The Nashville Predators future took to the ice at Centennial Sportsplex Tuesday afternoon in their first, and only, practice before heading to Florida. Nashville’s prospects play the Panthers rookies tomorrow and again on Thursday before heading back for their last on-ice testing session before full training camp ice sessions begin for everyone on Saturday.
It comes as no surprise that some prospects would stand out above the rest. Predators fans have heard nothing but how impressive Swiss defenceman Roman Josi is with his passing game and hard shot. Ryan Ellis, the Canadian Junior phenom, has a similar style and easily impresses. The 5’9 Hamilton, Ontario native can find the open man, move the puck up the ice and has a sharp one-timer. These skills were on full display Tuesday afternoon.
Other stand outs included Linus Klasen and Blake Geoffrion. Both players are listed as left wings, but the Tennessee and the Stockholm natives played with great chemistry together. Klasen tied for fifth in the Swedish Elite League last year with 51 points. Nashville signed him as an undrafted player this past April. Since then, Predators fans have been hoping he has a breakout season in the NHL after seeing videos on youtube.
Klasen can go from one end of the ice to the other, but he is also extremely skilled around the net. Of course there were reports during the summer about the Swede not being ready for training camp. Ontheforcheck.com reported a story out of Sweden that said Klasen would be coming back early to work with the Predators fitness coach since his body fat level was an unusually high 20%. The normal percentage for Predators players holds at 12%. Fans can rest assured if Klasen makes the roster on opening night, any opposing players that give him any room at all around the crease, will see the puck at the back of their net.
This year’s first round pick, Austin Watson, stands taller than the other prospects– and in most cases is also faster. But the 18 year old often also over skates the puck because of this same speed. And while there is no pressure on Watson, the pressure is on others, like Jonathon Blum, to step up and take a spot on the team. With pressure, comes over analyzing every pass of the puck, as every small mistake results in visible signs of frustration, despite the California native still being head and shoulders above the rest.
While all the highly touted prospects are trying to force the organization to make some tough decisions as to who stays in Nashville and who gets sent packing to Milwaukee, or placed on waivers, it’s a lesser known prospect who rarely missed a pass, made every play he could, drove to the net and banged the puck behind the pads of Anders Lindback and Chet Pickard more consistently than anyone else. Gabriel Bourque stood out as someone who belonged on the ice, all the while not standing out at all.
When asked by The Tennessean about his goals for the training camp, Bourque replied that he wanted a shot at making the team in Milwaukee. For Bourque, missing the cut for the Admirals would mean another year in junior where the 20 year old would play one final year as an over-aged junior. After watching a flawless, if understated performance by the center, Predlines asked Bourque about those comments.
It isn’t that Bourque wouldn’t love to play for the Predators in Nashville. He just knows it isn’t he time, that he has some growing to do as a player, and Bourque is well aware that the road to Nashville is through Milwaukee. “It’s my first year. I just signed a contract and I have a lot of work to do,” Bourque said. The 19 year old, who turns 20 next Thursday also commented on how he plans on improving his game. “I try hard. It’s what I want to do. I stay focused on the ice. It’s what I want to keep doing”, he said.
Bourque is looking at training camp as a step toward the future, one that he hopes includes playing for the Predators. He cites Jordin Tootoo as a player he looks up to. “When I see (smaller) guys, I can’t believe that maybe I can play in the NHL one day too. I’m not going to be strong like him, but I’m going to try anyway” Bourque said with a big smile on his face.
Hockeysfuture.com doesn’t even have Bourque listed in the top 20 Predators prospects. Nonetheless, my money is on Bourque having played his last game for the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior League.
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