has been maybe a little slower in development than we thought, but he has all the skills and once he puts his total game together, he’s going to be a really good player. We are going to have a hard time keeping him off our team.

Teemu Laasko is a primarily a defensive defenseman, though he did score his first two goals of this season in the last game. It’s making the adjustment to North America for a lot of these European players who come over. The first quarter of the season I think he’s been pretty good, with some highs and some lows. He looks like he is starting to reach a pretty consistent level and his play has shown that recently. So we look for his next quarter and the second half of the season to be even better than the first part of the season. Beyond the defensemen, which forwards from the Milwaukee roster are turning heads? Excluding Hornqvist and Jones.
DP: We think we’ve got a lot of good call-up players for this year at the forward position and we also think we have a lot of prospects for the future. At center we have three guys who are playing well. Cal O’Reilly, who was fifth in the league in scoring last year, is now leading the league in assists this year. We think it’s only a matter of time before he gets a look up here. Mike Santorelli is probably the most improved player that we have down in Milwaukee. His confidence is really high and he’s starting to be one of the best offensive players in the American Hockey League. Certainly something we need up here eventually in Nashville is more offense and if Mike keeps producing down there in Milwaukee, again he is another player who we will take a look at sooner rather than later. Nick Spaling is a coach’s dream type of player. He is very sound in all of the fundamentals and little details. He can play the wing or he can play center. It’s his first year in Milwaukee and we will see how the second half of the season goes, but as far as the first half I don’t think we could be anymore pleased in how he has adapted to the pro game and what his potential looks like. Again, in the next couple of years I’m sure he is on the right track to becoming a full-time Predator. Are there any other prospects who have been surprising this year?
DP: In college we think a couple of the kids we have in Notre Dame, Ryan Thang and Ben Ryan, and in Minnesota, Ryan Flynn. We think they are good solid players that can contribute to a winning team. They are still young but we think they are Predator-type players—hard-nosed guys, guys with enough skill to be successful as pros. So they are coming along. They are higher draft picks – from the second half of the draft – but they are guys we think will have the chance to play.

Blake Geoffrion is having his best year ever in college; being more confident, being more successful and making a higher contribution to his team. Unfortunately, he got hurt with a high-ankle sprain and it has kept him out of action for awhile, but again, the future looks good for the Brentwood, Tennessee native. Since the new salary system was implemented, across the league there seems to be a higher emphasis being placed on teams developing their own talent from within. What are the benefits of a strong developmental system?
DP: The NHL has a salary cap but each team, including the Predators, has a budget. Realistically, being in the market we are, our budget is going to be below the max. We are going to be one of the lower teams or hopefully somewhere in the middle of the salary cap based on our revenue. There is absolutely no other way for us to be successful than to draft well and develop our young players because the young players represent one big thing in a cap situation; in all reality, they will be the lowest contracts that you bring on to your team. So we need the veterans and star players that command and get the high money and we need them complemented by the young and upcoming players because of their salaries and this has been somewhat of a model we have used all along in the last 10 years. But it becomes more important now that we are in a cap situation.
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