TSP: Nashville Predators Prospects

Welcome to the 2015 edition of Top Shelf Prospects.  As the summer progresses, I will be featuring each NHL team’s top prospects, following the order of the first round of the 2015 NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks) —you can find all the articles here.

Because we already published an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in 2015, as my reports on them will not have changed — I will, however, link you to those articles. Instead I will focus on prospects that were acquired in past drafts, examining their progress and their chances of making the 2015-16 roster of their respective NHL team. I will also choose one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the fourth round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as a darkhorse to make the NHL.

For those wondering, the determining factors for defining who is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not set in stone, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.

Under new coach Peter Laviolette, the Nashville Predators were one of the best teams in the NHL through the first three-quarters of the season.  Pekka Rinne was back and healthy, and playing at the level of a Vezina Trophy contender.  The new first line of Filip Forsberg, Mike Ribeiro, and James Neal was leading the way offensively, and the defence corps was one of the best in the NHL.  However, following a couple of trade deadline moves, themes seemed to fall apart.  The Predators would lose out to the Blues for first place in the Central division, and would fall to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the NHL playoffs.

This off-season, the Predators have decided to keep their core intact, and make some changes to their bottom pair defence, and bottom lines in order to improve.  They have seen Cody Franson, Matt Cullen, Anton Volchenkov, and Mike Santorelli leave via free agency, while adding Barrett Jackman, Max Reinhart, and Cody Hodgson to the roster.

Players Drafted: Yakov Trenin, Thomas Novak, Anthony Richard, Alexandre Carrier, Karel Vejmelka, Tyler Moy, Evan Moy
Graduates: Filip Forsberg, Calle Jarnkrok, Taylor Bec

Nashville Predators Prospects 

Top Prospect: Kevin Fiala, Left Wing/Centre
Born July 22 1996 — Switzerland
Height 5.10 — Weight 181 [178 cm/82 kg] – Shoots Left
Drafted by Nashville Predators, – round 1, 11th overall at the  2014 NHL Entry Draft

Kevin Fiala is not your typical Swiss prospect.  First he played his club hockey for HV71 Jonkoping of the Swedish Hockey League, not in Switzerland during both his draft year and at the start of last season.  He did leave the club partway through last year, leaving to join the Milwaukee Admirals in the AHL where he put up great numbers for an 18-year-old.  Second, most Swiss teams have gotten by due to strong goaltending, and strong team based defensive play in recent years and have lacked the true game breakers with top offensive skill.  Fiala is not that player.  He’s got plenty of offensive skill to spare, and has been a scorer at every level he’s played.  However the defensive game is a bit of a work in progress for Fiala.

Fiala is a dynamic skater.  He has great speed and acceleration.  He can beat defenders to the outside and get by them and cut to the net.  He has great edgework and agility, and a tremendous first step.  This gives him the ability to fool defenders with quick cuts and then turning on the jets.  Fiala has very good balance and is strong on the puck and this should only improve as he continues to add muscle going forward.

In terms of offensive tools Fiala uses his speed to be first on the forecheck and creates great pressure on the defence.  He is effective with his stick in creating turnovers.  Once he gets the puck he protects it well and has a number of clever moves with his stick which can help him get around defenders.  He is a solid passer, with very good vision.  However, Fiala is at his best as a sniper.  His wrist and snap shots feature great releases and he has the hockey sense to find open spots in the defence where teammates can set him up.

I was very harsh on Fiala last year for his lack of commitment in the defensive end of the ice.  This has improved, and he’s not close to the player he was.  However, he still has much to learn about positioning, backchecking, and keeping his feet moving and staying with him man.  He really needs to avoid getting out of position by chasing the puck in his own end.  His size is also an issue as he can get outmuscled when trying to protect the middle of the ice against a strong cycle game. Its coming along, and he’s shown the commitment needed to improve, but he has a ways to go.

Fiala will likely start the year refining his game in the AHL.  As he makes progress, he could be a mid-season call-up used to add a little more offense to the Nashville lineup.


#2 Prospect: Jimmy Vesey, Left Wing
Born May 26 1993 — North Reading, MA
Height 6.01 — Weight 195 [185 cm/88 kg] – Shoots Left
Drafted by Nashville Predators in round 3, 66th overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft

Jimmy Vesey had a tremendous season. He led Harvard to the ECAC title, won the ECAC player of the year, and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker. Putting up 32 goals and 58 points in 37 games is a tremendous season in any NCAA conference. He then joined team USA at the Men’s World Championships and put up three points in nine games, helping the team to a Bronze Medal.

Vesey has good size, and plays a power forward game.  He is a quick skater, with good acceleration and top end speed.  Vesey has a powerful stride which allows him to fight through checks and drive to the front of the net.  When he gets there, he has the soft hands to finish in close.  He can also stand in front of the net, provide a screen and get tip-ins and rebounds.  From further out, Vesey has a hard and accurate shot, that he gets off quickly.  He protects the puck extremely well, with good stickhandling, and uses his body as a shield to play the cycle game.  Vesey is well balanced and hard to knock off the puck or beat in a board battle.  His playmaking ability is really coming along.  One thing he can do is change speeds effectively which he uses to beat defenders wide, or slow up and create some space for a passing or shooting lane.  He is a very intelligent player, who makes smart plays with the puck on his stick, and finds ways to be dangerous without it.

