After two days of up-tempo, high-pace practices at Centennial Sportsplex, Nashville Predators Rookie Camp shifts to the Sunshine State, as the club prepares to face fellow prospect teams from Florida, Tampa Bay and Washington over the coming days.
“We had some success last year at this tournament because our group came together as a team, and the quicker the team does that, the better opportunity they have to succeed,” Milwaukee Admirals Head Coach Dean Evason, who will be coaching the prospects, said. “We’re excited to watch the skill level, but we want to see them be good teammates and a good team as well.”
The Preds will play three games – Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday – at the Panthers Ice Den in Coral Springs, Florida, before returning to Nashville to join main training camp next week.
Every player on the Predators roster is worth a look over the next few days, but there are a few names that could stand out above the rest, and in turn, could find themselves on an NHL roster in due time. But for now, the focus is not only on simply competing against some of the best young hockey players in the world, but coming away with a few notches in the win column too.
As the weekend begins, here are six names to keep an eye on over the next few days…and years as well.
One of two players in the group who has NHL experience and attending his third rookie camp, Nashville’s first-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft could be flirting with the Preds lineup once more this season. Fiala skated five games with the Predators in 2015-16, and after posting 18 goals and 50 points with Milwaukee last season, the 20-year-old figures to get every opportunity to not only serve as a leader during rookie camp, but also the chance to see more time in Nashville in the coming months.
“I want to be a leader, I want to try to help the new guys, and just to give 100 percent and to be my best,” Fiala said. “I’m very happy I can be in the rookie camp again in preparation for the season, and to have three games, it’s going to be good.”
Kamenev has yet to make his NHL debut, but he may not be far off. Taken after Fiala, in the second round in 2014, the Russian center spent 57 games in Milwaukee last season, tallying 15 goals and 37 points. At only 20 years of age, Kamenev looks to still be on track to serve as a center in the Preds lineup within the next few seasons.
“He is very business-like when you see him in the way he works, but if you talk to him and you get to know him, he is very personable,” Evason said of Kamenev. “He’s very funny, he has a great personality, he’s a great teammate, and you look at the size of him, he just looks like a man, where as some of the guys still look like kids.”
Taken in the third round of the 2014 NHL Draft, Kirkland is scheduled to log his first season as a professional in 2016-17 after inking a three-year, entry-level deal with the Preds in May. Kirkland spent the past four seasons with the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL, upping his point total in each campaign. Another 20-year-old, Kirkland switched from the wing to playing center, and coach Evason expects to play Kirkland at the center position in the weekend’s tournament.
“It’s a lot of fun, especially because you play with some of the guys throughout the year or you play against them,” Kirkland said of the tournament. “We’re representing Nashville, and if you’re not playing on the Predators NHL roster, there aren’t many chances you get to represent them like that, so we’re excited, and hopefully we can go in there and show well.”
A fourth-round pick of the Predators in 2015, Carrier is expected to join Milwaukee for the upcoming season. The 19-year-old signed his entry-level deal last November and is an offensive defenseman, posting 12 goals and 47 points for Gatineau of the QMJHL last season.
“Just to be with the guys and learning every day is great,” Carrier said. “It’s going to be a great tournament over there. There’s a lot of good players, so to come be with them, it’s a good challenge and it’s fun.”
Also expected to begin his full-time journey in the AHL with Milwaukee this fall, Dougherty will be playing in his fifth different league in five seasons. The 20-year-old defenseman most recently recorded 11 goals and 52 points in 68 games with Portland of the WHL, before getting into three games with the Admirals at the end of the 2015-16 season.
“Some of those guys will be in the NHL this year, next year, so it is a good gauge,” Dougherty said of facing other top prospects. “But at the same time, you want to have fun with it like every other game, and not worry too much about things. It’ll be good to get down there, work hard and win some games in a Nashville jersey.”
The only other player on the rookie camp roster with NHL experience, Saros started his first and only NHL game last season in a loss to Buffalo, stopping 20 of 23 shots in net. That call to the NHL was well-deserved, as the 21-year-old Finn went 29-8-4 with Milwaukee last season, sporting an impressive 2.24 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage, despite his 5-foot-11 frame. After the departure of Carter Hutton from Nashville at the NHL level, and with Marek Mazanec the likely replacement, Saros could see a bulk of the time between the pipes for the Admirals in 2016-17.
“It’s nice to get back here and start the season again,” Saros said. “I just tried to improve at every area, so it’s been a good summer getting started, and I feel like I’m in good shape.”
Rookie Camp Schedule:
|Date: ||Event: ||TIME (CT): |
|Saturday, Sept. 17 ||Preds vs. Panthers ||5 pm |
|Sunday, Sept. 18 ||Preds vs. Lightning ||1:30 pm |
|Tuesday, Sept. 20 ||Preds vs. Capitals ||9 am |
|Thursday, Sept. 22 ||Main Training Camp begins ||- |