Welcome to the 2017 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. During the summer, I will feature 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.
I will link 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 2017-18 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 a dark horse to make the NHL. 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old is the cut-off for prospects. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
TSP: Nashville Predators Prospects
The huge P.K. Subban – Shea Weber trade in June 2016 immediately raised expectations for the Nashville Predators. Many analysts, and EA Sports simulation had the Predators winning the Stanley Cup. Injuries hit the team hard during the regular season, and they never quite looked as good as advertised. The Predators squeaked into the playoffs. At that point everything change. Things just seemed to click and they disposed of the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, and Anaheim Ducks en route to the Stanley Cup Final. It was a hard fought series, but the Predators came up short, falling in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Predators off-season saw James Neal taken by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft. It also saw the team lose captain Mike Fisher to retirement. Assistant coach Phil Housley left to take a job as head coach of the Buffalo Sabres. Even with all the losses, general manager David Poile did not sit idly by. He signed Nick Bonino to a big free agent deal, replacing Fisher down the middle. He also traded for Alexei Emelin, adding depth to the defence. Poile also locked up his restricted free agents, signing centre Ryan Johansen, and winger Viktor Arvidsson keeping his top line intact. The team also brought back Scott Hartnell after he was bought out by the Columbus Blue Jackets, while trading Colin Wilson to the Colorado Avalanche.
Top Prospect: Eeli Tolvanen
The Predators drafted Tolvanen with the 30th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Tolvanen. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
Prospect #2: Pontus Aberg
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born September 23rd, 1993 — Stockholm, Sweden
Height 6’0″ — Weight 198 lbs [183 cm / 90 kg]
Drafted by the Nashville Predators in the 2nd round, #37 overall at the 2012 NHL Draft
Aberg had a breakout season last year. He was dominant in the AHL, with 31 goals and 52 points in 56 games. It was enough to earn Aberg a call-up to the NHL. While the numbers are not spectacular, he made some big plays, and scored important goals for the Predators during the playoffs.
They say that speed kills, and if thats true then Aberg is a stone cold killer. He’s an extremely fast skater, with great top end speed and acceleration. He is also agile and shifty, has great balance, and excellent edge work.
Aberg combines this skating with an excellent arsenal of shots. He has a hard, heavy wrist shot which he gets off quickly thanks to a great release. He also has a heavy slap shot and a good one-timer. Aberg is a good stick handler who makes creative moves in order to beat defenders off the rush. Aberg is a much better goal scorer than a play maker. He prefers to shoot rather than pass. As a set-up man, he lacks ideal vision as well as passing instincts.
Aberg is a courageous player. He loves to get involved involved in physical play. He is willing to battle hard on the boards and works hard to get to the front of the net. Aberg is also an aggressive forechecker who just loves to get in and hit the man with the puck. He is fearless. Aberg will need to put on size and strength to continue to play this style at the next level.
Aberg is a hard working defensive player, and a willing back checker. He has worked hard to improve his positioning. He can still get into trouble by running around in his own end, but does this much less now. Added strength would help Aberg in supporting the defence down low.
Aberg will be given an important role in the Predators top-nine, and potentially top-six next season. He made a real impression in the playoffs, and he looks to continue that momentum into the new year. His time is now.
#3 Prospect: Juuse Saros
Goalie — shoots Left — Catches Left
Born April 19th, 1995 — Forssa, Finland
Height 5’11” — Weight 180 lbs [180 cm / 82 kg]
Drafted by the Nashville Predators in the 4th round, #99 overall at the 2013 NHL Draft
Saros had a strong season as Pekka Rinne‘s backup. In 21 NHL games he had a 2.35 goals against average, and .923 save percentage. He also played 15 games for the Milwaukee Admirals, and was dominant at the AHL level with a 1.86 GAA and .934 Sv%.
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. He also hasstellar 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.
Saros will continue as Rinne’s main backup. Rinne is not getting any younger, and Saros is coming into his own. Expect him to slowly take on more and more starts over the next several years, and eventually take over the role of Predators starting goalie.
#4 Prospect: Dante Fabbro
Defense — shoots Right
Born June 20th, 1998 — New Westminster, British Columbia
Height 6’1″ — Weight 192 lbs [185 cm / 87 kg]
Drafted by the Nashville Predators in the 1st round, #17 overall at the 2016 NHL Draft
Fabbro had a solid freshman season with Boston Universit. He put up six goals and 18 points in 36 games for the Terriers. He also won a silver medal with Team Canada at the World Juniors.
The strength of Fabbro’s game comes from his silky smooth skating stride. He has a great agility, as well as an excellent first step, allowing him to pounce on loose pucks quickly. Fabbro has good speed and acceleration in both directions, and covers a ton of ground in just a few seconds. He also has good edge work and pivots, allowing him to transition quickly from offense to defense, and vice-versa. His lower body strength could be improved, which would make him stronger on the puck as well as improve his balance.
