Austin Watson Finding His Role in Nashville

The emergence of Austin Watson is exactly what the Nashville Predators and their fans have been waiting for since he was taken with the 18th overall selection in the 2010 NHL Draft. Watson is showing signs of being an integral player that the Predators will rely on for years to come with his physical play and constant hustle.

He was a top-six forward for Nashville’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals. Watson may be on the third and fourth lines, but he’s making quite the impression with his hustle and his physical play. Watson missed some time with early injuries and split time with Viktor Arvidsson before he really took charge and solidified his place on the team. Watson’s play has his coach, Peter Laviolette, gushing about his hard work and necessitated the move of Arvidsson back to Milwaukee.

Elementary, My Dear Watson

The early season projections had Watson just as extra cover, saying he would have to fight for playing time with Arvidsson. Watson put together two straight 20-goal seasons in the AHL, and had been itching for a chance to make the team after a few seasons with the Admirals.

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He’s part of the ever-increasing amount of young talent in the Predators’ organization. Watson, Arvidsson and Kevin Fiala have all had success in the AHL and made a handful of appearances with the parent club. Still, Watson hadn’t played in an NHL game since the 2012-13 season, and it looked like Steve Moses and others were primed to grab the other open roster spots.

However, Nashville general manager David Poile might have known something that we didn’t when my colleague Colin Fitts speculated about what Watson’s future was. Poile told media members that Watson would see regular time with the parent club.

The only question would be where would he fit into the grand plan. Many thought that Watson wouldn’t be ready to go until 2016-17, but he’s proven to be quite impatient (in a good way for the Preds).

Great Opening Statement

Watson scored his first goal of the season against the New York Islanders, but dealt with an early season upper-body injury. He made his way back into the lineup against the Anaheim Ducks in a big way. Watson set up Eric Nystrom’s game-opening goal with his hustle and a great pass, but Watson was not done making an impact.

It was midway through the game (10:07 in the second period) and Watson lined up Ryan Getzlaf of the Ducks and lit him up.

The hit brought a tremendous ovation from the crowd and spurred the Predators to a rout of the defending Pacific Division champions. The performance earned him the third star of the night in the 5-1 demolition of Anaheim. It seems as if Watson is not going to be intimidated by the situation or who is on the ice. He looks like he belongs, as stated by the On the Forecheck blog.

Another bright spot on the Nashville season has been Austin Watson. Watson has 2 points in four games, but more importantly, he is comfortable on the ice. Every time I watch this kid play, it looks like he is getting better with the more games he plays. Let’s hope that keeps up for the rest of the season.

It’s a good sign that Watson is starting to look like the top pick for the Predators with a two-way game that is developing nicely. There may still be some growing pains, like what happened against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Oct. 24 when he boarded Brian Dumoulin. However, he’s ahead of schedule in his development and is well worth the two-year contract that he signed in the offseason. Watson has the chance to a very good pro forward for years to come.

Dan Mount is a sports reporter for the Watertown Daily Times in Watertown, New York, and a Nashville Predators staff writer for THW. Follow him on Twitter: @DanMountSports.