Welcome to the 2016 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2016 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will follow the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no trades). You can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted this year. There have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed.
What I will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2016-17 roster. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later; or an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. The cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
TSP: Nashville Predators Prospects
The Nashville Predators got back into the playoffs last season. They took home the first wildcard in the Western Conference. The Predators even upset the Anaheim Ducks in the first round. They then took the San Jose Sharks to the absolute limit in the second round before falling in seven games. General manager David Poile has spent the off-season trying to build on that success. He traded long-time captain and face of the franchise, Shea Weber for a defenceman who might be even better in P.K. Subban. He then added depth to his defence with cheap signings of Yannick Weber, Matt Irwin, and Mathieu Carle. Not content to stop there, the Predators added forward depth in Mike Liambas, and Trevor Smith.
Draft Picks: Dante Fabbro, Samuel Girard, Rem Pitlick, Frederic Allard, Hardy Haman-Aktell, Patrick Harper, Konstantin Volkov, Adam Smith
Graduates: Colton Sissons, Viktor Arvidsson, Miikka Salomaki, Austin Watson,
Nashville Predators Prospects Scouting Reports
Top Prospect: Kevin Fiala
Center/Left — shoots Left
Born Jul 22 1996 — St. Gallen, Switzerland
Height 5’10 — Weight 193 lbs [178 cm / 88 kg]
Drafted by the Nashville Predators in round 1, #11 overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Playing his second season in the AHL, Kevin Fiala scored 18 goals and 50 points in 66 games. His steady progression earned him a shot in the NHL. He played his first five NHL games, and even scored his first goal.
Fiala is a dynamic skater. He has great speed and acceleration. Fiala can beat defenders to the outside and get by them and cut to the net. He has great edge work 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 fore check 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 can extend plays in the cycle game and wait for teammates to get open. He is also 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. He also can score in tight to the net, with soft hands, and the ability to get rebounds, tip-ins and bang home passes in tight.
I was very harsh on Fiala during his draft year for his lack of commitment in the defensive end of the ice. This has greatly improved over the last two years, and he’s not close to the player he was. However, he still has some areas that need some work. He can work on positioning, backchecking, and keeping his feet moving. Fiala must avoid getting out of position by chasing the puck in his own end. Size is also an issue. He gets out-muscled when trying to protect the middle of the ice against bigger forwards in the cycle game. The defensive game is coming along. Fiala shows the commitment needed to improve, but there is still a ways to go.
The Predators continue searching for more offensive forwards. Fiala has every opportunity to make the team. If he doesn’t make it out of camp expect him to be the first call-up in case of injuries. Fiala has a few things to work on, but is very close to NHL ready.
#2 Prospect Vladislav Kamenev
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born Aug 12 1996 — Orsk, Russia
Height 6’2 — Weight 196 lbs [188 cm / 89 kg]
Drafted by the Nashville Predators in round 2, #42 overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Kamenev had an impressive first season in North America. The 19-year-old scored 15 goals and 22 assists for 37 points in 57 AHL games for the Milwaukee Admirals. He also added five goals in seven games for Russia during the World Junior Championships.
Vladislav Kamenev is an extremely fundamentally sound player given his age. His game shows very few weaknesses, and while he may not have the absolute high end skill of some other prospects in this draft, he has very few weaknesses. He’s a player that just does everything well. He is a good skater, with above average top-end speed, good acceleration, and strong edge work. Kamenev has good size and excellent balance which allows him to protect the puck and to win board battles down low.
Kamenev projects as a centre going forward. He is more of a play maker than a scorer, with very good vision and passing skills. Kamenev makes linemates better by extending plays on the cycle and then finding them in good spots. He has strong stick handling skills, further helping him to protect the puck and slow the game down in the offensive zone. Kamenev has very good hockey iq, and almost always seems to make the smart play with the puck on his stick. Kamenev likes to hit and is very good on the fore check. Even though he is more of a play maker, he can score by getting to the front of the net, or with an accurate wrist shot that features a good release.
