The Kids Are Alright
There has been quite a lot of buzz in regards to three young and gritty forwards who have made the jump from the AHL to the NHL this season: Austin Watson, Colton Sissons, and Miikka Salomaki. With many used to the grit, grind, and defensive reliability of fourth liners Eric Nystrom and Paul Gaustad, the offense (along with the grinding and defensive reliability) those three have brought to the bottom six has been a breath of fresh air.
Their production has cooled off as of late but Watson and Sissons will get pushed more ice time in the wake of injuries to Mike Fisher, Colin Wilson, and formerly Gaustad and Salomaki. As long as the Predators' top centers are healthy, Sissons will likely remain in Milwaukee, though he's making a strong case against it. It is times like these where he can show he'll be a great replacement for Goose next season.
Arvidsson and Saros Spur on the Surging Admirals
Getting off to a rough 2-4-1 start in October, the Milwaukee Admirals were determined to turn over a new leaf in November. In that month, the Admirals only recorded one loss and set a franchise record with a winning streak that spanned 10 games. That streak put the Predators' AHL affiliate second in the Central Division and fourth in the Western Conference. While they would probably tell you those wins were a team effort, there is no denying the large part that both Victor Arvidsson and Juuse Saros played in that span of hockey.
Named the AHL Player of the Month for November, Arvidsson recorded points in 13 straight games—a season high among all AHL players—and finished November with a whopping total of 6 goals, 8 assists, and 53 shots in 11 games. Despite being disappointingly sent down after making the Predators team out of training camp, Arvidsson displayed his usual blue-collar attitude and worked his tail off to try to get back up to the NHL.
That work payed off as Arvidsson is now, once again, holding a spot on the Predators' roster and looking to retain that spot by bringing to the NHL the play that got him player of the month honors in the AHL. He's been one of the better players on Nashville's roster recently, as well.
Saros was nothing but impressive during a winning streak that would have likely not occurred without him. In that time he recorded a .932 save percentage, a 2.00 goals against average, and a shutout. With many, including myself, skeptical as to how Saros would do in his transition to the NHL, for the young netminder to come in and have this kind of success so early is very impressive.
Like Arvidsson, towards the end of November Saros was given a chance to show what he's got in his first ever start in the NHL. Though the young Finn did let in three goals, (two of which were on the power play) he did not seem to let the magnitude of the moment get to him and showed the poise, speed, and agility that he is very well known for.
Kevin Fiala Gives High Schoolers a Day to Remember
As said in a recent Predcast, there are two ways to react when you are cut from an NHL roster: you can take it in stride and try to fix the things you got sent down for (a la Viktor Arvidsson) or you can get mad and frustrated. In October Kevin Fiala tended to lean heavily to the latter of the two options, though he did seem to be playing better towards the end of that month. With that in mind, I stated in the October's Pipeline Prospectus to "look for him to get back on track going forward."
Fiala pretty much shot that hope down in a game against the Lake Erie Monsters in front of the eyes of roughly 11,000 high school students. After being pushed around quite a lot during the game and receiving a hit that left him shaken up in the corner, Fiala decided to give the opposition a piece of his mind (A.K.A. his middle finger.) While many of the kids in attendance probably found that amusing, their parents likely weren't too happy with what their children saw at the hockey game they went to on field trip. Fiala received a two game suspension for his actions.
Fiala continues to let his emotions get the better of him and his play, only recording 1 goal and 1 assist in 8 games in November. He has probably been talked to by David Poile, Scott Nichol, and the gang but in the end it's going to be Fiala that makes a change in his mindset; a change that needs to happen sooner rather than later.
Emil Pettersson on Fire
Thirteen games into the season, Emil Pettersson was off to a very poor start and only had 2 assists to his name. Come late October, Pettersson caught fire and hasn't looked back, putting up 7 goals and 4 assists in the last 11 games. The 21-year-old is now third on Modo's team in points behind former Predator Bobby Butler and ex-NHLer Maxim Lapierre and what's more is he is doing this on a team that sports the second worst record in the Swedish Hockey League.
Though he will probably not be able to keep up this torrid pace, Pettersson is most definitely worth keeping an eye on for Predators fans as this could be a defining season for him as a potential NHL player.
Entry Level Contracts À La Mode
The Nashville Predators signed their two French-Canadian fourth round picks from the 2015 draft in mid-November to entry level contracts. This move further illustrates the Predators' organization's love for the play of Alexandre Carrier and Anthony Richard and shows their growing confidence in both players, who have had impressive seasons in the QMJHL thus far. With 21 goals and 23 assists in 27 games, Richard is 8th in the Q in points and 5th in goals. Alexandre Carrier is first in points among Gatineau Olympique defenseman in both assists and points with 16 and 19, respectively.
One of the main reasons Richard and Carrier were signed in the middle of the season is so they can take part in the Admirals' playoff race (potentially) and 2016-2017 season.
"[My goal is to play in the AHL next year. I certainly have to finish the season with the Olympiques. In June, I will go to training camp and we'll see from there]," says Carrier in an interview with La Seigneurie.
Kivihalme Rounding Out and Improving his Game
Teemu Kivihalme led Colorado College in points last October and he has continued that productivity in November. To date he has 2 goals and 5 assists in 14 games which is good for second on the team in points. Kivihalme's offensive game and skating have always been his strengths but he is now bringing a lot of commitment to his defensive game and has been the best player on the Tiger's squad according to Head Coach Mike Haviland.
Kivihalme was drafted as "project prospect" and was picked up right out of high school by the Preds in the fifth round of the 2015 draft. You want to see an offensively gifted "project prospect" move towards a more complete game while improving on his strengths and the young offensive defenseman is doing just that.
Jimmy Vesey: Will He Stay or Will He Go?
Bob McKenzie stated in a blog on TSN: "[the] Preds can do little but wait for prospect [Jimmy] Vesey." I don't know if I could have said it better. There's a feeling of helplessness among Predators fans in regards to prized prospect and Hobey Baker favorite, Jimmy Vesey, who could elect to hit free agency next summer instead of signing with the Predators in the spring. Toronto, having both his brother (prospect) and father (scout) in the organization, doesn't help the nervousness, either.
Vesey did state during the Predators' rookie camp that he considers himself a "very loyal person" and that, "if the opportunity is right, [he'd] like to sign with Nashville." Those words have repeated up in a recent interview with Adam Vingan.
Vesey has continued his dominance in the college ranks with 6 goals and 4 assists in 8 games. Also of note, Tyler Moy (who does not often get to take advantage of Vesey's production as they are on separate lines) has been very productive with 3 goals and 3 assists in 8 games.
The Move to the WHL Paying Dividends for Jack Dougherty
Jack Dougherty has been solid in his transition from college to Major Junior and is a mainstay on the first defensive unit for the Portland Winterhawks alongside Mike Heinrich. The Predators are likely looking for him to better-develop his offensive game and he seems to be having success in doing so with 4 goals and 9 assists in 20 games. He is another player that you could see jump to the AHL or ECHL come this spring.
Kirkland and Trenin Producing After Rough Starts
The month of October was a disappointment, to say the least, for top line forwards Justin Kirkland (Portland Winterhawks, WHL) and Yakov Trenin (Gatineau Olympiques, QMJHL,) who both had trouble finding the score sheet. Kirkland finished that month with 5 goals and 3 assists in 15 games while Trenin finished with 2 goals and 3 assists in 13 games. November was much kinder to both Predators prospects with Kirkland posting 4 goals and 9 assists in 11 games and Trenin posting 4 goals and 7 assists in 10 games.