It happened slowly at first: a call-up here, an NHL debut there, serving as an advance force before the invasion. Then the ranks of the walking wounded grew thick. The time was right. Austin Watson arrived in Music City and the Milwaukee Admirals who came before him kicked down the door to the NHL roster, officially taking over the Nashville Predators.
The debut last night of the Preds’ 2010 first-round draft pick came under emergency circumstances, since Mike Fisher was unable to play. He played 13:47, spending time on both the penalty kill and the power play and looking very, very large standing in front of Ray Emery. Though he didn’t break through on the scoresheet, it was easy to see what he brings to the game. There’s a lot to look forward to in a year or two when he’s regularly playing with the Preds.
Watson became the seventh Milwaukee Admirals player to receive a call-up this season, following in the footsteps of Victor Bartley, Taylor Beck, Jonathon Blum, Gabriel Bourque, Ryan Ellis, and Chris Mueller. All of the others have played at least 10 of Nashville’s 40 games this season, and they’ve all been contributors at one point or another.
Bourque was leading the team with 11 goals in 34 games before being injured by a flying Daniel Carcillo head-shot. Beck put up six points in his first eight NHL games. Bartley impressed the coaching staff enough that there was no more need for Scott Hannan. Chris Mueller has been excellent in the faceoff circle, winning a team-high 53 percent during Paul Gaustad’s absence.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. Most of the familiar faces around here these days were once Milwaukee Admirals. Three of the four players who appeared in every Preds game this year were Ads not that long ago, and every one of them took somebody else’s job at some point in the past. It’s just a particularly pronounced trend late in the worst Nashville Predators season in recent memory.
And it’s one I welcome. If we’re going to have to endure a losing season, we might as well do it with the players of the future logging some ice time. In fact, I think the Nashville Predators would’ve been better off if they’d dipped into the Milwaukee talent pool just a little bit earlier. That’s all behind us, though. For now it’s time to take in this sneak peek at tomorrow’s Predators, like Austin Watson, today.