Kamenev’s defensive game is strong. He is already pretty good on face-offs especially against his age group at the international level. He plays a gritty and aggressive game in all three zones and supports his defence well on the back check. Kamenev is also positionally sound. He reads the play extremely well, leading to him being able to cut down on passing and shooting lanes. Kamenev is a strong penalty killer.
Kamenev is competing with Fiala, and others, for a spot on the Predators roster during training camp. He is also close to being NHL ready. Even if Kamenev loses out, he should still get some games during call-ups this year. Expect Kamenev to win a full-time NHL job for the start of the 2017-18 NHL Season.
#3 Prospect Dante Fabbro
The Predators drafted Fabbro with the 17th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Fabbro. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#4 Prospect Juuse Saros
Goalie — shoots Left — Catches Left
Born Apr 19 1995 — Forssa, Finland
Height 5’11 — Weight 180 lbs [180 cm / 82 kg]
Drafted by the Nashville Predators in round 4, #99 overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft
Saros had an excellent rookie season in the AHL. He registered a .920 save percentage. Saaros was also named to the AHL all-rookie team. He played in his first NHL game. Saaros played for Finland, in backup duty at the World Championships.
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 5’11. 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. Saaros tracks the puck well. He 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 is 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.
Saaros is not going to supplant Pekka Rinne as the Predators starting goaltender this year. At just 21 years old, it is unlikely that the Predators want him to sit on the bench as a back-up either. This means he will likely return to the AHL, and continue to work on his game. Expect Saaros to be the starter in Milwaukee.
#5 Prospect Yakov Trenin
Center — shoots Left
Born Jan 13 1997 — Chelaybinsk Russia
Height 6’2 — Weight 194 lbs [188 cm / 88 kg]
Drafted by the Nashville Predators in round 2, #55 overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft
After being drafted in the second round of the 2015 NHL Draft, Trenin showed big improvements in his goal totals for Gatineau. However, his assist numbers were way down. This is a bit concerning, considering Gatineau scored 16 more goals vs 2014-15.
There are some concerns about Trenin’s skating ability. His stride is very short and choppy, and his stance is upright. While he generates decent top end speed despite this, it only comes when he is able to build speed over a long distance. His first step and his acceleration need some big improvement. This stride also effects his agility, as he also needs major improvements in this area. He just is not quick in moving side to side and avoiding defenders. Trenin does have good lower body strength and puck protection ability though, and this helps him to win battles along the boards or play the cycle game. A bit of a better skating stance would also improve these areas of his game though.
Yakov Trenin has shown to be an effective play maker off the wing. He uses his size and stick handling ability to protect the puck and extend plays in the cycle game. This gives his teammates time to get open and when they do Trenin creates a scoring opportunity by putting a quick pass right on their tape. He has very good vision and the ability to put the puck through the smallest of openings.
Trenin also has a very powerful wrist shot and an excellent release. He learned to use that shot more this year, and the jump in his goal totals was the result. He also banged in more goals in front of the net. Trennin is willing to play a robust physical game. He can be a big hitter on the fore check, punishing opposing defencemen who go back to retrieve dump-ins and loose pucks.
Trenin is also not afraid to battle on the boards for loose pucks and try to gain position to get open for a shot. He’s also very good at establishing position in front of the net, and not being moved away by the opposing defender. He could stand to add more upper body strength, which would even improve this aspect of his game. Trenin’s hockey smarts are very high, and he often makes the smart pass or smart play in the offensive zone.
Trenin’s defensive game is a bit of a work in progress. The lack of speed, but especially short burst quickness can be a real handicap in his own end of the ice. He can be vulnerable to being beat to open ice, or loose pucks by quicker opponents. That said, he does bring his grit and physical game in his own end of the rink, which helps along the boards and in clearing loose pucks. His positioning could be improved with some coaching and further adaptation to the smaller North American rinks.
Trenin has another year of QMJHL eligibility in front of him. He should be back in Gatineau next season, looking to improve his numbers; and to help the team take another step forward to the QMJHL title.
#6 Prospect Jack Dougherty
Defense — shoots Right
Born May 25 1996 — Cottage Grove, MN
Height 6’2 — Weight 196 lbs [188 cm / 89 kg]
Drafted by the Nashville Predators in round 2, #51 overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Dougherty is another member of Nashville’s impressive 2014 draft class. He went the college route last year, but struggled as a freshman at the University of Wisconsin. Dougherty switched to the WHL and scored 11 goals and 52 points in a bounce back season with the Portland Winterhawks.
