Just a quick reminder on our new format: last year, I debuted a monthly piece with an update on each prospect in the Nashville Predators’ organization. For me, it got to a point where it felt exhausting: sometimes there wasn’t much to note on a particular player, I was being repetitive, or I didn’t commit enough words to a particular prospect over fears of drowning out players.
So, I’m mixing it up. Essentially, I wanted to allow myself more flexibility and flow with my thoughts on what’s going outside of Nashville. Welcome to the PPR.
1. First up this month is Jacob Paquette. The defender was taken 216th overall at the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. He remains unsigned, and the Predators’ access to his rights expire on June 1 this coming summer.
On November 20, Paquette was traded with Jason Robertson to the Niagara Ice Dogs of the OHL as the load up for a run at the Memorial Cup. In 24 games with Kingston he had one goal and three assists; in five games with Niagara, Paquette already has four assists and scored his first goal on Thursday night. This is Paquette’s fourth season in the OHL; he has topped out at 13, 10, and 15 points in his previous three seasons. He has been paired primarily with Elijah Roberts in Niagara.
I really have an uncertain read on whether Nashville plans to sign Paquette before June. His offensive production is on par for a seventh-round pick, but he has an excellent reputation as a pure shutdown defender.
I did some digging to see if there is precedent here. There are currently 50 defenders in the NHL that played in the OHL. Surprisingly, 22 of them finished their OHL careers scoring under 0.70 points per game—Paquette currently sits at 0.22 points per game. Furthermore, there are a handful of NHL regulars who scored similarly to Paquette in their OHL careers, including Dalton Prout, Scott Harrington, Marc Methot, Brian Lashoff, Josh Brown, Adam McQuaid, Ben Harpur, Robert Bortuzzo, and Ben Chiarot.
While those names are not necessarily something to write home about, it is possible for a defender like Paquette to make it in today’s league. I lean towards Paquette getting a deal; Milwaukee could use some depth at the very least.
2. The other CHL player drafted by Nashville whose rights expire this coming June is forward Pavel Koltygin. Taken 176th overall in 2017, Koltygin is in his third season with the Drummondville Voltigeurs, where he scored 47 and 42 points in his first two seasons, respectively. He is on pace through 27 games for a similar number this season.
In an unsurprising yet disappointing move, Koltygin has not been invited to Russia’s 2019 World Junior Championship camp.
Koltygin is another player whose future in the organization I’m unsure of. He’s an incredibly talented scorer, but it feels like there is more to be tapped into. Playing time has been a slight issue in Drummondville, but I would lean towards his future being brief in the Nashville organization.
3. Speaking of WJC roster snubs, there were a couple others to go around the Predators’ organization. Grant Mismash, the organization’s second-round pick in 2017, was left off Team USA’s roster for the second consecutive year.
Mismash is two years removed from leading the U18 U.S. National Team in scoring with 61 points in 65 games—tied that year with Sharks prospect Josh Norris. But after matching freshmen seasons, Norris (Michigan) is scoring over a point per game and will be an integral part of Team USA this December in Vancouver.
There are plenty of players on USA’s preliminary roster that are struggling with offensive production this season in the NCAA, like Logan Cockerill or Jay O’Brien. But nine of the 16 forwards are left-handed like Mismash, and any depth chart would force him into a fourth-line/13th forward role.
This is not the sophomore season hoped for Mismash. Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald notes that Mismash has an opportunity to correct his slouching from last season, where he scored 0.82 points per game before his WJC snub and only 0.38 after:
Grant Mismash's numbers before and after he was left off WJC team last year, coach Brad Berry's thoughts on what Mismash can do this year, and was Adam Scheel a WJC candidate? All of that and more in this notebook: https://t.co/PO9LYrYS6W— Brad E. Schlossman (@SchlossmanGF) December 6, 2018
4. A graduate of two World Junior Championships, Predators prospect Patrick Harper anticipated a big junior season at Boston University. Harper never saw the ice after 20 games last year due to a respiratory illness. Although he was largely recovered by the time of the NCAA Tournament in March, Harper’s conditioning was not up to speed.
Regardless, a healthy summer had head coach Albie O’Connell anticipating massive offensive output this year for Harper. Through 15 games, Harper has only notched five total points—all assists. So, what’s wrong?
It can be very difficult to project prospects on bad teams—especially in college. The Terriers have come nowhere close to expectations this season and Harper is no different. He’s been a mainstay on Boston’s top line with Shane Bowers but is barely averaging a shot per game.
Harper was always going to be a three- or four-year college player, but this season is casting some doubt on his future.
When the Terriers are playing well, Harper has looked hungry, and he’s still very effective on the half-wall on the power play, like the nifty play below:
#NTDP Alumni Update. Three former Team members team up on the game-winner in BU's 3-2 win over Maine Friday night.— Stars n’ Stripes Hockey (@StarsStripesHKY) November 17, 2018
David Farrance gets the and Patrick Harper and Jake Wise are credited with the . #Preds #Blackhawks pic.twitter.com/dEYTu1zhnU
5. I spoke a bit last month about Vladislav Yeryomenko and his chances to play for Belarus at the Div. IA IIHF World Championship in the spring. In the meantime, Yeryomenko is currently playing for his home country at the Div. I World Junior Championship this December in Germany, featuring teams from Latvia, Germany, France, Austria and Norway. Yeryomenko has started the tournament on Belarus’s top pairing with Dmitri Deryabin.
