It’s time for our annual countdown of the best 25 Nashville Predators players under 25 years old.
This is not only a tradition here at OTF, but is also something that you might see at many other SBNation NHL blogs. The premise is simple: rank the 25 best players who have not yet reached their 25th birthday (as of August 1st, 2017).
At #8, Colton Sissons.
Colton Sissons presents an interesting case moving forward in the franchise. He’s now known as the scorer of the important hat trick in franchise history, yet his place in the lineup is not incredibly solidified. But, let’s go through a brief background before we get to that.
Drafted back in 2012, I distinctly remember Sissons falling victim to the same role-player pigeon-holing that Justin Kirkland did (with the same comparison too - Mike Fisher). And, again, that isn’t an awful comparison, but it does highlight teams tendencies to go with conservative picks. Regardless, Sissons put up good numbers for Kelowna in the WHL. Sissons, in 182 games, scored 71 goals and 149 points; his breakout season was after the Preds drafted him in 2012-13 where he posted 67 points in 61 games.
Unfortunately, unlike Kirkland, Sissons was not caught behind highly-touted prospects in the lineup during most of his junior career. In 2013-14, Sissons appeared in 17 games for Nashville and 62 for Milwaukee. He finished that season with 44 points in the AHL - pretty good for his first pro season. The next year was spent entirely in Milwaukee where he dipped to 42 points in 76 games, but became a strong leader on that squad. As captain of the Ads in 2015-16, Sissons only managed 19 points in 38 games and six points in 34 games for Nashville.
At the beginning of this past season, it was largely believed Sissons would have a permanent home in the Nashville lineup (especially with Austin Watson being sent down early), however, Sissons only appeared in 58 games, was often a healthy scratch, and put together an eight goal, 10 point campaign. On the contrary, his playoff performance spoke for itself. Sissons, including that hat trick in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final, posted 12 points in 22 playoff games and did a decent job of filling the lineup when Johansen and Fisher went down with injury.
Obviously, it wasn’t enough, and we shouldn’t have expected it to be. Kate (@statswithkate) wrote an excellent piece on Sissons earlier this summer, and its very important to this discussion, so please go read it! I’ll siphon from it a bit for the sake of this projection. As Kate mentions, Sissons doesn’t necessarily have a specific skill that can guarantee a bump in offensive production. He’s mostly ridden above-average shooting percentages since coming into the league (including 21.4% in the playoffs), is relatively average in the faceoff circle, and won’t command the linemates or icetime to increase his shot totals. He has spent most of his NHL career playing with Austin Watson, but, in a small sample size, still seems somewhat dependent on him (as seen below) [sidenote: go check out Ryan Stimson’s Passing Project work]
Sissons’ primary assists rate is rather excellent for a fourth line player, but his game seems to suffer in other facets of pushing play up the ice (especially his transition game).
I think there is a general longing for Sissons to step up and contribute 10 to 15 goals and 25 to 30 points moving forward, but I’m not so sure I see it happening. He’s gone on record admitting that improvement is needed in his offensive game, and I think this season would be a great opportunity to improve his transition play and passing skills without looking to be a high-volume shooter or goal scorer.
Sissons’ game is pretty well understood at this point. He isn’t an excellent skater and doesn’t have great hands, but he can keep up with the play and is responsible in his own end. He can play well in front of the net, but his size will keep him outside the slot from time to time. Overall, an effective, bottom-half player.
This season will be interesting to see how much longer Sissons’ leash gets. I would expect a small bump in playing time and maybe in offensive production, but overall, it will be much of what we saw last season: above average fourth-line play down the middle.
Sissons is entering the second year of his bridge contract. He will make $650 K this season with a cap hit of $625 K to the Preds’ books. Upon expiry after 2018-19, he will be a restricted free agent.