Fabbro is a two-way defender who does everything well. He moves the puck effectively, with a crisp first pass and good puck handling ability. Fabbro starts the transition game with a smart first pass. He can also avoid oncoming forecheckers and start the play by skating out of his own end of the rink. He is willing to lead the rush, or jump in to provide offensive support as a trailer.
Fabbro is poised with the puck on his stick and quarterbacks things from the point on the power play. With his good vision and high hockey IQ, he can play the role of play maker from the back end. Fabbro also has a hard and accurate slap shot, and has an excellent release on his wrist and snap shots. He is a goal scoring threat at the point or on the rush. He understands when to pinch in to keep a play alive and when to avoid taking unnecessary risks.
Defensivley, Fabbro’s strong skating also allows him good gap control. He takes away the middle of the ice and forces attackers to try to beat him to the outside. While not a big hitter, he is able to take out opponents who try to beat him wide, playing the body and being physical. He also is not afraid to battle in front of the net or in the corners. Fabbro effectively cuts down passing and shooting lanes. He is not afraid to put his body on the line to block shots. His game shows maturity with great positioning in his own end.
Fabbro will spend another season at Boston University, likely taking on a bigger role and getting more special teams time. He will also be a key part of Team Canada at the World Juniors. The Predators can afford to be patient with their defensive prospects.
#5 Prospect: Vladislav Kamenev
Centre/Left Wing — shoots Left
Born August 12th, 1996 — Orsk, Russia
Height 6’2″ — Weight 196 lbs [188 cm / 89 kg]
Drafted by the Nashville Predators in the 2nd round, #42 overall at the 2014 NHL Draft
Kamenev had a very successful second season in the AHL. He scored 21 goals and 51 points in 70 games with Milwaukee. He also saw two NHL games, as an injury fill-in for the Predators.
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, he has very few weaknesses. He is 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 can play both centre and wing. 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 good on face-offs. 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 heads to camp looking to win a full-time job in the Predators top nine. It will be a battle for an opening with a number of good prospects in the system. With a good camp, he can take a spot and not look back.
#6 Prospect: Yakov Trenin
Center — shoots Right
Born January 13th, 1997 — Chelyabinsk, Russia
Height 6’2″ — Weight 205 lbs [188 cm / 93 kg]
Drafted by the Nashville Predators in the 2nd round, #55 overall at the 2015 NHL Draft
Trenin showed continued improvements in his third QMJHL season, with career high in his offensive numbers. he put up 30 goals and 67 points in just 54 games. He also added three goals and 10 points in seven playoff games, but the Olympiques fell in the first round of the playoffs. Trenin went to Milwaukee at the end of the year scoring three points in five games. He also represented Russia at last year’s World Juniors.
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 improvement. That improvement began this year, but there is still work to be done.
His stride also effects his agility, as he also needs improvement 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. He also has the power to fight through checks. 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 is really using that shot effectively now, something he didn’t do in his draft year. This has led to the jump in his goal totals. 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 forecheck, 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 as he moves from junior to pro hockey. 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.
Skating issues likely mean that Trenin’s pro future is as a winger instead of a centre. He will have less ice to cover, and less defensive responsibility. He has clearly shown that he can put up points in junior and has offensive skill. Trenin moves to the AHL this season, looking to improve those key areas and eventually make an NHL impact.
#7 Prospect: Alexandre Carrier
Defense — shoots Right
Born October 8th, 1996 — Quebec City, Quebec
Height 5’11” — Weight 174 lbs [180 cm / 79 kg]
Drafted by the Nashville Predators in the 4th round, #115 overall at the 2015 NHL Draft
Carrier had a strong first season in the AHL, with six goals and 39 points in 72 games for Milwaukee. He also got a short call-up to Nashville, playing in his first two NHL games.
Carrier is a strong two-way defenceman, and this is based around his good mobility. He has good speed and acceleration in both directions. His agility, edge work and pivots are also very good, allowing him to transition from offence to defence, and vice-versa very quickly. He could use some increased muscle mass to help in battling on the boards and clearing the crease.
Carrier has a very good hockey IQ. He reads the play extremely well and makes smart plays with the puck. He skates the puck away from forecheckers and makes a strong first pass to start the breakout. Carrier picks his spots well, and is willing to lead or join the rush when an opportunity presents itself. He can quarterback the play from the point on the power play with excellent vision and passing skills. He also has a hard and accurate slap shot. Carrier’s wrist shot is hard and features a quick release.
Carrier’s ability to read the play extends to his defensive game as well. He maintains good gap control and funnels attacks to the outside. He also has good positioning and breaks up plays. Carrier is not a big hitter, but is not afraid to engage in physical battles on the boards and in front of the net. He could use more upper body strength as his lack of size is a bit of a detriment here.
