Last week, we took a look at what forward prospects could crack the Nashville Predators roster this season. Now, it’s all about the defensemen. We’ll take a look at what defensive prospects could make the leap from the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals to Nashville.
The defensemen are in a precarious position, as there likely won’t be a defensive roster spot up for grabs out of training camp. Shea Weber and Roman Josi will continue to lead the pack in the top pairing, followed by Seth Jones and newly-acquired Barret Jackman, and finally, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm will likely round out the unit. Victor Bartley is likely safe in the seventh defenseman slot too, but if one of the youngsters shines in training camp, they could steal the spot. Here’s a few of the prospect candidates that could see some time with Nashville this season:
Bitetto is the only prospect on this list that has actually played for the Predators for a period of time, as he played seven games last season while injuries took their toll on the defensive unit. While he didn’t amass any points, he did make an impression, and showed that he could handle NHL minutes soon. He recently signed a one-year extension with the team, which is a sign that the team is looking for him to make progress this season. Bitetto’s offensive production slipped from 36 points to 30, but his +/- rating bumped up from -13 to -1. If he can show that he is capable of stepping up his offensive production, and continue to improve defensively, he might see time as an injury replacement or as the seventh defenseman this year.
This signing flew under the radar this offseason following the signing of forward Steve Moses. However, Nakyva could really make an impact this season. He last played for Lulea of the Swedish Hockey League, putting up 29 points in 55 games. He’s 24 years old, so he has a little more hockey experience under his belt. Nakyva’s +/- ratio has not slipped below zero since he started in pro hockey. It’s unlikely Nakyva jumps straight from Europe to the NHL, but if he proves himself in the AHL, he might deserve a shot.
Diaby is perhaps the most intriguing defensive prospect in Milwaukee. He is a large human being, standing at 6’5”, weighing 246 pounds. Last season, Diaby only put up two points in over 50 games for Milwaukee, both of which were assists. He was sent down to the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL for two games to work on his game this season. At the 2014 development camp, Diaby was clearly the biggest body, but looked lost on his skates. However, at 2015 camp, he looked much improved, as PBR’s own Justin Bradford observed:
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.
With a little more skating ability, Diaby could become a force on the Predators blue line. Perhaps he won’t crack the roster this year, but if he shows he can improve, he might get a shot.
Aronson won’t likely see any time at the NHL level, as he just completed his first full season with the Admirals. However, he could be a spark on the blue line, if he continues on this trajectory. He was picked in the third round of the 2010 NHL draft, and he is finally making strides towards making the NHL roster. He put up 32 points in 73 games in the AHL, however, he also had a rating of -15. Aronson has a lot of work to do in his second season in the AHL, but he could come up as a last-minute injury replacement this season.
This 25-year-old defenseman was acquired from the New York Rangers in a trade following the NHL Draft. He stands out from a lot of Admirals defensemen, in that he has NHL-level experience, having played in seven total NHL games for New York. Allen didn’t put up any points in that time, but he does have the experience to play on a Rangers blue line that is incredibly deep. He put up 34 points in 72 games last season with the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack. His rating of +1 is a bit of a red flag, however. Allen will likely spend this season in Milwaukee, but his experience at the NHL level should help him out.
When it comes to defensive prospects, it seems most of them are at least a year away from being ready to play extended minutes in the NHL.
Stay tuned for the third and final installment in this series, looking at the goaltending prospects that could affect the Predators roster.
Photo credit: Kristen Jerkins