Day four of the Nashville Predators training camp resumes today with a practice this morning from 9:45-11:15 a.m. and a scrimmage this afternoon between 12:00- 1:30 p.m. at Centennial Sportsplex. Practices and scrimmages are open to the public and are free admission. With cuts to the training camp roster set to begin as early as Wednesday, time is running out to make a good impression on the coaching staff.
Coach Barry Trotz is on record saying he’s been impressed with some of the younger prospects. Yesterday, Predlines reported that Ryan Flynn, Ryan Thang and Blake Geoffrion had caught Trotz’ eye during the team scrimmage. Taylor Beck has also been one to impress the coaching staff. Flynn, Thang and Geoffrion were all college graduates last year. Because the road to Nashville traditionally goes through Milwaukee, it is likely these players will start the season in the American Hockey League. Beck is only 19 years old and will play another year of junior, unless he somehow earns a roster spot out of camp. Either way, he in ineligible for the AHL.
While Nashville’s younger prospects are trying to make a name for themselves, the Predators also have some prospects who believe it is there year to officially break into the NHL. Cal O’Reilly, the older brother of Colorado’s Ryan O’Reilly, was supposed to be an offensive weapon for Nashville. Known as a playmaker, O’Reilly has put up some serious offense in the AHL and has yet to make the transition into a regular NHLer. Last season he split time between Milwaukee and Nashville, registering 9 goals and 31 assists for 40 points in 35 games with the Admirals, but only 2 goals and 9 assists in 31 games for the Predators.
O’Reilly is confident that this is the year he makes the transition required to be effective at the NHL level. “It’s a big year for me, a contract year. I want to stay here the whole year and help this team win” O’Reilly said, adding “I feel good. I feel strong. It’s more of a mental thing for me. I need to stay confident and take it one day at a time.”
Right now, the confidence is there for O’Reilly as he remains sharp during training camp, but he is also aware of the stress that comes with trying to make the team. O’Reilly says there is a lot of pressure at camp because so many players are competing for a limited amount of spots.
If Colin Wilson continues to play on the wing, the likely centers for Nashville will be Matthew Lombardi, David Legwand, Marcel Goc and watch for Cal O’Reilly to earn that roster spot. O’Reilly is on a one-way contract this season and will have to clear waivers if the Predators want to send him to Milwaukee.
While left-wing Nick Spaling will try to show he deserves a regular spot on the roster, after playing 28 games last year in Nashville, there are a number of players who Coach Trotz has suggested are ready to make the move to a full-time roster spot at the position of right-wing. In addition to Matt Halischuk, the New Jersey prospect sent to the Predators in the Jason Arnott deal this summer, two Swedes will be vying for positions.
Andreas Thuresson played 22 games last year for the Predators. His goal for the 2010-2011 season is to play more games for Nashville than he did last season. “It’s going to be tough competing here. There are a lot of guys” he said. But Thuresson is confident he has improved since last year and thinks his time in Milwaukee was well spent. “Last year was more kind of see and learn. Now I know what they expect of me. I know the game and I know I can play at this level. I’ve been working on my foot speed, taking the puck to the net,” he said.
Thuresson is right about having some stiff competition. Fellow countryman Jonas Andersson was drafted by the Predators in the second round of the 1999 draft. Between 2000-2003, Andersson played for the Admirals. During the 2001-2002 season, he played 5 games for Nashville. Since 2003, Andersson has played in Finland, and last year he played in the KHL. Earning a roster spot for Sweden at the World Championships, Andersson led his country in scoring at the tournament and then signed a one-year deal with Nashville.
The Predators website lists Andersson at the position of right wing, but hockey database lists the 28 year old as a left winger. Perhaps being able to play either wing will help him make the team out of camp. Andersson likes where his journey in the last ten years has finally taken him. “I’m really excited. It’s been a long time but it’s always been my goal to make it back. Yeah I feel like I’m ready for sure, 100%. I’m a totally different player and even person than 10 years ago. I’ve been working hard for the last few years,” he said. Coach Trotz appears to be as optimistic as Andersson himself. “He was a young guy with speed and skill. He is 10 years older. He is more mature. The game has slowed down. Sometimes players aren’t ready at 21 or 22. They’re ready when they are ready,” Trotz said.
Andersson is ready. During the team’s conditioning exercises Andersson was listed as the faster skater on the team, beating out NHL speedster Matthew Lombardi, as well as Steve Sullivan, Martin Erat and David Legwand.
The Predators first pre-season game is Thursday night against the Carolina Hurricane. If fans don’t get a glimpse of Andersson Thursday, they surely will see him in action on either Saturday night against the Capitals or Monday against the Thrashers. All games are played at Bridgestone Arena. Game time is at 7p.m.