When the Nashville Predators released the list of 21 players that were invited to rookie camp, there were a few prospects that were not on there that you would have thought would be included. Then again, the Preds are blessed with high-quality young players, so all could not attend.
This marks our first in a series of five articles taking a look at a few of the rookies and how and why they are here. We will also look at the different roads taken and where some will be headed for the season.
Make the jump to start the week long journey of things that we learned from two days of rookie workouts at Centennial Sportsplex over the weekend…
Three players that really stand out as not being on the rookie roster are defensemen Teemu Laakso and Roman Josie and goalie Jeremy Smith. Laakso and Josie are two of the four D-men (along with Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm) that have a shot to stick with the team or be an early call up during the season.
Smith ended the season in Milwaukee as their number one tender, taking them deep into the playoffs. You would expect him to be the head of the goalie class but he will not officially report until the main camp on Friday.
New Milwaukee head coach Kirk Muller explained why the ones that are here were chosen. “We want to go down (to Florida) with a group of the younger guys that we haven’t seen before. Some of the kids are coming out of junior. Victor Bartley, I know what he can do from the Under 18′s, but with two games it’s really the younger guys like (Charles-Oliver) Roussel that we want to see where they are at and where they fit into the system.”
Muller continued, “Guys like Ryan (Ellis), whether he’s in Milwaukee or Nashville will be determined more in the next process in Nashville’s training camp. For right now, it’s more for the younger guys to show where they are and how they match up against the guys from Florida and Tampa.”
With 21 players in camp, there are probably 21 different storylines of where they are in their career and what they hope to accomplish.
For Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, Craig Smith and Taylor Beck, it is a matter of getting a head start on the older players in camp in order to make the best impressions against them in the competition for the top 22 or 23 positions when the final cuts are made.
At the other end of the spectrum are a pair of players born in 1991 that are fighting to make the team in Milwaukee as opposed to being sent back to juniors for another year as an overage player. We talked to Taylor Aronson and Josh Shalla about what they need to do to move up to the AHL.
Another great story is that of 22-year-old Robert Slaney, who is the only asset that the Predators still own from the Cody Franson-Matthew Lombardi trade. Fans may have thought that he was just a throw-in, but the young man has “Predator” written all over him.
We also talked to guys about the difference in the US college route to the NHL versus the Canadian Junior system, and also discussed the rule that 19-year-olds, even with exceptional talent like Ryan Ellis, can’t play in the AHL under the current agreements. Austin Watson, for example, is in a no man’s land where he has to make the big club or return to Peterborough for a fourth season at the junior level.
We will delve into to all this and more as the week progresses, and also hear more from Coach Muller, who is a real gem and one of the best assets that the Predators have acquired in a while.
In closing today, we’ll part with the reason for the camp from Muller’s perspective and what the Preds hope to accomplish. “We are here to help these guys. You know if there are any questions, we are happy to help you. There’s no dumb questions and we want everyone to do well. That’s why they are here.”