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Predators’ Prospects Breakdown: The Summer Ahead - Wingers

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The first installment in a position-by-position audit of the organizational pipeline.

2015 Beanpot Tournament - Consolation Game Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Today is the first installment of a wholesale look at the Predators’ organizational pipeline. This is a position-by-position analysis based on what this summer will hold and what the future will dictate.

This piece is coming for a few reasons, but mostly because I get a lot of questions about if the pipeline is too thin at certain positions, what moves are there to be made for players outside of the organization, and what players are getting close to making the roster. With all this to consider, I will provide a look at what the organization has at each position, a graded breakdown of every players’ present and future, and contract situation.

Each player will be assigned four numbers and a label: a skating grade, a puck skills grade, an AHL ability grade (if they aren’t already in the AHL, we know they can play in their current league), an NHL potential grade, and a three-year projection. I stayed away from grading physical play and “hockey IQ” because I find them to be more arbitrary and harder to gauge.

Grades will be assigned on a 2-8 scale (if you’re familiar with the 20-80 scale it’s the same thing). On this scale, 5 represents an NHL average grade, whereas 2 represents - well, hopefully, I won’t be assigning any 2’s - and 8 represents a generational talent or skill level. I’m borrowing this from a few sources - I know Corey Pronman has used it for a while, so hopefully it makes sense.

The list below is a tiered ranking of the wingers in the organization. This ranking factors current production and also future in the organization.

Organizational depth at wing
Eric Dunay

Players Under Contract: Tyler Moy, Justin Kirkland, Tanner Jeannot, Carl Persson

Players on Reserve:

Impending UFAs: Brandon Bollig, Harry Zolnierczyk, Mark McNeill

AHL Contracts: Bobby Butler [UFA], Trevor Mingoia [UFA], Mathieu Olivier

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Tyler Moy, 22, Milwaukee Admirals

Skating: 5.5

Puck Skills: 6.0

AHL Ability: 5.0

NHL Potential: 4.0

3-Year Projection: NHL/AHL Bubble Player

Moy had a tough season on an Admirals team that struggled offensively at times. Of wingers in the AHL who have played at least 40 games, he ranks 152nd out of 183 in points per games played (P/GP) [5-9—14 in 63 games]. Granted, he also ranks 137th in expected time-on-ice (eTOI) and the players with similar ice time (Chas Balisy, Radel Fazleev, Michael Bournival) have maxed out at 20-ish points. At 5v5 play, Moy ranks around similar marks for most measurable analytics except for one: Quality of Competition GF%. At this measure, Moy is ranked 63rd under the same parameters. This implies Moy’s deployment has often been against second or even very good third lines and maybe significant penalty kill time (curse the AHL for not making time on ice statistics publicly available).

I think Moy is a generally useful player. He’s got a dangerous shot and good offensive instincts. His numbers in college were impressive, just not NHL-impressive, and it is worth noting this is only his first full professional season.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many comparables in the organization to Moy. At 22, he’s not considered very young anymore - that’s due to playing four years of college hockey. In fact, the last forward that the organization drafted that played four years of college and then signed with the team was Zach Budish (drafted 41st overall in 2009). He posted 94 points in 129 NCAA games (0.73 PPG) and went on to post 29 points in 97 AHL games (0.30 PPG) before the organization moved on. Moy posted 101 points in 131 NCAA games (0.77 PPG) and is averaging 0.27 PPG in the AHL currently. This isn’t a complete indictment on Moy’s future in the organization, but I would suggest his ceiling is a middle-six AHL player.

In terms of his rights, Moy has one year left on his entry-level contract that nets him $793K at the NHL level. He will be a restricted free agent in the summer of 2019.

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Justin Kirkland, 21, Milwaukee Admirals

Skating: 5.5

Puck Skills: 5.0

AHL Ability: 4.5

NHL Potential: 4.0

3-Year Projection: Top-6 AHL Winger

Kirkland also had a disappointing season in Milwaukee. He had slightly better numbers than Moy (7-11—18 in 67 games) but compared with his prior season in Milwaukee (9-12—21 in 56 games) it is a disappointing drop-off. I don’t think all hope is lost though. Kirkland is still younger than Moy, and his game leaves something to be desired. Plus, sophomore slumps are nothing new.

