Nov 23, 2011; St. Paul, MN, USA; Nashville Predators forwards Colin Wilson (33) and Craig Smith (15) against the Minnesota Wild at the Xcel Energy Center. The Wild defeated the Predators 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE

Post Mortem: Part II "The Bright Spots"


Yes, for the last time… the ending of this year sucked. Now we have to deal with the suspense of Ryan Suter’s contract, Shea Weber’s contract, and a host of other issues and contracts. At least Pekka Rinne put pen to paper. And to make matters worse, Barry Trotz was outcoached by Dave Tippett. So now we’re even doubting ourselves some behind the bench. Not much, but some.

But there is hope for the future. The team does have it’s share of smart draft choices coming to fruition. And even better, most are on entry level deals.

Craig Smith

How are we not going to mention this guy?
Smith looked like he was going to be a Calder candidate, then came back to Earth after missing the empty net against Toronto. However, his 14 goals was a decent contribution considering most all of them came in the front half of the year when the Preds sorely needed production. He hit the rookie wall hard, but re-emerged during the last few weejs and during the playoffs as a decent contributor playing some good minutes. He still has much to learn and grow, but not a bad effort from a kid who was barely on our radars last season.

My personal favorite moment of his from this year:


Heh, big Pawwwlll is so big both Pete AND Terry thought it was Gill who have the lead out pass. Whiskey.

Colin Wilson

Assuming his RFA rights aren’t traded, this kid is finally coming around.
Wilson has the tools to become a strong power forward in this league, and he took another step forward this year. Its a bit unfortunate that we didn’t get to see enough of him, due to the depth and roles of the roster. As good as Wilson is and will be, Andrei Kostitsyn and Alex Radulov were more proven commodities and were given the top line roles. But going forward in a future where one or two of those aforementioned forwards won’t be in Nashville, Wilson could play a big role in the coming years for the Predators. And good Lord willing, I hope so.

Want some Colin Wilson goodness? OF COURSE YOU DO.

You know it’s awesome when the Caps’ TV crew is saying it’s beautiful hockey. 

 

With both of those guys, I would love nothing more than to see one of them develop into something Nashville has never truly had- a pure top line center. David Legwand is good, and in the postseason he’s very good. But if there is one thing Nashville has lacked had, it’s a solid #1 center outside of the Kariya and Arnott years. Wilson and Smith can both play center, and both will continue to fill out their frame. Both are still very young.

Looking a little further afield, two forward prospects had a swell season in the OHL. Behold, the guy whom Fenton and Poile liked better than Devante Smith-Pelly, Nick Bjugstad, and Evgeny Kuznetsov (and ya know, they may be right)…

Austin Watson

He was the first draft pick after the Chicago series, where Poile said they needed to get bigger.

Here’s the press release posted on LondonKights.com:

Toronto, ON – The Ontario Hockey League today announced that playoff MVP Austin Watson of the OHL Champion London Knights is the OHL Player of the Week after scoring two goals and one assist for three points in the final three games of the Rogers OHL Championship Series.

Watson helped the Knights capture their second Robertson Cup title as OHL Champions defeating the Niagara IceDogs in five games earning the Wayne Gretzky 99 Award presented to the player Most Valuable to his team in the 2012 playoffs.  Watson scored once in Game 3 at home last Monday night in a 3-2 win over the IceDogs before setting up Vladislav Namestnikov’s game-winner on Wednesday in a 4-1 road victory in Game 4.  He then opened the scoring in the 2-1 series-clinching Game 5 victory on Friday claiming first star honours becoming just the second Knight following Corey Perry in 2005 to claim playoff MVP honours.

Watson, a 20-year-old from Ann Arbor, Michigan, was selected in the first round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft by the Nashville Predators.  He scored 10 goals and seven assists for 17 points in 19 playoff games for the Knights and was a critical part of their penalty-kill unit blocking countless shots throughout the playoffs.  Watson earned his second Robertson Cup OHL title in his four-year career winning previously with the Windsor Spitfires as a rookie in 2009.

You had me at shot blocking, you fine prospect. Watson is barely 20, and is also still filling out his frame. Still, he’s taken some leaps forward this year. At times during prospect camp at Centennial, he looked like he belonged with the big club. Certainly, he’ll be served well in Milwaukee for most of the year in 2012-13. The Ontario league doesn’t track face-offs, but having him play center and right wing at times is already encouraging.

Josh Shalla

What, all these guys aren’t American? Typical.
All Josh Shalla has done is score goals. Turning in consecutive 40 goal seasons in the OHL is no small feat, but grouped with a solid campaign in the 2009-2010 season, Shalla has done well for himself in Saginaw, tallying 119 goals in three seasons. The knock on him from the experts is, get this… skating. Sound familiar? It should. He has decent size, and prefers playing from the left. Will he also get a chance in Milwaukee this year?

 

Wanna see Watson and Shalla do some work? Here’s a clip from a tilt earlier this year during the OHL Playoffs.

 

Wow. Watson looks really, really good.

Gabriel Bourque

La fureur du Québec (The Fury of Quebec)
“This kid is 30 seconds of hell every time he’s on the ice”. He’s fast. He might not accomplish a lot every single shift, but he’s fast and in the right position most nights. He checks, he skates well, and he plays simple and effective hockey. What else could you ask this kid to do? He did well for us all in the playoffs against Detroit, and when paired with Spaling and Tootoo or Halischuk he shined. But when slotted next to Radulov and Legwand, he was a real difference maker. Bourque delivered on a promise that Poile made (and made us forget about that whole Niclas Bergfors thing) about his development, and forced a perennial staple of the Preds lineup out of town (Smithson). The ceiling might not be high, but there’s always a spot on a roster for someone with his energy and speed.

OK LET’S SEE THE DARN GOAL!!!

Nothin’ fancy. But that’s his game. 

One of the more encouraging facts of life being a fan of the Nashville Predators is their scouting and drafting. It is an organization that has never relied on drafting with a lottery pick to get their building blocks. Every team passed on Shea Weber. Every team passed on Pekka Rinne. It’s the later round picks that did turn out to be solid players that has kept this franchise afloat during the instability era. Of the players mentioned above, only Wilson and Watson were drafted in the first round. (That’s when we draft defensemen, dummy)

These guys emphasize why this off-season is so important. The guys that line the roster as of now? They’re all pretty good. These kids coming up? They’re good too. There’s a chance to do something special here in Nashville, and if some of these players pan out goal scoring will not be the issue that holds the Predators back from a run to playing hockey in June. They were close this year, and if the right pieces are either returned or acquired, this team will be feared going forward.

Tags: Austin Watson Colin Wilson Craig Smith David Poile Gabriel Bourque Josh Shalla Paul Fenton