Predators Pipeline Prospectus: Great Scouting on Display in February
In order to have a good team for a long time, an organization needs a consistent flow of players into their roster from within. In the salary cap era it can't be done through free agency and that has been proven time and time again with teams like Toronto and Pittsburgh being prime examples. Luc
Poile Shows Bullishness on Vesey at the Trade Deadline
This subject of Poile passing on bringing in help at the NHL trade deadline (partially) in favor of keeping a spot open for prized prospect Jimmy Vesey has been beat to death by now so I wanted to come at it from a different angle. What does this move—or non-move—say about the Predators staff's view on Vesey? Poile illustrated this pretty well to Adam Vingan of the Tennessean.
"The biggest thing in this trading deadline is that we did not want to give away Vesey's position on our team," said Poile. "We have a place for him to come in and play. We feel he is as good or better than anybody we could have gotten in a trade. We want to sign him when he gets out of school. We've told him we have a place for him and I didn't want to take away that place."
Avoiding any improvement of the team at the deadline to make room for a "mere" prospect says a lot about the belief this organization has in Jimmy Vesey; regardless of your opinion of the strategy. There were a few solid top six forwards available at the deadline—like Mikkel Boedker and Jiri Hudler—but Poile believes Vesey is just as good as they are; at least talent-wise. Whether he will take that talent and use it effectively in the NHL immediately is in question but Poile seems to believe he can.
Looking towards the future, Jimmy Vesey could very well complete the group of top six wingers the Predators have right now, increase their Stanley Cup "window", and be an important factor to bringing a Cup to Broadway. Do not discount those things when considering Poile's decision to leave a roster spot open for Vesey.
Speaking to Adam Vingan, Poile goes on to state some of the reasons why he believes Vesey will sign with the Predators later this season and much of it aligns with what I said in last month's Predators Pipeline Prospectus. For more of Poile's opinion on the subject, I would suggest taking a trip on over to Adam Vingan's full article.
Predators Staff Projects Kamenev as a Future Top Six Center
Before the trade for Ryan Johansen, there were a lot of questions about the future of the Predators at the center position. With the number one center position locked down for (hopefully) years to come, the big question right now up the middle is "who will take over the second spot after Mike Ribeiro and Mike Fisher leave?"
The Predators brass believe that center Vladislav Kamenev could very well be the answer to that question—maybe not immediately after Ribeiro leaves, but over time. This season the Russian center made the transition to the AHL in an effort to get used to the North American game and so far it's payed off.
"[The AHL] is the best road to the NHL, which is the ultimate goal," said Kamenev through a translator. "The North American style with the smaller ice allows for a faster game and [I think] that the best way for [me] to get prepared for the NHL is to play the North American game as early as possible."
"[The transition is] going very well. I think progress is being made and the team is playing very well and I'm fitting in. Very slowly [I am] starting to learn English and it's becoming easier and easier but it's a little bit of a process."
Probably the best two-way forward in the Predators system not in the NHL, Kamenev plays on both the power play and penalty kill and is great in the face-off dot for the Milwaukee Admirals. It is very easy to see how he could be a defensive compliment to Johansen in Nashville for years to come. Paul Fenton told Aaron Sims he views Kamenev in such a capacity in Nashville when the time comes.
"You know you can put him anywhere in our lineup in the future. We project him to be one of our top two centers; there’s absolutely no question. But if we needed him to be the detailed guy that’s taking face-offs in the last minute of the game you can just see it already. You guys pick it up the way he handles himself and the way he’s in between the man and the net all the time…he’s just going to be a great player."
Fiala Shows Promise but Still Has A Ways to Go
The Nashville Predators 2014 first round pick, Kevin Fiala, spent all summer working out with the team in order to gain an NHL roster spot. As much as Fiala wanted to force his way onto the roster, the timing just was not right and that's okay, said Predators Assistant GM Paul Fenton to Aaron Sims.
"That’s the nice thing with our system is that we let [prospects] mature at their own pace. We’re not going to force anyone to play in the National Hockey League and they’re not going to force their way into the National Hockey League until they play up to their abilities, as well. For us, we both have the same intentions in mind and we’re going to get them there as soon as we can."
The main reasons for Fiala not making the roster were that his game-to-game consistency, all around game, and decision making with the puck were not quite there. Fiala has shown significant improvement in those areas—exemplified in his time with the Predators this past January—but Fenton believes he still has a lot more work to do.
"He’s starting to show his abilities every night, but, he still has a ways to go and there’s no question... The talent level is obvious but it’s just putting the rest of the pieces together that will make your coaches and your management happy with the way he’s contributing to the game. The way he has here on a pretty regular basis but we still want more from him...He just doesn’t have the details to his game that coaches want to have..."
"It seems that there is more of a defined role in the National Hockey League. For example, Kevin Fiala will play in our top six; he couldn’t play in our bottom six. We also have some real nice role players that we know are going to be able to fit into those bottom six winning grinding type of roles over time to win a Stanley Cup."
With those comments from Fenton in mind, you have to wonder what the timetable is for Fiala on making the NHL. The organization is going to make sure they don't rush the young Swiss player and he is going to have to round out his game before he can crack the roster full time. If he can prove he has done so next preseason he will likely make the team but, if not, it doesn't seem the Predators' brass would mind young Fiala spending more time in the AHL.
The System Depth is Strong in Nashville
This past week, General Manager David Poile has handed out one-way contracts to Anthony Bitetto (6th round, 168 overall, 2010), Colton Sissons (2nd round, 50 overall, 2012), and Miikka Salomaki (2nd round, 52 overall, 2011); though the first year of Sissons' contract is two-way. Those players were drafted by the Predators and played in Milwaukee last season and part of this season. That is a huge testament to the organizational depth the Predators scouting and developmental staffs are cultivating and the job Head Coach Dean Evason is doing down in Milwaukee.
