Austin Watson, Nashville's 2010 first-round draft pick, finally played in Nashville for an entire season a year ago. However, he did not show much in terms of inspired play. Any previous optimism about him becoming the two-way top six center that many had projected he could be has dissipated. Looking ahead to next season, Watson's place in the lineup is anything but safe. Players such as Colton Sissons, Vladislav Kamenev, and Kevin Fiala will be competing with Watson for a roster spot in the upcoming 2016-17 campaign.
Do those 32 penalty minutes for a fourth liner who played just over two-thirds of a season seem a bit high? They should.
Watson's physical presence lead to a couple of hits that he would probably like to take back. Two hits and one fight lead to 20 of those penalty minutes. At the same token, his physical play pushed him to a -4 +/- rating for the season. For a fourth liner, that certainly is not a bad rating to have. However, Watson was not supposed to be a fourth line physical player. In his last two seasons in Milwaukee, he scored a combined 90 points. He appeared ready to make the jump to the NHL, but unfortunately he did not appear ready for the task.
At the age of 24, Watson has spent plenty of time in Milwaukee while failing to impress in Nashville. and his time may be running out. Despite playing 57 games in the regular season, he was a healthy scratch throughout the playoffs. The Predators instead opted for a fourth line consisting of Cody Bass, Miikka Salomaki and Sissons. Even Pontus Aberg played over Watson in the postseason. The optimism surrounding Watson is waning.
Watson has one year left on his current contract with a $575,000 cap-hit. If he fails to impress the coaching staff this preseason, his future could become very unclear.
Best moment of the season?
It may be hard to believe, but on November 10th against the Ottawa Senators, Watson had a three point night, scoring once on a tip-in from Seth Jones and tallying two assists. The flip side of that performance is that, in one three point night, Watson generated 30% of his total offense for the entire season.
Worst moment of the season?
As eluded to earlier, Watson has made a few decisions that, in hindsight, he would probably have been wise not to make.
Trending up or down?
Trending down. Last year, he was coming into the season off of a 44-point AHL campaign. He'll enter this season with his spot in the lineup marked questionable at best. There will be plenty of competition for his roster spot, so if he wants to lock up a spot in the starting lineup, he needs to already be in phenomenal shape when training camp begins.
FINAL GRADE: D+
Watson took his previous two seasons with the Admirals, both good campaigns, and didn't translate at that same level during his first full year on NHL ice.
As a young player trying to make it in the NHL, the goal is to give your organization's management reasons to be patient with you and keep you around; Watson only provided the Predators with reasons to replace him at moments, which was evident during the postseason. Sure, he provided a fine physical fourth line presence with the exception of some poor decisions, but as a 24-year-old coming off of that great season in the AHL, that is not what one wants to be known for.
Watson may be one that doesn't make the team next year, and considering what young players need to do in order to play in the NHL, Watson's future in terms of being a steady name in the Predators' line is up in the air.
There may be no Predator for whom training camp is more important for.
The entire OTF staff will put their thoughts together and voice their opinions on player grades at the conclusion of this series of articles.