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 #14, Jack Dougherty.
Dougherty is a name that probably isn’t talked enough about in the Nashville Predators’ system. Much like Taylor Aronson (before he left for Russia), Dougherty plays such a sound game that he isn’t always on a highlight real or pop up on a top prospects list. Regardless, he could soon be a key cog in Nashville’s defense.
Drafted in 2014 after one season with the US National Team Development Program, Dougherty committed to play college hockey at the University of Wisconsin. After struggling his freshman season, one of the Badgers’ worst seasons in program history, Dougherty decided to skip the college route and join the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. There isn’t much out there about how this decision came to be, but it’s likely the Predators’ brass didn’t think a rebuilding Wisconsin program was the best place for Dougherty to grow his game.
In 2015-16, he debuted for the Portland Winterhawks and scored 11 goals and 52 points in 68 games. After his first season of junior hockey, Dougherty joined the Milwaukee Admirals full-time for the 2016-17 season. He appeared in 75 games and scored 2 goals and 13 points.
As you probably noticed, his offensive production dropped a considerable amount in his first season as a pro, but there shouldn’t be too much concern behind that. The Admirals’ defense is fairly young, making Dougherty an integral part one season in. He was able to play up and down the lineup this past season and stability in the Admirals organization will help mold his NHL game. Although trite, Dougherty used the AHL learning curve to learn how to reinstate the dominating hockey he played in juniors. It’s rather remarkable that he’s already playing such a prominent role in the AHL after taking an unusual and hectic route to the pros, and, all things considered, he’s still only 21.
A positive about Dougherty is that he is a right-handed defenseman. He is a reliable puck mover with a decent offensive upside. He is often well-positioned and doesn’t use one specific skill to outplay his opponents but a well-rounded game. His struggles at the collegiate level have been attributed to his lack of physicality or a big-man’s game which he was able to avoid in junior hockey, however, this didn’t stick out that much at the AHL level.
There aren’t many flashy highlights of Dougherty, but I like this clip a lot. He positions well in the offensive zone and makes good decisions regarding his breakout passes and regrouping efforts. He provides excellent support along the wall for the forwards’ cycle and ultimately is rewarded with a goal. As mentioned above, his physical game won’t kill you and neither will his shot, but his defense is smart as he relies heavily on an active stick.
I think Dougherty is a bit closer to the NHL than most may realize. He probably won’t be a consistent top 4 defenseman in the organization, but a big year or two in the AHL could see him eventually slot in that 4 spot. The 5 or 6 spot, however, is more likely. That being said, he plays the game better than the average 6th or 7th defenseman on many teams right now.
The first year of Dougherty’s entry-level deal slid meaning it didn’t start until this past season. He has two years remaining on his two-way deal that pays him $70 K in the AHL with a $695 K cap hit to the Predators. Upon expiry, he will be a restricted free agent.