Nashville Predators prospects spent Thursday and Friday in Nashville preparing for a four-team rookie tournament in Estero, Florida. The tournament, hosted by the Tampa Bay Lightning, will feature the Predators and Lightning, along with the Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals. With the tournament beginning on Saturday, the players had very little time to get acclimated to hitting the ice as teammates, and most of Friday’s practice was spent as a scrimmage. For many players, this won’t be their first rookie camp with Nashville, and they see it as an opportunity to continue to prove their worth to the organization.
“I think something that I want to take back to juniors is that extra competitive level that they have here,” said Justin Kirkland. Everyone is trying to prove themselves in front of coaches and GMs and such. If there’s something I can take away from it, it’s definitely that.”
Kirkland, who currently plays with the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League, was part of a team that not only won their league, but finished second in the Memorial Cup. The 2014 third round pick is not only a leader on his current team, but he also understands how important it is to continue making good impressions on his future team during rookie camp.
“There’s a lot to compete for,” said Kirkland. “They’re all your friends, but at the same time, you’re competing against them for spots. Obviously, [the Predators] have added a lot of depth with big, power-skilled forwards, so that just adds to me having to prove myself to the coaches every day.”
One of those highly skilled forwards is Kevin Fiala, Nashville’s first round pick, 11th overall, in 2014. Fiala has already seen time in the NHL, but is determined to make it to the Predators in a full time roll. Fiala spent his summer in Nashville working with strength and conditioning coach David Good.
“It was a pretty good off season for me,” said Fiala. “I was here the whole summer. I’m very thankful that David Good took his time with me, and I think I’m prepared. The big thing for me was to get bigger, get stronger and get heavier. Just keep getting faster and more powerful. I think I did a good job.”
In spending his summer in Nashville, Fiala was able to get more acquainted with the city, but also his future teammates.
“It’s very nice to be in the city now,” said Fiala. “I know the players much better than last year and I’m excited.”
Another forward that has continued to impress fans and coaches alike is Viktor Arvidsson. The 22 year old winger, as many have already seen in the past, loves to shoot the puck. Taken in the fourth round in 2014, Arvidsson spent much of his off season training in Sweden. Like Fiala, he has aspirations of making the big club directly out of camp.
“I trained hard back at home in Sweden during the summer, so it’s been fun and I’ve worked hard to get prepared for this,” said Arvidsson. “The first thing is to make a good impression here and hopefully make the team. I’m going to start there and see where it takes me.”
When it comes to both Fiala and Arvidsson, they are probably the two forwards in the prospect pool with potential to put up outstanding offensive numbers. In having that type of potential, defenders can have a difficult time matching up against them. Garrett Noonan, one of the veterans of rookie camp, says the key is to just be aware when they hit the ice.
“You have to really be aware when you’re on the ice if you’re defending them,” said Noonan. “They’re shifty, but they also love to shoot it. So, it’s a little tough when you don’t know if they’re going to make a move or shoot it because they bring both dimensions to the game. But, you just have to be aware. You can’t play them any different than how you would anybody else. You just have to do your job.”
Noonan has also taken on a veteran role among the rookies. Being in the organization since 2011, Noonan is ready to be a leader in the locker room during rookie camp.
“I think a lot of it is helping the younger kids out, and being there for them if they have any questions,” said Noonan. “I know when I was at my first rookie camp, you’d come in with a lot of questions. I’m ready to be a leader and help those guys out. It’ll also help me get into game shape and I’ll use this as a tool. You know everyone is going to be there watching, and I want to get off on the right foot and have a good camp. It can help me in Milwaukee too with impressing the coaches.”
With coaches from all throughout the organization present, each player knows that there is always someone watching them. While part of the process is impressing the coaching, it’s also important for these players to come together and form a team very quickly. If they cannot do that, they won’t be successful at the tournament.
“We want them to be great,” said Dean Evason, head coach of the Milwaukee Admirals. “When we talk to them about being great, clearly it would be awesome if a guy could score six goals in a game or pitch a shutout. We want them to be great teammates…we want them to come together. We want to see a team atmosphere right away. And with that, obviously we’ll be watching individuals.”
With games on Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday, the prospects will get their fair share of ice time against top prospects from other teams. For more information on the tournament, visit the Nashville Predators website.
Training camp for the entire team begins on September 17th with the first on-ice session taking place at Centennial Sportsplex on September 18th.