Last Thursday, the Nashville Predators announced the signing of undrafted free agent forward Josh Wilkins from Providence College.
The North Carolina native and product of the local Thunder AAA Hockey Program just finished his junior season with the Friars, where he totaled 46 points in 40 games and led them to their sixth straight NCAA tournament appearance and first Frozen Four berth since 2015.
I mentioned Wilkins as a fit for Nashville when I previewed the pending undrafted free agent class back in early March. I know the Hurricanes and Kings were interested (he had attended Carolina’s development camp in the past), and I believe Pittsburgh took a shot at his services, too.
By The Numbers
After leaving Major Junior camp with the Windsor Spitfires in 2015, in his sole USHL season Wilkins ended up as a teammate of Eeli Tolvanen’s, where he finished fourth in team scoring behind Mitchell Fossier (40), Tolvanen (38), and Teemu Pulkkinen (31).
Wilkins debuted for the Friars the next season, finishing third in team scoring behind Brian Pinho and Erik Foley, and second in goals with 13. Wilkins only matched his point total his sophomore year despite a two-goal bump and finished third in team scoring once more. He helped the Friars continue their impressive regular season dominance this season and exploded for five more goals and 15 more points than the previous season to lead the team in both marks by three and seven, respectively.
This past season for Wilkins was as dominant as you could imagine. His 46 points put him at ninth in the country and just a shade above Rem Pitlick; when considering points per game, he’s just just a couple notches below with 1.15. Wilkins was shooting at 17.4% this season, which is a bit inflated, and eight of his 20 goals came on the man advantage. But he maintained a remarkably disciplined game, taking five total penalties all season.
Additionally, Wilkins was named to the first Hockey East team and was a Second Team All-American in 2018-19. He was Providence’s first 20-goal scorer since Peter Fregoe in 2003.
The Eye Test
Wilkins possesses some real solid, all-around tools for offensive success. He’s not an elite accelerator, but he’s a good skater overall; he comes equipped with above-average puck-handling skills and has displayed his awareness in the neutral and offensive zones well at Providence.
The above clip on the power play stood out to me when reviewing Wilkins’ game tape this season. It’s interesting how he attacks the royal road and essentially creates a shrunken 1-3-1 formation with shooters on either side. After three penalty killers are drawn to him, he’s free to dish the puck anywhere and creates the following goal:
I imagine it’s not easy to notice, but Wilkins takes excellent advantage of two pinching defenders in the play above. One defender’s stick is already in the shooting lane, but he’s able to pull in slightly and direct the puck back across the crease as it rolls off his blade.
There’s no doubt Wilkins excelled on the power play, but it was simply due to a lethal shot from open ice. His possession on the half wall and skating with his pass below the goal line helps collapse the penalty killing box just a bit more. Suddenly, the far circle shooter is wide open and the defense overreacts, giving Wilkins plenty of time and space to operate.
Overall, his best asset is his offensive zone versatility; he’s not just a shooter, screen or clean-up man but can adapt to each role, operate a good cycle and maintain a nose for the high-danger scoring areas.
Wilkins’ deal is a two-year, entry-level contract that begins in 2019-20. Although the final numbers are not confirmed, I would anticipate the maximum—especially given what Craggs received—of an $832.5K NHL salary and a $92.5K signing bonus.
He will be a restricted free agent upon expiry.