As most Preds fans are anticipating the playoffs being only 3 short weeks away and the return of a certain Russian from a 4 year sabbatical in the motherland, 2 Predators draft picks and top prospects will be going head to head in the first round of the NCAA tournament Saturday in St. Paul, Minnesota. Zach Budish (41st Overall in 2009) of the Minnesota Golden Gophers and Garrett Noonan (112th in 2011) of the Boston University Terriers will be seeing quite a bit of each other as the two squads faceoff in their respective bids to win the national championship.
Budish, who plays a Keith Tkachuk style power forward game fell to the second round in 09’ due to a torn ACL sustained playing football that caused him to miss his senior year of high school hockey represents yet another savvy David Poille draft pick. With the team’s unusually high eleventh pick acquired from missing the playoffs for the first time since 2003 in the draft that year the Predators were faced with a dilemma of sorts. Zack Kassian who’s scoring was surpassed only by his size and tenacity sat there and represented a glaring organizational need for a power forward they lacked since Scott Hartnell took his talents to Philly. That year was also the breakout year for Milan Lucic of the Boston Bruins and his prominent rise helped put the role of the high scoring, hard hitting power forward back on the map, making Kassian a smart pick for the Preds. High scoring, yet undersized defenseman Ryan Ellis sat there as well and despite his small stature his skill and creativity could not be denied. As we all know Poille took the talented Windsor Spitfire defenseman and used the Predators second round pick to nab Budish and fill the organizational need for a tenacious forward with top-six upside. Upon arriving at Minnesota in the fall of that year Budish was plagued with inconstancies and injuries (An in season ATV ‘accident’ was to blame for him missing all but 7 games his sophomore year in 2010-2011) but this year has been different story entirely as his unique combination of grit and skill has allowed him to amass 31 points and 41 PIMs in 40 games for the Gophers. If Minnesota wants to beat the Terriers and eventually win the National Championship they’ll need Budish to be producing offensively and grinding to wear the opposition into a pulp.
The arduous task of shutting down Budish and fellow Gophers such as Kyle Rau and Nick Bjugstad (Both Florida Panthers prospects) will fall upon the shoulders of the BU Terriers defense corps most notably Preds draft pick Garrett Noonan, quite possibly the Predators fastest rising prospect. As someone I consider a good friend Garrett’s been talked about several times on this page but his climb from near obscurity to one being one of the very best defensemen in college hockey is something Predators fans should be giddy about. While originally slated to be a shutdown defenseman with limited offensive upside who BU head coach Jack Parker described upon his arrival as a freshman in 2010 as a “stay-at-home type of defenseman with a great sense of how to defend and how to get the puck out of the zone” he has added a plethora offensive abilities to his already sound defensive arsenal.
This season was truly a breakout one for Noonan who as sophomore notched 16 goals good for second in the NCAA amongst defensemen including 2 in a wild comeback from a 4-1 deficit to beat the University of New Hampshire in the Hockey East Quarterfinals and was named to the Second Team All Hockey East. The shutdown edge is still there in Noonan’s game as his two-way game is what separates him from the pack, his physical game is great but his psychological game is almost off the charts. He gets in the opponents head as well as any player I’ve ever seen, he’s right in the middle of every scrap and at seemingly every whistle can be seen jawing at the opposition, some call this unsportsmanlike but the proper definition is gamesmanship. His game has been compared favorably by a longtime BU fan who has seen both as them play many time to that of former Gopher killing Terrier and member of the ‘Miracle on Ice’ gold medal winning team Jack O’Callahan and while “OC” may have set a high standard, will be more than willing to take that challenge head on. Being able to set the tempo with his shot and his mouth is what makes him truly a great prospect that will be a fan favorite in Nashville for years to come.
In closing best of luck to both Zach and Garrett as they renew one of college hockey’s greatest rivalries (if you don’t believe me that the Gophers and Terriers have a legendary rivalry watch the movie Miracle and take notes on the OC/McClanahan fight) and hopefully preview what a morning skate in Nashville will look like in a few years. As someone who will be at the Frozen Four in a couple weeks I look forward to seeing at least a few Preds
Prospects lighting it up at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
For a video portion of the post I’ve included prospect profiles on both Noonan and Budish:
(All Photos courtesy of http://predators.nhl.com)