I’m not sure if this season was a complete write-off for Kirkland, but there were signs of bad luck. Kirkland finished 38th in points among 52 wingers in the AHL under-22 this season that played 40 or more games despite shooting a rather dismal 7.29% - good for 43 under those parameters. His 1.43 shots per game aren’t awful, but if he’s playing full-time on the wing, you’d like to see more.

I tried to pin down who Kirkland skated the most with and my god were the Admirals lines in disarray all season long. He spent some time with Gaudet and McNeill mostly, but there was next to no consistency in his position in the lineup. Kirkland, based on his expected-TOI, wasn’t trusted to take on big assignments at 5v5 yet was still absolutely torched in goals-for percentage - giving up 51.4% to his competition.

Kirkland good very much be a late-bloomer, but I haven’t seen much that suggests he can be a full-time NHL player. Another middle-six AHL forward seems more likely.

Similar to Moy, Kirkland has one year left on his entry-level contract making him $742.5K in the NHL. He will be a restricted free agent next summer.

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Tanner Jeannot, 20, Moose Jaw Warriors

Skating: 6.0

Puck Skills: 5.0

AHL Ability: 5.0

NHL Potential: 4.0

3-Year Projection: Middle-6 AHL Winger

I wrote about Jeannot extensively when the Predators signed him back in April. You can check that out here.

I don’t want to repeat myself too much, but I do want to add a few notes on overage players. As usual, Ian Tulloch wrote a remarkable piece last summer about the value of players who have re-entered the draft. Check that out here. Obviously, Jeannot is not considered a player re-entering the draft, because - well - he won’t be drafted, but he is essentially a D+3 Year player (i.e. 20 years old).

Ian Tulloch’s Overage Methodology
@regressIan

Above is a snippet from Tulloch’s piece. The WHL and OHL are pretty comparable when it comes to offensive production, so I made no adjustments there. If you disregard Jeannot’s 5-point freshman season in the WHL and use 1.2 PPG and 1.5 PPG as a factor to project his D+2 and D+3 seasons, you’ll find that he shattered said projects. Using the above model, Jeannot would be expected to score 0.57 PPG in his D+2 year; he scored 0.73 PPG. He would also be expected to score 0.98 PPG this past season; he scored 1.11 PPG.

I wouldn’t hedge my bets on anything, but this could be a sign that Jeannot has more worth than initially thought. Check out this piece by @OrgSixAnalytics about the underappreciated value of overage players.

There is one big caveat here. Jeannot has spent the past three seasons playing on a line with Brett Howden and Jayden Halbgewachs, both of whom are legit NHL prospects and serious offensive producers. If you want to grasp how dominant that line was, check out Colin Cudmore’s WHL charts - it’s absurd. So, it’s anyone’s guess how productive Jeannot ends up being in Milwaukee next season.

Jeannot’s entry-level deal last three seasons. He will be a restricted free agent in the summer of 2021.

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Carl Persson, 22, Karlskrona HK

Skating: 6.5

Puck Skills: 6.5

AHL Ability: 6.0

NHL Potential: 5.5

3-Year Projection: Developing middle-6 NHL winger

Persson is another recent addition to the organization, and you can read my entire breakdown of him here.

I don’t have much to add on Persson, but I am excited to watch him play and think he has the most potential of anyone on this list.

His entry-level contract is two years in length with a $700K & $750K NHL salary in respective years. He will be a restricted free agent in the summer of 2020.

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Brandon Bollig, 31, San Jose Barracuda/ Milwaukee Admirals

Skating: 4.5

Puck Skills: 4.5

AHL Ability: 4.5

NHL Potential: 3.5

3-Year Projection: Retired or no longer with organization

Bollig is by no means a prospect, but he is part of the organization and veterans in Milwaukee can impact how actual prospects develop. Bollig came to the organization at the trade deadline this past year from the San Jose Sharks.

In 45 games with the San Jose Barracuda, Bollig scored 8 goals and 10 points. After the deal, Bollig potted 3 goals and 4 points in 21 games with the Admirals.