Below is Belarus’s schedule over the next week. All games are live streamed on the IIHF’s website.
6. Of the many prospects in the organization currently playing in the NCAA, Tommy Novak is often overlooked. The Minnesota Gophers senior has recorded five assists in 15 games this season. He had 67 career points in 91 NCAA games before this season.
Going into his draft year in 2015, Novak was lauded as an excellent center with some of the best awareness of the draft class. He finished second on his USHL team in scoring behind future NHL star Brock Boeser—a team that also featured Brandon Montour and Rem Pitlick—and at one point in time was talked about as a late first-round pick.
Novak ultimately fell to the Predators at 85th overall for a variety of reasons. I know Winnipeg, Minnesota and Anaheim were all heavily interested, but Nashville felt that they got a steal in the third round.
Eric Vegoe points out a number of important things about Novak during his collegiate career in his piece from The Athletic:
Novak completely tore his ACL in the second half of his sophomore season and it generally feels like he rushed back from that injury in 2017. He’s battled several other injuries, including a nagging hand injury that forced him to essentially play one-handed at times last year. Tyler Sheehy puts it best in Vegoe’s article:
“Last year in practice he couldn’t lift the puck, he couldn’t shoot really. We’d go down on a 3-0 and he’d be on a breakaway and he’d have to pass the puck.”
Minnesota’s coaching staff is still high on Novak. He’s got all the skill in the world and is an elite puck distributor. But there’s no doubt that Novak’s injuries have severely derailed his career aspirations. Several scouts believe he can contribute well on an NHL power play, according to Vegoe, but whether he can take that step in other points on his game is uncertain.
Maybe a league that utilizes power play specialists like Sam Gagner has a place for Novak. Regardless, the Predators have a decision to make this summer on his place in the organization.
7. Novak’s teammate Rem Pitlick is someone many of you know I am high on, and he continues his stellar production with 14 points in 15 games this season. He’s been an ace on the power play and penalty kill and has become a heavy-minute, first-line center for Bob Motzko after playing wing and center in his first two seasons at Minnesota.
Pitlick is 13th among drafted forwards in the country in points-per-game this season, leads Minnesota in scoring, and has become a strong candidate for the Predators to try and pull from school early and sign a contract.
Pitlick reminds me a bit of Craig Smith, who played a considerable amount of center in college. Pitlick outscored Smith in the USHL—he actually has the fourth best season in USHL history with 89 points in 2015-16—but Smith scored 0.93 points per game in his two seasons at Wisconsin. Smith’s 43-point sophomore season wasn’t even a top-10 performance nationwide in 2010-11. The only two players above him who became regular NHL players: Reilly Smith and Cam Atkinson.
With all my positive notes about Pitlick, let me even things out with the absolute robbery below:
OSU's Sean Romeo robs Rem Pitlick on a breakaway from the doorstep pic.twitter.com/TKUGCqrP0n— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) December 1, 2018
8. The goalie pipeline for Nashville is an interesting one. Niclas Westerholm was one of two free agent signings at the position for David Poile this past summer. As Miroslav Svoboda is starting for Atlanta in the ECHL, Westerholm is holding down the fort as SaiPa’s backup in the Finnish Liiga.
He has already exceeded his number of starts from last season with seven this year, where he has allowed 2.07 goals against on average and has a .933 save percentage. I think many expected Westerholm to play in North America this season, but that was never in the cards when Poile signed him to an entry-level contract this spring. Svoboda was always expected to make the jump first as Westerholm sought more starts in Finland.
Westerholm is only 21 and has grown this year with his 6’4” frame. After some early-season struggles, he has really stepped up, and posted an impressive shutout last week.
Westerholm is at an interesting spot. Does he stay in Finland after this season and seek a starting job, or will the organization want to pull him to North America? I anticipate Svoboda will replace McCollum in Milwaukee in 2019-20, but what will Poile do with Grosenick, Westerholm or Karel Vejmelka who is posting good numbers in Brno this season?
9. My final note is a quick point about the ECHL. There has been some talk on Twitter about the Predators’ lack of an ECHL affiliate and how sharing a team with another organization can impede development in the cases of Tyler Moy or Carl Persson.
But no one has talked much about Miroslav Svoboda. Nicknamed Miro the Hero, Svoboda has been the starter in Atlanta the entire season and has turned in some impressive performances (see the highlight below):
Miroslav Svoboda: The Tale of Standing on Your Head pic.twitter.com/WvEligwokP— Atlanta Gladiators (@atlgladiators) November 17, 2018
Two of the 27 ECHL teams are not affiliated with an NHL club: the Rapid City Rush and the Greenville Swamp Rabbits. Greenville makes sense geographically for Nashville, but there is a reason that the Predators terminated their agreement with Norfolk last season and haven’t replaced them. It’s a financial obligation that isn’t necessary when you barely have a handful of players needing ECHL seasoning.
Now, this, of course, may change in the future if more prospects enter the pro ranks or if the ECHL expands. The Colorado Eagles being promoted to the AHL saw the league lose a model franchise. But the AHL expects to expand—likely in California—when Seattle enters the NHL in 2021, and I know the ECHL has been looking at increasing its western presence, with cities like Reno and Portland being tossed around.