Today I resume my look at up-and-coming Nashville Predators prospects with a look at C Austin Watson.
Nashville selected Watson in the 1st round (18th overall) of the 2010 draft. The 6’3” center from Ann Arbor, Mich., was going to play for the University of Maine but opted for junior hockey instead after being drafted by the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires. There, he played for three different teams. From 2008 to 2010 he put up 63 points (21G-42A) in 105 games for the Windsor Spitfires, and he was a member of the squad’s 2009 Memorial Cup championship roster. He was traded to the Peterborough Petes during the 2010 playoff hunt and remained with them through 2012, putting up another 121 points (57G-64A) in 110 games.
Watson left his mark on major junior hockey when he was traded to the London Knights. In 35 regular-season games he scored 11 goals and 24 assists for a point-per-game pace. Then he put up 17 points (10G-7A) in 19 playoff games to win the OHL’s Wayne Gretzky Trophy for playoff MVP as the Knights won the OHL championship. To top all of that off he led the Knights to the 2012 Memorial Cup championship game, where the team fell just short against Shawinigan. The Preds’ top center prospect was also a bright spot in an otherwise dark 2012 World Junior Championships for the USA. He put up 9 points (3G-6A) in 6 games with a +6 rating.
This season, his first in the AHL with the Milwaukee Admirals, has seen Austin Watson in fine form. He has 16 points (9G-7A) in 23 games, making him the Ads’ leading scorer at the moment. Recently, Predators assistant GM Paul Fenton declared himself pleased with the progress Watson has made in his first pro campaign:
Watson has done a very good job. We started him on the wing this year, but he showed us how mature he was, so we moved him back to the center spot. Since then, we’ve moved him up to the second line and arguably, he’s been our best player – both in point production and two-way play. He’s been excellent on the penalty kill and he has also earned some power-play time. He is definitely headed in the right direction.
Here’s video from the Ads of a recent Watson goal against the Texas Stars:
There are too many moving parts in play at this point to project how long it’ll take Austin Watson to crack the NHL squad’s lineup. But I think we’re going to be seeing him here in Nashville sooner rather than later. The team had great success with its call-ups the last two seasons thanks to a particularly deep group of prospects from a few years back that is beginning to mature. Watson is another one from that group, the kind of solid two-way forward Barry Trotz loves to have in his system who can succeed if given the opportunity. He can play wing if necessary – and Trotz has been known to move young centers to the wing until they prove themselves defensively.