The Nashville Predators begin training camp Friday with five unfamiliar faces in the organization. Nashville invited forwards Mathew Campagna and Jon Puskar, defensemen Brian Lee and Mike Little, and goaltender Devin Williams as part of the 61-man roster that will split up into three groups at the beginning of camp. With the depth Nashville has at all three positions (forward, defense and goalie), these invites, with the exception of Lee, ultimately mean nothing other than an opportunity for the organization’s AHL affiliate Milwaukee Admirals to take a look at.
Not too many know a lot about any of these players, but below, you can learn more about them.
Brian Lee is attempting to make a return to hockey after being inactive the entire 2013-14 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. The Tampa Bay Lightning, who placed him on long-term injured reserve last season, elected not to re-sign the unrestricted free agent. Lee, 27, was a ninth overall draft pick by the Ottawa Senators in 2005 and has played in 209 NHL games with 36 points (5 goals, 31 assists) and 124 penalty minutes.
The 6-foot-1, 201-pound Moorhead, Minnesota native saw his opportunity of playing in Ottawa diminish with rookie new-comer Erik Karlsson joining the team. At the conclusion of training camp in 2009, Lee was reassigned to Binghamton (AHL), while Matt Carkner and Karlsson stayed in Ottawa. On February 27, 2012, Lee was traded to Tampa Bay for Matt Gilroy. Since joining the Lightning’s organization, Lee has spent the majority of his time in Springfield (AHL).
This tryout must have come from the request of assistant coach Phil Housley, who coached Lee at the World Juniors Championships from 2005-7.
Prior to Lee being drafted, in 2005, he was named Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey and the Associated Press’ Player of the Year as the number one player in Minnesota high school boys hockey.
If Lee performs well and Ryan Ellis and the Predators are unable to reach a deal, Lee could become the seventh defenseman on the roster.
The Predators have seen goaltender Devin Williams a lot this summer. Williams was an invite at development camp in June and attended rookie camp earlier in September. The 18-year-old had a breakout year last season with Erie (OHL) overtaking the starting spot from elite Columbus Blue Jackets’ prospect Oscar Dansk. However, Williams was undrafted in 2014. Last season, Williams had a 23-5-1 record, .905 save percentage, 2.57 goals against average, and five shutouts.
This tryout does not make sense due to the already clogged up goaltending depth Nashville has to deal with. Pekka Rinne and Carter Hutton have earned NHL time; Magnus Hellberg, Marek Mazanec, and Rob Madore are battling for AHL time; and Juuse Saros and Janne Juvonen are playing in Europe until their opportunity to play in North America arrives. Where would Williams fit in?
Mike Little is indeed little. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound defenseman has spent the majority of his career in the ECHL with Stockton and Florida (ECHL) after graduating from American International College (NCAA) in 2011. Little has just three games of AHL experience to his credit with the Norfolk Admirals. The 26-year-old Enfield, Connecticut native scored 4 goals and added 18 assists last season in Florida, where he is expected to play in 2014-15.
Mathew Campagna played 237 game career with Sudbury (OHL), amassing 197 points (54 g, 144 a) and 137 penalty minutes. The 5-foot-11, 181-pound center saw his four-year career in Sudbury come to an end after being traded to Plymouth for draft choices in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Champagna won a gold medal for Team Canada at the 2011 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament with Nashville prospect Felix Girard.
Mike Little and Jon Puskar played together during the 2010-11 season at AIC. In Puskar’s senior season at AIC, he was named on the Atlantic Hockey All-Conference Third team. Year after year, the Canton, Michigan native was placed on the Atlantic Hockey All-Academic team. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound forward totaled 96 points (48 g, 48 a) while at AIC. Puskar, 25, will play with the Cincinnati Cyclones, Nashville’s ECHL affiliate, next season.
Colin Fitts is a Nashville Predators staff writer and is a credentialed media member of the Chicago Wolves. From Nashville, Tennessee, Colin majors in journalism and public relations at Columbia College Chicago. Follow him on Twitter, @FittsTHW. Email: 22fitts [at] gmail [dot] com.