Throughout the past week, the Nashville Predators held their annual development camp for the prospects in their system including recent draft picks. Most of the camp was held at Centennial Sportsplex in Nashville with the rookie scrimmage taking place at Ford Ice Center in Antioch. It can easily be seen that the skill and talent in the Nashville system has boosted over the years thanks to general manager David Poile and the players he’s been able to add to the organization.
In the most recent draft, a large focus was put on skilled forwards and offensive defensemen. The fourth round pick, 115th overall, for the Predators was Alexandre Carrier. Carrier, who currently plays with the Gatineau Olympiques in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, was ecstatic just to have his name called by the Predators.
“It was incredible,” said Carrier on being drafted. “When you get to the rink, you don’t know what to expect and just hope for the best. It’s a little stressful, but you just try to enjoy the moment. I was really happy when they named my name.”
Carrier is know for being an offensive defenseman. In the 2014-15 season, he put up 55 points (12G-43A) in 68 games for the Olympiques. Along with being a leader on the team by being an alternate captain, he still thinks there’s more to be added to his game.
“I think both that I can help defensively and offensively,” said Carrier. I can play the power play or PK, so I think it’s good overall. This year, I’ve added more offense to my game and I think it helped. I’m just trying to keep going each game. I think my hockey sense is one of my best assets. I just try to use it as much as I can to make plays the best I can.”
With those skills, Carrier will fit well into Peter Laviolette’s system in a few years when he will potentially be NHL ready.
Another defenseman in the system is Jack Dougherty, taken in the second round, 51st overall, in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Dougherty currently attends the University of Wisconsin, a team with potential that struggled a lot last season with such a young team as was highlighted a few months ago. Dougherty has a lot of experience with some of the top programs as he was part of the United States National Team Development Program and also participated in the World Junior Championship. At Predators development camp, Dougherty was focused on boosting his own conditioning.
“It was great,” said Dougherty. “They told on the first day they were going to teach us how to be a professional hockey player. They did that really well. Just the strength and conditioning of a lot of guys here was just great. It was tough competition no matter what it was. We worked out and had off ice conditioning. It was always a battle.”
With his current team being so young back at Wisconsin, Dougherty knows that what he learns at an NHL development camp can greatly improve what he does with his current team.
“I think just the overall atmosphere and attitude is something I can take back. Everybody came to the rink and was right down to business. You can have fun to a certain point, but after that, you just have to buckle down and get things done. That’s something I think I can bring back to the team; just the attitude that’s required to win and take it to the next level.”
If there was a prospect that had the most attention on him aside from Kevin Fiala, it was Jimmy Vesey. Vesey has gained a lot of attention from Predators fans with his choice to return to college at Harvard University to finish his career and degree there before turning pro. While this has many fans worried, Vesey is focused on being the best player he can be and going back to Harvard to win a championship. His team overall had a major turn around last season, winning the ECAC after a dismal season the year before. The good thing is that most of the team is returning, giving Vesey another shot to help raise a banner at Harvard.
“We didn’t lose many guys at all, only one forward to a signing, two defenseman and a goalie,” said Vesey. “So, we have a lot coming back. I think we’re going to be one of the top teams in the country next year. Everyone in our locker room thought we should have been in the Frozen Four last year, so we’re going into this year with a chip on our shoulder and trying to win the national championship.”
It also seems that the Predators are beginning to build a connection with Harvard. In the 2015 draft, Nashville selected another Harvard product in Tyler Moy; sixth round, 175th overall. Moy put up good numbers in the previous season, 27 points (12G-15A) in 37 games. As Vesey has been in the system for a few years, he saw it as a good opportunity to mentor his college teammate.
“I think I tried to be a good resource for him going into camp,” said Vesey. “If he asked me questions, I’d try to give him good answers and let him know what to expect this week. Then hanging out this week as well was good for me and him to have a friend and teammate here.”
Could the future of the Predators see two Harvard graduates on the ice together? It’s quite possible, as they were line mates for much of the previous year for the Crimson.
In Pontus Åberg’s fourth camp, he’s definitely seeing himself as a veteran amongst rookies. As a second round pick in 2012, there are expectations for Åberg to begin asserting himself in Milwaukee and becoming a call up sooner rather than later for Nashville. Not only has Åberg participated in four development camps, he’s also spent this offseason training in Sweden with a current teammate.
