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Nashville Predators Development Camp report: the rise of Nick Spaling

This morning saw another public on-ice practice session for the Nashville Predators prospects, and the glowing reviews are coming from all corners. It's July, so naturally there's a bit of optimism in the air; all the guys seem fast, are bigger than expected, and have great shots. A note of caution, however, is warranted. As John Glennon says in his afternoon blog,

Let’s all remember that these are a few one-hour drill sessions in July, so we probably shouldn’t be drawing too much from them. It’s certainly not the same as watching players participate in highly competitive training-camp scrimmages.

After the jump, we've got a series of reviews from today's action, and a look at who really has a chance to make an impact at the NHL level this fall...

First off, it was great to meet up with @MikeBarnes5, who provided the video I used in yesterday's recap. You can find two clips of video from today here and here.

Colin Wilson skated for the first time today and looked fantastic - very strong on his skates, quick to make changes of direction and shake off defenders. It's only a matter of time before we see him at the NHL level, and he should generate some genuine excitement when he does. Brandon Felder has quotes from Wilson and some of the other prospects in his recap.

A Baby Blueline?

Now, one thing we've heard quite a bit this week is that after re-signing Steve Sullivan and Joel Ward, that the Preds are pretty much done shopping for now, and may not get either a winger or a defenseman prior to training camp, opting instead to promote from within.

Admirals Short Shifts breaks down the picture on the blueline:

Down in Nashville, it's sounding more and more like Cody Franson and Teemu Laakso are going to be given every chance in the world to make the Preds squad this year. 

According to John Glennon from the Tennessean, Franson is training in Nashville, and has stopped by the  Development Camp.  And Laakso received this glowing review from Preds GM David Poile.

"He tested out great, says he feels great,’’ Poile said. ``We liked what he did down in Milwaukee and he could certainly be a candidate to play for our team. So you weigh that kind of thing against what’s out there.’’

At one point, it sounded like signing a veteran defenseman was on Poile's to-do list this summer...but that makes it seem like he thinks the Preds might be able to promote from within.  After the exit of Zanon, Koistinen, and DeVries, would it be a stretch to see the Sulzer, Franson, and Laakso all make the roster?

My answer, yes, it would be a stretch - a mind-blowingly large one that would probably send Barry Trotz's blood pressure through the roof. I simply can't imagine an NHL team with aspirations for the playoffs lining up 3 totally raw rookies in the 5-6-7 slots, behind Kevin Klein (with all of 81 games of NHL experience) at #4. For the sake of his head coach's sanity, David Poile will obtain a graybeard, stay-at-home type to work the 3rd pair and mentor the new kids. It's a formula that worked well with Greg de Vries, and now it's time to move on to a more affordable option.

So why the public proclamations to the contrary? I can think of two reasons. First of all, with the prospects in town, Poile needs to communicate a message of opportunity - "there are NHL jobs on the table, kids, so work your butts off and force me to put you on the team". Secondly, there's no need for Poile to sign such a player right now - the early days of the Free Agency period are a player's market, when the Bouwmeesters and Beauchemins go to the highest bidder and draw all the attention. For the mass of players that remain, the market will shift in the GM's favor as training camp approaches and marginal players look for work. That's when you can snag a depth D out of the bargain bin, and I'm guessing that's what will happen here.

Spaling on the rise

Now there is something that myself, John Glennon, Paul McCann, and many others do agree on - that Nick Spaling has taken a big step forward and stands out from the pack with an all-around polish to his game. What I look for on days like this is a forward who can execute at high speed, make and accept strong, accurate passes, and use his speed or size to separate from defenders. They're not ripping their best slap shots or getting a chance to show their hockey sense in a 5-on-5 scrimmage situation, but you take what you can get, and Spaling just seems very slick compared to the other prospects right now. Might that translate into a 4th-line/PK opportunity this fall? It could be...