The Predators defence is one of the best in the NHL, and extremely hard to crack. Carriere is just 21 years old, and needs game time. Expect him to play on the top pair in Milwaukee and continue his development. He could see NHL action if injuries hit.
#8 Prospect: Samuel Girard
Defense — shoots Left
Born May 12th, 1998 — Roberval, Quebec
Height 5’9″ — Weight 166 lbs [175 cm / 75 kg]
Drafted by the Nashville Predators in the 2nd round, #47 overall at the 2016 NHL Draft
Girard may be undersized, but he is an offensive dynamo. He put up nine goals and 75 points in just 59 games for the Shawinigan Cataractes last season. He also spent some time with Milwaukee, but only recorded one goal in six games, and struggled against bigger AHL forwards.
Girard is a tremendous skater, and great puck moving defenceman. He has outstanding speed and acceleration in both directions. His edgework and agility is very good and allowing him to make quick cuts and changes in direction. He also has outstanding pivots and can transition quickly from offence to defence and vice-versa. He could stand to add some lower body strength to increase his balance and help him to be stronger on the puck.
Girard pairs his great skating with the the hands to make plays with the puck at top speed. He has the ability carry the puck out of his own zone and to create offence by leading the rush. His quick hands and slick skating allow Girard to avoid forecheckers and get the puck up the ice quickly. He also makes a good first pass, and can hit the long pass to spring a streaking forward for a breakaway.
Girard quarterbacks the Shawinigan power play and does so very effectively. He is an excellent passer from the point, putting the puck through tight spaces and making tape-to-tape passes to forwards. His ability to get the puck through traffic is surgical. Girard’s puck poise and agility gives him the ability to walk the line to open up passing and shooting lanes. He needs some work on his slap shot, as it lacks power. However he does have a decent wrist shot with an excellent release. Girard’s shots are very accurate though. It may just be another area where added upper body strength can help him to develop that shot. He’s dangerous nearly every shift, and a tremendous offensive catalyst for the Cataractes.
Girard’s size can be an issue on defence as he can have trouble clearing the crease, or battling bigger forwards. Containment of the cycle can also be a problem, especially when he moves to the next level and faces even bigger opposition. He has developed a quick poke check and good active stick which may help Girard avoid too many issues. However there continue to be some pretty big question marks here. There is no doubt that he will need to add strength in order to succeed at the next level.
Girard is a project that will take time. He heads back to the QMJHL next season. If Shawinigan is not a contender in December, expect to see him traded at the QMJHL trade deadline. He will need time in the AHL, once his junior career is done.
Sleeper Prospect: Emil Pettersson
Center — shoots Left
Born January 14th, 1994 — Sundsvall, Sweden
Height 6’1″ — Weight 176 lbs [185 cm / 80 kg]
Drafted by the Nashville Predators in the 6th round, #155 overall at the 2013 NHL Draft
Emil Petterson put up six goals and 12 points in 24 games with Skelleftea in the SHL. He was traded to Vaxjo, and saw his ice time and numbers explode with nine goals and 26 points in 27 games. He also had seven points in six playoff games.
Petterson has good speed and acceleration. He also has quick footwork. His edge work and agility allow him to make quick cuts, and be elusive both on the rush and controlling the puck down low. He could be a little stronger on his skates, and this would improve by adding muscle to his frame.
Petterson is more of a play maker than a scorer. He has good vision and anticipates the movements of teammates and opponents. He can control the puck on the cycle game and has the poise and patience to wait for a teammate to get open and then make a play. Petterson has an accurate wrist shot and a good release. He also has the quick hands to finish in close to the net.
Petterson plays a strong defensive game. His positioning is sound and he supports the defence down low. He anticipates well and creates turnovers by getting his long stick into passing lanes. Once there is a turnover Petterson is quick to transition to offence. He could use some work on his faceoffs.
Petterson signed an entry level deal with the Predators and comes to North America this season. He needs some time in the AHL and likely starts out there. If he can continue his offensive progression, he could be called up later in the year.
It should not be a surprise that the Predators have a very deep prospect group on the blue line. Frederic Allard is another smooth skating offensive rearguard from the QMJHL. He moves to the AHL this year. Jack Dougherty is a defensive defenceman coming up through the system. Other defenders to watch include Trevor Murphy, and Joonas Lyytinen. David Poile continued to add to the system, taking David Farrance, and Jacob Paquette in this year’s draft.
Up front, Frederick Gaudreau made a name for himself in the playoffs. He scored some big goals but projects as more of a grinder long-term. Victor Ejdsell is a big centre the Preds signed as a free agent. He had a monster season in the Allvenskan. We looked at him here. Grant Mismash can play a power forward game. The Predators drafted him this year. Tyler Moy, Rem Pitlick, Justin Kirkland, Patrick Harper, and Anthony Richard provide organizational depth.
With Saros now on the NHL team, the Predators need another prospect goalie in the system. Konstantin Volkov is a 2016 draft pick who is developing in Russia.
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