“It felt good,” said Åberg on being a veteran at camp. “This is my fourth development camp and we won so that was good as well. I spent a week back home in Sweden working out with guys there and Arvidsson. Some of these guys I only meet once a year, so it’s a good time to come out here and get to along with them.”
Last season, Åberg’s first season playing in North America, he played in 69 games for the Milwaukee Admirals spotting 34 points (16G-19A) in that span. He wants to contribute more and use the skills he continues to hone at development camp to get Milwaukee into the playoffs next season.
“We were on the ice three times this week, so it was a lot of work on skills,” said Åberg. “I need to work on shooting the puck faster than I did last year to help my team score more goals. I think I can help in that way.”
Åberg has the ability to make an impact on the team. He just has to keep up his development.
Part of a the Western Hockey League champion Kelowna Rockets, Justin Kirkland is another offensive piece that David Poile added in the 2014 draft. Kirkland was taken 62nd overall in round three. Last season, Kirkland had to battle injury, but still managed to play 50 games and tally 51 points (21G-30A), good for just over a point per game player on a team absolutely stacked with talent. While the Rockets will lose a few players next season, Kirkland is still confident the team will be just as good as the past year.
“We lose some key guys, which is tough,” said Kirkland. “Guys like Draisaitl, Morrissey, Bowey, Martin, some guys like that, but we’ll still have a good forward group and a lot of young defensemen. I think we have a lot of guys who have been there for awhile and kind of know the what’s expected and the culture we’ve created. I don’t see a whole lot of change. We have a new coach coming in; not too sure who it’s going to be yet, but it’ll be fun, another good year.”
A highly touted prospect at the same Kelowna Rockets team was forward Nick Merkley. Merkley had tremendous offensive output this past season. And was ranked in the top 15 of most scouting reports, but because of the high level and variety of talent in the 2015 draft, Merkley fell to the 30th spot and was taken by the Coyotes. Already being drafted by an NHL club, Kirkland was able to help talk Merkley through the process.
“I talk to him quite a bit,” said Kirkland on Merkley. “We’re pretty close best friends. I was so proud of him when he got picked, and I know it was a little bit later than he expected, but he went in the first round. Arizona has a good, young prospect group there, and I’m sure he’ll fit in well.”
Coming into camp, Kirkland knew what to expect. Playing in the WHL is very physical, but also full of highly skilled players. He knew how important it was to perform the drills well and make an impression on the coaching staff.
“I definitely think it helps because we know what to expect when we come in,” said Kirkland. “It’s a busy, tough week, but we know how to prepare for it. We’ve become close throughout the week here. We’ve gone through quite a bit of adversity together. The days aren’t easy. We’re all competing for that contract or want to leave our mark on all the scouts and coaches.”
Next season, Kirkland will have the opportunity to be a tremendous leader for the Rockets. It will be exciting to see the trend of Kelowna Rockets in the organization continue with him.
If ever there were a defenseman that could dominate the blue line if he reaches his full potential, it would be Jonathan-Ismael Diaby. Listed at 6’5″ and 246 pounds, Diaby is easy to spot on the ice. He towers above all other players. His wingspan almost seems like it could cover half of the blue line. Last year, on an Admirals team full of blueliners, Diaby was sent down to Cincinnati work on his game. It didn’t last long and he was called back up after two games.
“When I got sent down to Cincinnati, it was for two games there,” said Diaby. “I had big minutes and a lot of ice time just to build up some confidence, I think. I got a point there and good body checks. Just to play more and feel the ice more, get some confidence, I got back to Milwaukee and things started improving there.”
One thing Diaby will have to continue to work on is his skating and speed. Over the past year, it can be seen that the organization has worked with him greatly to help hone his skills to be a better player. With players leaving Milwaukee, Diaby could likely see an increased role next season as long he continues to progress in the way the coaches want him to.
“I mean I would like to, but it’s not really in my hands,” said Diaby on increased ice time. “I’ll just get there, work hard like I always do and try not to expect anything. I’m a second year guy so more responsibility is on my shoulders, so I’ll just try to be a leader on this team and hopefully at least get the team in the playoffs.”
With the opportunity to have more ice time and make an impact, Diaby will take full advantage of this next season.
Peter Laviolette on development camp:
David Poile on Predators development camp:
Stay tuned for more on prospects Zach Stepan and Garrett Noonan.
Header image credit: Christina McCullough