Bollig is a veteran body - one of several that played in Milwaukee this past season and one of several that is an unrestricted free agent this summer. I can’t imagine that all of them will be brought back (Bollig, Zolnierczyk, Bass, McNeill, etc.), and your guess is as good as mine if he gets re-signed. If it comes down to Bollig or Cody Bass, I’d take the former. He’s a winger, less injury-prone, and maybe a tad better offensive touch.

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Harry Zolnierczyk, 30, Milwaukee Admirals

Skating: 5.0

Puck Skills: 5.0

AHL Ability: 6.0

NHL Potential: 4.5

3-Year Projection: Retired or no longer with organization

Most of you are familiar with Zolnierczyk’s body of work. Another non-prospect, Zolnierczyk’s offensive output was one of few consistencies for the Admirals this season. In 73 games, Zolnierczyk scored 21 goals and 42 points - the second highest point total in his AHL career.

He’s a productive AHL player that has slotted into an NHL lineup when absolutely necessary and can provide stability for a young center in Milwaukee. At a deal around $650K/$150K (NHL/AHL), I think it’s likely the Admirals bring back Zolnierczyk (or at least a new player very similar to him).

His underlying numbers this past season are okay for the team he was playing on. He won’t be a huge primary point contributor, but he hasn’t shown enough to not be brought back.

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Mark McNeill, 25, Texas Stars/ Milwaukee Admirals

Skating: 5.0

Puck Skills: 5.0

AHL Ability: 5.5

NHL Potential: 4.0

3-Year Projection: Career middle-6 AHL player

McNeill is only 25 but comes off like an AHL veteran. He was a questionable acquisition at the trade deadline as he had only scored 5 goals and 6 points in 18 games for Texas and was frequently a healthy scratch. But, McNeill had a huge resurgence in Milwaukee scoring 9 goals and 19 points in 31 games.

It’s hard to get a good read on how he affected scoring rates and offensive production because his time in Texas absolutely tanked his season. However, McNeill’s positional versatility can be valuable. He jumped aggressively around the lineup but still posted good numbers.

I could see the organization re-signing McNeill, but if I were betting, I would venture to say he won’t be.

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Bobby Butler, 31, Milwaukee Admirals

Skating: 5.5

Puck Skills: 5.5

AHL Ability: 6.5

NHL Potential: 4.0

3-Year Projection: Retired or no longer with organization

Butler was a top contributor for the Admirals this past season scoring 24 goals and 45 points in 67 games bookending a trip to the Olympics with Team USA.

I’m not going to deliver much here, because Butler was only signed to an AHL contract. It would be nice to have his production back next season, but I imagine another organization might look to sign him to a two-way deal.

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Trevor Mingoia, 26, Milwaukee Admirals/ Norfolk Admirals

Skating: 4.5

Puck Skills: 4.5

AHL Ability: 3.5

NHL Potential: 2.5

3-Year Projection: Depth AHL player

Mingoia is another AHL-contract, but more in a depth role. He scored 2 goals and 5 points in 22 games for Milwaukee and 10 goals and 14 points in 16 games for Norfolk.

The Admirals have kept players around like Mingoia for a few years at a time, so I could see him being back. But, regardless, this has little to no consequence on the Predators.

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Mathieu Olivier, 21, Sherbrooke Phoenix

Skating: 5.0

Puck Skills: 5.0

AHL Ability: 4.5

NHL Potential: 3.5

3-Year Projection: Bottom-6 AHL player

Olivier signed an AHL deal with Milwaukee for next season back in February. He’s been around the organization in the past attending the past two rookie camps in Nashville. It seems less likely he signs a deal in Nashville, but I’m unsure.

He put up decent numbers this season in the QMJHL, finished the season with a really good 61.97% goals-for percentage, and is a heavy net-front presence. He could be a decent player for the Admirals next season. The AHL contract is for one season to my knowledge.

Organizational depth at wing
Eric Dunay

That’s it for the first installment. After I’ve concluded with every position, I’ll start with some extensive draft coverage!

All statistics are courtesy of eliteprospects.com or Colin Cudmore. All contract information is courtesy of capfriendly.com.