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 #4, Pontus Aberg.
As we slowly move towards the top of our list (hopefully you guys are enjoying individual articles per player), the entries begin to separate from prospects and become regular NHL players. That’s important to remember when constructing a complex list such as this. Anyway, Aberg meets that description.
Expected to earn a full-time roster spot in Nashville this year, Aberg has a lot of benchmarks expected of him. With the organization losing some prime offensive producers, Aberg is being looked to for an Arvidsson-like breakout campaign. That’s the big question: can he hit those marks?
In the 2011-12 season, Aberg played 47 games for Djurgardens of the SHL at the age of 18. He scored 8 goals and 15 points and was selected by the Preds’ the following summer in the NHL Entry Draft. In 2012-13, Aberg played 52 games for the relegated Djurgardens club and improved to 12 goals and 40 assists. The next year, Aberg’s final in Sweden, saw him return to the SHL and post a career high 31 points in 52 games as a 20 year-old.
In 2014-15, Aberg made the jump to North America. In his first season with the Milwaukee Admirals, Aberg scored 16 goals and 34 points in 69 games. In 2015-16, Aberg played 74 games for the Admirals and scored 25 goals and 40 points - impressing enough to earn a playoff-time call-up to Nashville and appear in two games.
This past season, Aberg produced at an elite rate in the AHL. Appearing in 15 games, he scored 31 goals and 52 points - good for third in goals league-wide and eleventh in points per game among those appearing in 40+ games. He also got 15 games of an NHL cameo in the regular season and 16 more in the playoffs where he scored two pretty big goals.
As is plainly apparent by now, Aberg is at least a first line player at the AHL level. His brief NHL appearance’s this season didn’t provide us with a good enough snapshot of his production, but something tells me quality of linemates will be important. I know he ranked near middle of the pack in that category in the AHL, but that measure carries a bit more weight in the NHL where some teams struggle to ice more than one decent line and dependent players are easily spotted.
Aberg can put the puck in the net, that’s no question. But a performance similar to Arvidsson’s this past season may be asking too much. The Preds’ offensive depth is a concern and Aberg is part of the reason why—he’s still relatively unknown. But, who knows? By December he could have 15 goals and be averaging top 6 minutes.
Aberg is full of high-end offensive skill - it’s funny how that’s largely gone unnoticed until now. He’s fast, has excellent hands, and has an elite shot. He plays all parts of the game at a quick pace. His defensive zone play isn’t anything to write home about, but it gets the job done. He has excellent vision and is a decent passer; he is a shooter more than a playmaker.
This one is pretty easy. Aberg should be one of the 13 or 14 forwards on the Opening Night roster, and I see no reason why he doesn’t dress. I think he has the talent to be a 20-25 goal scorer in the NHL. Does he get there this season? I’d be shocked, but maybe soon.
Aberg just signed a new, two-year bridge deal this summer. He will be making $650 K per season and will cost the Preds’ the same. Upon expiry, he will be a restricted free agent.