Our final look at the best prospects in the organization. For the previous installments, click here, here, here and here.
5. Vladislav Kamenev
Thanks to the Los Angeles Kings there is a new trend in the NHL, especially in the Western Conference: now, more than ever, teams are looking for big playmaking centers to drive possession. Poile brought in one such center during the 2014 draft in the form of the 6'2" 200 pound Russian center Vladislav Kamenev.
Kamenev definitely fits the mold of an Anze Kopitar-like player in that his staples are vision, puck control, and passing. Also of note, he has good foot-speed and shooting ability. This skill set is something the Predators need in their system to fully take advantage of their snipers up the wing (James Neal, Craig Smith, and hopefully Filip Forsberg.)
Drafted: 42nd overall in 2014.
Potential: I could see Vlad being anywhere from that number one center the Predators have always been looking for, to a capable third line center that can provide both size and setup ability. He has a very limited portfolio so I would play close attention to what he does next season when, hopefully, he will get more playing time to get a better feel for what kind of prospect the Predators truly have on their hands.
What's Next? Kamenev will most likely be spending his season in the KHL for Metallurg Magnitogorsk, though the Quebec Remparts are still trying to convince him (and his KHL team to let him) to come over to North America and play in the QMJHL. Based on a rough translation I have read, Mike Keenan is trying to prepare him for a bigger role with the team this season. An injury sustained during the preseason has kept him from maintaining the second line role he was being played in before the season started but hopefully he can earn that back sometime this season, assuming he stays in the KHL.
4. Juuse Saros
The goalie trend in Nashville has been tall and lanky and Juuse Saros doesn't fit that mold in the slightest. At 5'10", Saros is facing an uphill battle to make it to the NHL but it is a battle that I believe he can overcome due to fantastic athleticism and positioning; he is known for rarely letting in soft goals. When he was drafted in 2013, the word was if he was above six feet tall he would have been drafted in the first round. If he continues to do what he has been doing, however, he will make a lot of teams regret passing him over.
Drafted: 99th overall in 2013.
Potential: The fantastic skill-set he possesses could lead to him being the future number one goalie for the Predators or his size could get in the way and he could end up returning to Europe for the long term.
What's Next? Juuse Saros is coming off a great season in the SM Liiga for HPK and a very impressive U20 championship where he was named Finland's best player and I expect him to continue to build on this in the upcoming season. I think that after that we will see him take his talents to Milwaukee where we will really see whether or not size will be an issue on the North America ice.
3. Calle Jarnkrok
In the mold of the 2012 trade that sent Erat and Latta to Washington for Filip Forsberg, Calle Jarnkrok came to the Predators in a package with Patrick Eaves for original Pred David Legwand. (and the pick that became Jack Dougherty.) I think most everyone was happy with the trade when it came through but no one expected Jarnkrok to put up 9 points in 6 games in Milwaukee and then turn around and put up 2 goals and 7 assists in 12 games for Nashville.
A playmaker by trade, Jarnkrok's biggest assets are his hockey IQ, hands, passing, and speed. He also possesses very good tenacity which helps him make up for his lack in mass (at 5'11" he's not particularly short) but to be an effective player at the NHL level he should look to put on some lower body and core strength. As I said before, he had great chemistry with Forsberg in Milwaukee and hopefully they can continue that great relationship in the coming years for the Predators.
Drafted: 51st overall in 2010 by Detroit. (Acquired via trade for David Legwand.)
Potential: With continued success, Jarnkrok is likely going to be the future second line center for the Predators. I think he has the smarts and skills to be a first line center but second line is much more likely.
What's Next? Jarnkrok will likely spend 2014-2015 in Nashville where he will he will likely fill the third line center role. Of course, he could continue production or see a regression which could either lead to him being in a top six role or in Milwaukee but I feel that goes without saying. His playmaking abilities will be key in the future for the Predators with all of the scoring talent within the system (Forsberg, Fiala, Leipsic, and Aberg) and on the team (Smith and Neal.)
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2. Kevin Fiala
Kevin Fiala is THE most offensively dynamic player the Predators have ever had in their system. He is known for his speed and lateral agility, creativity, and finishing ability and is also a good passer. The things that I believe will push him to the top, however, are his work ethic and his ability to step up in every league or tournament he plays in. Both signify competitiveness and a willingness to become a better player and both, combined with his natural abilities, will do nothing but help him on his journey to the NHL.
Fiala started the season off in HV71's (a Swedish Hockey League team) junior team where he put up almost a point per game and then he stepped up to the big club where he put up 11 points in 17 games. A little fun fact: that 11 point in 17 game total puts him at the most points per game in the SHL since Peter Forsberg. He is obviously in very high company and this could be a good indicator that the Predators have a very high potential prospect on their hands; although I would wait until we have a better sample size at that level before going to crazy with projections. During that time, he also played in the U18 and U20 tournaments where he continued to put up very, very, good point totals.
Drafted: 11th overall in 2014.
Potential: I think Kevin Fiala is most realistically is a second line scorer but if he continues to produce at the high rate he has and if he lives up to the high expectations the Predators' coaching staff have put on him he could be a first line offensive force for the Predators.
What's Next? Come training camp, Kevin Fiala will look to make the big club and, depending on the results, he will either be in Nashville or HV71 for the 2014-2015 season. If he doesn't make the Predators roster I would expect him to come right back next season at which time you should watch out because he seemed like a man on a mission coming out of the rookie camp this past July. Do not be surprised, however, if he makes the team, or at least makes a huge statement, coming out of camp this season because if the past is any indicator of the future he should step up in a big way.
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1. Filip Forsberg
When Forsberg was acquired by the Predators for Martin Erat in what seems to be an absolute steal, the Predators were able to obtain a forward that has the potential to do what no other Predators prospect has ever done (yet) and what few Predators players have ever done in being a true first line forward. Without a doubt, the biggest deficiency the Predators have had on their team is offense and Forsberg can provide it aplomb. His biggest asset is his intelligence which is supported by excellence in both the shooting and passing department, as well as solid skating ability.
He is one of those players who has no deficiencies in his game which allows him to play all three forward positions, though he will likely play on the wing at the NHL level. As he has said before, Forsberg is extremely comfortable playing on both the left and the right side of the ice. This will be great for the Predators because they are looking pretty set up the right side right now with Smith and Neal. Whether it is this season or next season (by that time I fully expect him to have solidified a top six role) his two-way and playmaking will provide a great compliment to snipers Smith or Neal. He had good chemistry with Jarnkrok as both a setup man and a scorer so if Jarnkrok continues to develop well it is easy to see them being paired together at the NHL level with one of the aforementioned right wingers.
Drafted: 16th overall in 2012 by Washington. (Acquired via trade in 2013 for Martin Erat and Michael Latta.)
Potential: If all goes wrong, Forsberg is a third line player who spends a lot of time on the powerplay but I think that he is likely at least a second line winger. Forsberg has the potential, however, to become a first line scoring threat the Predators have needed for quite some time.
What's Next? Forsberg will come into training camp looking to find a spot in either the second or third line. Due to his chemistry with assumed third line center, Calle Jarnkrok, as well as his all-around game that developed very nicely in Milwaukee, he could force Poile and Laviolette to make some tough decisions make room for him. If not, he will spend 2014-2015 in Milwaukee where he should find a place as one of the most dominant forwards in the league.
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There you have it. It may take another year or so, but Nashville has a cupboard stocked with talented prospects. If even a handful of them can develop into the players they are projected to be, the Predators will have an amazing foundation.