Vesey is also a good defensive player.  He again shows high hockey IQ, reading plays well and breaking them up.  When he creates a turnover, he is quick to find the streaking man, and start the transition game.  He also knows how to get his body into shooting lanes and is not afraid to block shots.  Vesey does a lot of the little things that coaches love, and he is given big responsibility on the Harvard penalty kill.

I believe that Vesey is ready to play in the NHL now.  He doesn’t have the high ceiling of Fiala, and so is ranked below him, but his game is very well rounded, and he could make an impact on a 2nd/3rd line adding some extra offence and a defensively responsible game.  Unfortunately he won’t be available to the Predators until at least the Spring, as Vesey has committed to finish his senior season at Harvard.  Once the Crimson are eliminated from the NCAA playoffs, expect to see the Predators eager to sign him and get him into the NHL or AHL lineup, depending on needs this spring.


#3 Prospect Colton Sissons, RW/Centre
Born Nov 5 1993 — North Vancouver, BC
Height 6.01 — Weight 190 — Shoots Right
Drafted in the 2nd round of the 2012 draft, 50th Overall by the Nashville Predators

Colton Sissons had a second solid season in the AHL this year, putting up another 25 goals for the Milwaukee Admirals.

Sissons is the type of player that every coach dreams about.  He oozes intangibles. He’s a great all-around player, who plays hard in all three zones, and who never takes a shift off.  Sissons will go through a wall if he thinks it will help his team win.  He’s a heart and soul type guy.

Sissons also possesses some offensive skill.  He’s got a hard and accurate shot with a quick release.  Sissons is also a good playmaker, he has good vision and can set up teammates in the offensive zone.  He has decent stick handling ability, but is far more likely to try and bull his way through a defender and take the puck right to the net, than he is to try to get around him with fancy moves.  Sissons is a strong forechecker and his tireless work ethic helps him to win many board battles.

Sissons is a sound defensive player.  This is another area his non-stop motor and ability to win board battles comes into play.  He is good positionally in the defensive zone and blocks a lot of shots.  We have often seen Sissons used in a matchup type of role where he is expected to both play against the other teams’ top line, and bring his much needed offence to the Rockets’ attack.

Sissons skating has improved over the last two years but he still could use some more work.  His stride is unorthodox and inefficient, robbing him of energy over the course of a game.  His top end speed is average, maybe even a hair above average, but its nothing to right home about.  His agility needs work, and he could also stand to develop a quicker first step and better acceleration. It has been something he has clearly worked on though, as he is much better than he was when Nashville drafted him. Still there are more steps to take. Expect to see Sissons in the AHL, with some callups due to injuries this year.


Sleeper Prospect: Juuse Saros, Goaltender
Born April 19 1995 — Hämeenlinna, FIN
Height 5’10″ — Weight 181 lbs — Shoots Left — Catches Left
Drafted in the 4th round, 99th overall in the 2013 NHL Draft by the Nashville Predators.

Saros had another solid year in Finland’s top mens league with a .929 save percentage.  He also went to the World Juniors, but found himself as the second string goalie for Finland, even after leading the team to gold in 2014.  He also played at the senior men’s world championships, getting in a relief appearance.

In contrast to many of the goalies who are currently taking over the hockey world, Saros is considered a shorter goalie, and a reflex guy, measuring in at just 5’10″ at the recent NHL Combine.  Saros makes up for his lack of height with fantastic athleticism.  He is a great skater in the crease, moving forwards and backwards to cut down angles and take away in tight moves, and really having stellar lateral movement to take away the cross crease pass.  He tracks the puck well and is rarely caught out of position.  He is extremely agile with really quick legs that take away the bottom of the net.  Up top his glove hand is very good, and he is decent on the blocker side.   Saros seems to be mentally strong and composed.  He doesn’t let the bad goals get to him and recovers quickly from them.

Like many young goalies, Saros can sometimes have an issue with rebound control, and he will need to focus on improving that aspect of his game going forward. He also lacks the puck handling ability that is popular amongst many goalies in the NHL today.

Saros has commited to come to North America for the 2015-16 season, and we should expect to see him get a full year or two of AHL time before being ready for the NHL.  With Pekka Rinne in the Preds net, there is no need to rush him.


Despite not having many picks, Nashville got some good projects in the 2015 draft in Yakov Trenin, Thomas Novak, Anthony Richard, and Alexandre Carrier.  They add them to a system that includes, in addition to the four prospects above, wingers Pontus Aberg, and Viktor Arvidsson.  The Preds also have Vladislav Kamenev and Austin Watson for depth at centre, and Jack Dougherty, Conor Allen and Jonathan-Ismail Diaby provide blue line depth. Overall the system continues to be in decent shape, but they cannot afford to trade away draft picks while getting little playoff success as they did with their 2015 first rounder.  It may not bite them as a one time deal, but its not something you can repeatedly do.

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