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Talking Prospects With Assistant GM Paul Fenton

by Jay Levin / Nashville Predators
With the college hockey’s tournament selection show coming up this Sunday (March 20) and the Canadian major junior league regular seasons coming to a close on the same day, Preds Press’ Jay Levin talked to Assistant General Manager Paul Fenton – who doubles as the team’s General Manager of the Milwaukee Admirals – about players who might be joining Milwaukee for the AHL stretch drive. In the past the Preds have used the end of the season as way to give top prospects a glimpse at pro hockey – including current NHL contributors Jon Blum and Blake Geoffrion just last season. At the college ranks, the Preds hold the rights to a pair of seniors, R.P.I defenseman Jeff Foss and Notre Dame forward Ben Ryan. Are either likely to join Milwaukee this year?
Paul Fenton: I think the kids who come in get to see what it’s like to be a pro, get acclimated to the atmosphere and environment around them, and that helps them have more success their first full year as a pro. Foss was eliminated last week from the ECAC Tournament, but with their ranking in the NCAA, they might still get invited to the NCAA Tournament. We’ve talked to him about coming to Milwaukee and participating for us late in the year and getting his feet wet in pro hockey and we’ll see from there where his career goes. Ben Ryan and Notre Dame advanced to the CCHA Championships, we anticipate they will make it to a NCAA Tournament, so we’re looking a couple more weeks down the line until he’d be able to come to Milwaukee. But at the end, we’ll like him to come in to Milwaukee. Which is more important in their development, the on-ice or the off-ice experiences?
Fenton: Both are important; it’s the whole experience. Certainly on ice, the speed, the intensity, the physical aspects of the game. The college kids are used to playing, for the most part, on Friday and Saturday nights and then having the rest of the week to practice and prepare for the next weekend’s games. Look at some of the weeks we’ve had in Milwaukee – those weeks can get extreme. The physical toll is one thing, but the mental toll is hard, sometimes, for college kids to get used to. For example, Milwaukee recently finished a stretch of 11 games in 16 nights with travel. That takes its toll on guys. But off the ice, to learn how to handle yourself as a pro, learn how to live without classes and professors and college coaches keeping you focused, and that’s a big jump, too. With the Canadian Junior Leagues closing out their regular seasons this coming season weekend, are there possibilities for any of the Predators’ prospects from those leagues to join Milwaukee?
Michael Latta from Preds Rookie Camp
Fenton: Most of our guys appear to be heading to the playoffs, so for the most part it will be depending on when their teams are eliminated, but I think pretty much all of our guys – if available – could help us in Milwaukee.

Among forwards, we anticipate Austin Watson coming at the end of his season. His team, Peterborough of the OHL, might not make the playoffs and if they do, they’ll be in a tough first round match-up, so he could be with us in a couple of weeks. Guelph is not one of the higher seeds in the OHL Playoffs. They do have a good team, so I’m not underestimating their ability to get hot in the post-season, but if they do get eliminated early, both Taylor Beck and Michael Latta will be available for us in Milwaukee.

On defense, Windsor captain Ryan Ellis and you never know with Windsor; the Spitfires have had such great success there in winning two straight Memorial Cups and they seem to have found their mojo the last half of the season, so we could be looking at a long playoff run for them. If they get eliminated, then he’ll definitely have the ability to come in to Milwaukee; get his feet wet and hopefully help us in a big way. Charles-Olivier Roussel is in a similar situation. He would probably come in to Milwaukee and get acclimated, depending on how Montreal (QMJHL) does, but they are second in the standings right now, so he could be in a position for a long run. Taylor Aronson, and the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks play to their potential, they can go all the way to the Memorial Cup, but again funny things happen in the playoffs, so if he’s available, he too can help us in Milwaukee.

But it looks more likely that we’ll be able to get some forwards in from the junior ranks before some of those defensemen become available. With Halischuk and Geoffrion up here in Nashville, that could be a good boost to the depth up front for our guys in Milwaukee. The European leagues are in to the playoff run, are there any prospects there to keep an eye on?
Fenton: We’ve also had discussions about some guys there as well. Jani Lajunen – one of our forwards from the 2008 Draft – is signed so it is a possibility of coming over. He played on the national team in February for Finland and turned a lot of heads, so might get consideration for their World Championship team. And that’s the same situation we’re going to be in with Mattias Ekholm (2009 Draft). When I talked to his GM in January, he told me he thought Ekholm would make Sweden’s World Championship team, so we probably won’t get him. Forward Joonas Rask (2010 Draft), is somebody we’re going to talk about signing and bringing over; he played in the Finnish Elite League, a forward, and scored 14 goals over there. For Ekholm and Lajunen, what are the benefits to the World Championships vs. the benefits of playing in Milwaukee?
Fenton: In the World Championships, you’re playing at an NHL-level almost with the all the guys who return to their national teams and participate in the tournament. It’s a high-pressure tournament – the Europeans take it more serious than the North Americans seem to – it’s considered their Stanley Cup to the European countries. For guys like Ekholm or Lajunen to play there as opposed to Milwaukee, it would benefit them quite a bit in their career development.

The benefits to coming over to Milwaukee – or even possibly here in Nashville – is getting acclimated to the North American game and North American culture. We’ve had some very talented European players make the transition over the years, but I think Anders Lindback is the only one to start here in Nashville from the get-go. Patric Hornqvist made the team his first year, but we didn’t think he was ready so we sent him down to Milwaukee for most of that first season. It takes time to acclimate yourself to understand the style of living, getting around, getting a car, getting comfortable with the language – and that says nothing about getting used to the smaller ice surface and quicker tempo of the game on-ice. There’s a process to it and we take it for granted sometimes that it’s going to be easy. Hornqvist and Pekka Rinne were the same. So much like we talked about with the college kids who get that chance at the end of the season, we think there can be a similar benefit for the Europeans.

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