Saturday, July 11, 2015

Ponderings From the Predators Prospect Scrimmage

The Nashville Predators wrapped up their prospect camp with an intra-squad scrimmage at the Ford Ice Center. Here are some thoughts:

  • I have been to a number of these scrimmages and one of the things that stood out to me was the overall talent level of the kids on the ice. Now for sure, these guys aren't playing against NHL caliber players, but the talent level really was better than I recall at any of these events. The creativity and athleticism of these young Predator prospects bodes well for the future of this team.
  • With a split squad, there was a lot of ice time for every player. The structure of the game was more pond hockey than anything, but it gave the players an opportunity to showcase their skills and several stood out.
  • I really like the play of Yakov Trenin. The big center skates well and has great hockey sense. He was solid in all zones and distributed the puck well in the offensive zone. He also showed a good shot and is the kind of smooth skating big body that hopefully develop into a top flight NHL forward.
  • Dadgum, Viktor Arvidsson has some wheels. His speed was better than anyone else on the ice and he used it to create some good scoring chances.
  • Last year, Filip Forsberg played like a man on a mission to make the Predators opening day roster. Today, that energy and effort belonged to Kevin Fiala. Fiala skated hard and was all over the ice and showed a wickedly quick release on his shot. Fiala looks  stronger and possesses excellent vision on the ice and does a good job of finding the open areas of the ice.
  • Jonathan-Ismael Diaby is a man-child. At 6'5" and 246 lbs., he is an imposing physical force and, while there were no big open ice hits against his teammates, he did manage to staple a couple of opposing forwards to the boards. Diaby moved well, and if his skating ability continues to improve, he will not be long in the AHL.
  • The goaltenders all split a period of action. Juuse Saros played the first period for the blue squad and gave up 2 goals on 11 shots. Saros made some very good saves in his period of action and moved well in the crease. At 5'11", Saros is the smallest of the goalies that were in camp.
  • Jimmy Vesey looked bigger and stronger and played a solid game. Vesey has already declared that he is going to return to Harvard for the next season, but shows a lot of skill at the forward position. 
  • Lots of size among the prospects on the ice. It will be interesting to see these young men grow and develop over the next few years. The Predators will potentially have some big bodies to put on the ice.
  • Nick Saracino was not drafted but was an invited player to the prospect camp, and Saracino showed that he was not intimidated. He made some good moves in the offensive zone and scored a sweet goal.
Director of Player Development Scott Nichol has some good, raw talent to work with. Today was a good glimpse of their potential. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Predators Sign Ribeiro and Jackman, Add Depth in Free Agency

The Nashville Predators were active in free agency, re-signing Mike Ribeiro and adding some players to augment the roster.

Ribeiro signed for two years and $7 million, which brings back the Predators number one center and second leading scorer from last season. Ribeiro's off ice issues that occurred when he was with Phoenix have become very public, which more than likely limited his options on the free agent market. And the Predators needed his services. Since Ribeiro has been in Nashville, he has been a good citizen, so this was a good fit for both sides.

David Poile went to the bargain bin once again, signing Cody Hodgson to a one year, $1.05 million contract. Hodgson is 25 years old and struggled last season with the Buffalo Sabres, tallying 13 points (6G-7A) in 78 games. He is two seasons removed from his best campaign in which he had 44 points (20G-24A) in 72 games for the Sabres. It is hoped that Hodgson can revive his game under Head Coach Peter Laviolette and slot into a third line position. If he revive his career as Ribeiro did then the Predators will have hit a home run with this signing. The pressure is on Hodgson to prove that he can be consistently productive and this upcoming season is critical to his career continuing at the NHL level.

The Predators continued their bargain hunting by acquiring Max Reinhart from the Calgary Flames for a conditional 4th round draft pick in 2016. Reinhart has appeared in 23 NHL games and has scored 4 points (1G-3A). Reinhart was a third round pick of the Flames in 2010.

The Predators added a quality veteran to the blue line, signing Barrett Jackman to a 2 year, $4 million contract. Jackman played 803 games for the St. Louis Blues and served as an alternate captain for the Blues over the past 9 seasons. Jackman brings a gritty, physical element to the Predators D corps and will be a valuable presence for the Predators on the back end.

In the midst of these acquisitions, the Predators parted ways with goaltender Magnus Hellburg. He was shipped to the New York Rangers for a 6th round draft pick in the 2017 entry draft. The departure of Hellburg solidifies the position of Marek Mazanec in Milwaukee and opens the door for Juuse Saros, the talented Finnish draft pick to settle in at the AHL level.

The Predators adds are good for creating some competition at the center position, but the truth is that the Predators are desperate for elite pivots. The great teams in the NHL are strong down the middle. The Predators are not. They have some serviceable players, but it going to be imperative that the Predators develop their young talent at that position or acquire exceptional centers via trade. Fail to do that, and the Predators are going to continue to struggle to go deep in the playoffs against the best teams in the West.

The free agent crop was thin this year, but the Predators made a solid add with Jackman and added some depth and potential with Hodgson and Reinhart. More importantly, they didn't overpay for the players they brought in to the fold. Now it will be up to the coaching staff to bring out the best in Hodgson and Reinhart.