Dougherty’s skating has continually improved since being drafted. He has very good balance and is strong on the puck. However his stride still could use a bit more refining, it could be longer and more powerful. He has really improved his acceleration, pivots and edge work though. His speed is also now well above average. If he can continue to improve this area, it will really help him in his quest to make the NHL.
Dougherty is poised with the puck on his stick and keeps his head up, making smart precise passes both on the breakout, and in his own end of the ice. He always seems to make the smart play. He also has a good idea of when to pinch, and when he should back off and remain in his position. Dougherty doesn’t often lead rushes, but he is effective as a trailer, joining late to unleash a strong wrist shot with a good release, or an excellent slap-shot and one-timer.
He can also be very good on the point of the power play understanding that it is key to make sure he gets his shot through, and that he doesn’t always have to hit it with 100% power if he is losing accuracy. He understands that sometimes keeping it low for teammates to tip in or pounce on rebounds is something that can lead to more offensive opportunities for his team.
Dougherty can be strong positionally, and maintains excellent gap control. He loves to play physical and can throw his weight around with a big hit, or battling in front of the net or in the corners. In college, Dougherty struggled with the physical game. He seemed to chase the puck and was always looking for the big hit. This got him off his game and caused issues. He has worked on improving that in Portland, but could still stand to be a bit more disciplined in his game. Dougherty anticipates the play well, breaking up passes and starting the transition game. He is also willing to block shots and to do whatever it takes to help his team win.
Dougherty should head to Milwaukee this year. He has a very good offensive game, but will need some time to work on his defensive game. Given time, he could develop into yet another strong defenceman on the Predators blue line.
#7 Prospect Samuel Girard
The Predators drafted Fabbro with the 47th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Fabbro. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
Sleeper Prospect Max Gortz
Right Wing — shoots Rights
Born Jan 28 1993 — Hoor, Sweden
Height 6’2 — Weight 196 lbs [188 cm / 89 kg]
Drafted by the Nashville Predators in round 6, #172 overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft
Gortz came to North America last season, and is another player who had a solid year in Milwaukee. He put up 18 goals and 47 points in 72 games for the Admirals.
Gortz is a good skater. His speed and acceleration are good, but he is not a speedster. He shows excellent power in his stride and the ability to fight through checks and go to the net. Gortz has good core strength and is strong on the puck. He is well balanced, and is able to use his leverage to be strong on the boards and in front of the net.
Gortz uses his size to play a physical game. He forechecks hard, battles for loose pucks and uses his body as a shield to protect the puck in the cycle game. He also gets to the front of the net, and can create offense when he gets there. Gortz isn’t the most creative player, but he is effective at playing straight line, east-west game. He is not the most creative passer, but he keeps the puck moving by finding the smart play. Gortz has a decent, but not overpowering shot. His release is good, but not great.
Gortz’s maturity really shows in his defensive game. He has been a key penalty killer in Milwaukee. He has a very good grasp of positioning, as well as how to cut down shooting and passing lanes. Gortz uses his body effectively in supporting the defence down low. Once he creates a turnover, he quickly transitions to offence.
Given his age and his experience in the SHL before coming to North America, Gortz has a very good chance of making the Predators in the near future. He could even take a top nine forward spot this year. Gortz may not have the upside of Fiala or Kamenev, but he could show that he is more NHL ready in training camp. He may top out as a third liner.
There isn’t an awful lot of quality depth in the Predators system. Pitlick and Allard were good picks in the 2016 draft, who help to replenish that depth though. Justin Kirkland, Pontus Aberg, and Anthony Richard are intriguing darkhorses up front. Alexandre Carrier is a nice blue line prospect. Beyond what was mentioned and what was reviewed above, the overall depth is just lacking. That should not be that surprising considering the number of prospects the team graduated last year. The very fact that there is still a number of decent projects in the system, along with some high end talent in Fiala and Kamenev is a testament to the good job David Poile and his staff have done at the draft table.