Sissons and Salomaki seemed almost destined to gain roles in the NHL before dawning an Admirals jersey but the signing of Bitetto, in particular, shows how good the Predators have been in drafting and developing players. After finishing his career at Northeastern University, Bitetto made the move into the Predators organization without making too big of a splash. In his first season he bounced around between the AHL and ECHL and wasn't too big of a factor for either team.
The next season Bitetto came in and was second in the Admirals defensive corp in points and made a huge impact on the team's roster. This is no doubt a testament to his work, him learning from his previous season, and the help from the organization. The next summer, Poile deemed the New Yorker as a player he expected to make the team that season. Sure enough, in the wake Seth Jones departure, Bitetto is now playing full time for the Predators and doesn't look all that out of place.
"[Bitetto's] a young guy that played a couple years down here and grew a lot and this year he's finally had a chance to stick with the Predators," Poile told Aaron Sims in a pregame interview. "He hasn't had a chance to play in a lot of games because of our elite defensemen and now we trade Seth Jones and he's in there on a regular basis. It's been great. He's played good, he's getting some confidence and he can skate €”which you really need to do to play successfully in the National Hockey League on defense. So, another good story."
Another great testament to the depth of the franchise has been the play of the two young goaltenders down in Milwaukee. Nashville has always been strong in drafting and developing goaltenders and this doesn't seem to be changing with both Marek Mazanec (6th round, 179 overall, 2012) and Juuse Saros (4th round, 99 overall, 2014) providing the Admirals with fantastic goaltending this season. Their performance has not gone unnoticed by Poile, who he sees them potentially taking over the void left by Pekka Rinne down the road.
"In goal, both [Mazanec] and Saros have been spectacular. They both look like they're real good prospects and, again, that's an area we've always been good at in Nashville. We've had Pekka down here and he's still a young 33...or something like that...so he's got some more years but it's good to see that we've got some young kids like Maz and Saros that are going to be ready when we need them."
Freddy Gaudreau (undrafted) is a player the Predators signed as a free agent who has really come into his own this season. He played in the AHL All Star game, leads the Admirals in points, and earned an NHL contract with the Predators. Poile went on to say in his interview (below) with Aaron Sims that he looks forward to Gaudreau playing a few games in the NHL in the future. The next big step for the young French Canadien is to prove in those games that he is a viable NHL forward.
In all, Poile makes it very clear that he believes the depth of this team is very strong. He doesn't even mention the Admirals points per game leader Viktor Arvidsson, their goal scoring leader Pontus Aberg, or their points leader Max Gortz. With all of that in mind, the Nashville Predators scouting and developmental staff and the Admirals coaching staff really deserve a round of applause for the work they have done over the past few years in creating a solid pipeline for the team.
Justin Kirkland Making the Move to Center
Throughout his WHL career, Justin Kirkland has played up the wing. This season, however, the young power forward has made the move to center and he believes his abilities lend towards that.
"I think that probably one of my strongest assets is my skating and now playing the center position I get to use that a lot more, which I'm really liking," Kirkland said to Hockey's Future. "I think Nashville likes me there up the middle, too. Also, I like to pass but I've got a pretty good release that I like to use on the powerplay, for sure. You can always get better at stuff on your game. I'm working every day with the coaches on faceoffs, and stuff like that, so they're doing a really good job with me."
Kirkland also noted that he is now 6'3" and 190 pounds and that size will lend greatly to his move to Milwaukee or Cincinnati once Kelowna's season is over. Even though he said he that Nashville liked him up the middle he could very well be subject to the numbers game and get pushed to wing. I don't know if it will be possible for him to make it on the Predators roster in any other capacity.
Yakov Trenin Second Star of the Week in the QMJHL
With 4 goals and 3 assists for the Gatineau Olympiques in the second week of February, Yakov Trenin earned the second star of the week. With less than 10 games remaining this season, he has totaled 58 points in 53 games which is actually a slight drop in production from 2014-2015. He has, however, been fantastic in the faceoff dot and leads the QMJHL in faceoff win percentage.
While Trenin is not having a bad season by any means, I was expecting more out of him this season. Last season, when Big Yak put up 67 points in 58 games, it seemed that he had a lot of room to grow his production and become a force for the Olympiques; he had to adjust to the North American style of play and a new position midway through the season at center. That growth in production just hasn't been there this season.
Before this season I would have said Trenin eventually being a top six center was definitely within reason. I think right now it looks like Big Yak is trending more towards a bottom six offensive center if he makes it to the NHL; which isn't necessarily a bad thing with Johansen in the mix. It's just hard to find too many top six centers in the NHL who weren't highly productive at the same age in the Q.
Tommy Novak Rocked by Dangerous Hit
In the third period with Tommy Novak's Minnesota Gophers up 6-2 against the rival Wisconsin Badgers, Novak took a suicide pass from a teammate and was immediately decked by Badger defenseman Eddie Wittchow. Novak was knocked out cold on the play but for some reason was allowed to play the next weekend; a questionable decision no doubt.
What I really can't get over is the announcer trying to justify Wittchow's hit on the play. First he tried to say it was clean when the head was the principle point of contact and then he tried to say that because Novak had his head down that it made the hit not as bad. Ridiculous...
February in a Nutshell
There were a lot of good indications for Predators prospects this month. Vesey and Kamenev were both endorsed heavily by the organization and the depth and goaltending of the team are both looking great, as well. All things considered, this team seems like one that has the potential to be consistently good for a long time to come.