Over the next five days leading up to the start of rookie camp, we're going to be going on a journey through the prospect pipeline. 25 players who haven't seen significant time in the NHL yet (and are all under the age of 25) are going to be fair game.
So, let's dive in, shall we?
25. Mikko Vainonen
Mikko Vainonen is a large defensive defenseman. He is positionally sound, a hard worker, and can be a good first-pass guy, though he is not notably an offensive player.
Drafted: 118th overall in 2012.
Potential: Vainonen is a bottom two defenseman at most.
What's Next? Vainonen will spend 2014-2015 in the Predators farm system where he will try to find his North American style of play.
24. Saku Maenalanen
Saku Maenalanen is a big (6'3"), speedy, scoring forward. Those skills were definitely on display this past year for Finland during the U20 tournament where he scored seven goals in seven games. He had trouble, though, translating that to the Liiga where he only put up seven points in 25 games.
Drafted: 125th overall in 2013.
Potential: Maenalanen has high scoring ability but, until he is able to prove he can put up points against men, lacks high scoring potential. At most I see him as a third line scoring forward for the Predators but he has a lot of improving to do before he gets to that level.
What's Next? Maenalanen will spend the foreseeable future in the Liiga until he is able to take that to the ice and starts to put up the goals he should be putting up.
23. Joonas Lyytinen
At 6'0", 154 lbs, Joonas Lyytinen is a thin, intelligent, defenseman that is very solid with the puck. These traits were, according to the Predators coaching staff, very reminiscent of current Predator defenseman Roman Josi. He is fairly raw but he has the makings to be a good, puck-moving/carrying, two way defenseman. He will need to continue to refine these skills to make it to the next level but he definitely has good potential. The fact that he was able to play 30 games and put up 9 points in the top Finnish League (Liiga), especially considering his size, is somewhat impressive, especially for a fifth round pick.
Drafted: 132nd overall in 2014.
Potential: Lyytinen has the potential to be a good second or third line option for the Predators and that would be great if he turns out to be that but obviously, as a fifth round pick, he will need to step up his game and show a lot of improvement before much else is said.
What's Next? For the 2014-2015 season, Joonas will return to KalPa in the Liiga where he will look to continue to refine his game and put on weight. He will probably spend at least another three or four years there before making the jump over to North America. I would consider it a positive that he is playing in Finland because it is a much more North American style of play. If he was to play in Sweden, for example, he probably would be less pressured to develop a more physical, defensive, side of his game.
22. Justin Kirkland
Justin Kirkland is a very raw power-forward whose main assets are his size and his aggressive nature. He will need to continue to develop all aspects of his game but his 6'3 frame could help him find a way to the NHL in some capacity.
Drafted: 62nd overall in 2014.
Potential: Kirkland is a very long-term project who, according to many experts, could (unlikely) be a Jamie Benn type-player. A lot has to happen for him to get to that level but that's what the Predators coaching staff was thinking when they drafted him.
What's Next? Unless he develops very rapidly, Kirkland will likely spend all of his remaining years of eligibility in Kelowna which has developed Predators player Shea Weber and prospect Colton Sissons, as well as his high-end comparison Jamie Benn. Hopefully if they can get Benn to where he is today they can work a little magic on Kirkland as well.
21. Zach Stepan
Zach Stepan is a reliable, hard working, two-way forward who has some offensive ability but nothing that would project him as highly as his cousin Derek.
Drafted: 112th overall in 2012.
Potential: Stepan has the potential to play all three forward positions in a bottom six role at the NHL level. There is a small chance he becomes a reliable second line winger but his skills do not allow for much higher projection than that.
What's Next? Stepan will likely spend the rest of his college eligibility at Minnesota State after which he will make his way to Milwaukee.