With a playoff berth clinched and all eyes on the Predators of today and their quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup, 2 future Predators are skating towards championships in their respective leagues. 2010 1st rounder Austin Watson of the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights and 2009 2nd round pick Zach Budish of the University of Minnesota look to add championship hardware to their already impressive resumes.
Watson has already won a Memorial Cup in 2009 at age 17 with the Windsor Spitfires before he became a member of the Peterborough Petes and after a trade this year a London Knight. After defeating a Sarnia Sting team featuring both projected number one overall pick Nail Yakupov and fellow lottery pick Alex Galchenyuk Watson and his Knights teammates will be facing the Saginaw Spirit in the 2nd round. London is one of the most decorated franchises in all of junior hockey, the best comparison would be to the University of Kentucky in NCAA basketball in that not only are they perennial contenders for the National Championship, but they also have an unparalleled track record of producing quality pro players. Rick Nash, Corey Perry, John Tavares, and Michael Del Zotto represent only some of the high profile names that have passed through London over the years; Austin Watson appears to be next in that proud tradition. With his two way acumen, coupled with his NHL ready frame and offensive abilities, Watson will be in the Music City sooner rather than later. While it is true (almost) all roads to Nashville go through Milwaukee, the AHL seasoning Watson will likely need pales in comparison to what the average prospect needs. Being able to play a seasoned game defensively is something very rarely seen with such a young player and Watson not only plays a sound 2 way game but it is in fact his forte.
Zach Budish has been talked about many times in this page and with his intriguing mix of tenacity and scoring ability rightfully so. Budish’s Golden Gophers have weathered up and down season to reach college hockey’s Frozen 4 in Tampa that saw them beat fellow Predator prospect Garrett Noonan and his BU Terrier squad and the Gophers most hated rival the University of North Dakota in the NCAA tournament. With a semifinal matchup against fellow perennial powerhouse Boston College the Gophers will need Budish to bring his offense and physicality if they want to ground BC and move on the to the National Championship game and ultimately win that game. Budish, like Watson could find himself playing in Nashville sooner rather than later, but out of the two Budish will need more minor league seasoning due to the nuances of playing the role of power forward. Playing NCAA hockey against young kids is far cry from playing against men on a night in night out basis that comes with pro hockey. A stint in Milwaukee whether he leaves after this year, his junior year or after next year after completing four years at Minnesota is exactly what Budish will need to become a power forward that can skate on the top two lines for years to come. A history of knee injuries dating back to his days as a high school linebacker is also something Budish must shake before moving on to become a quality professional hockey player.
In closing best of luck to both Watson and Budish in their respective tournaments and I’ve included video pieces I’ve done on both top prospects, carefully analyzing what each brings to the table.