Don’t look now, but the Nashville Predators are starting to assemble a young group of forwards that is loaded with potential.
Predators Packed with Young Talent
Nashville is in the midst of a youth movement already as only four of its forwards are over the age of 30. (Mike Fisher, Mike Ribeiro, Paul Gaustad and Eric Nystrom.) The rest are on the uphill part of their respective careers.
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Filip Forsberg, who turns 21 in August, flourished in his rookie season with 26 goals, and was a cornerstone of a young team. James Neal is surprisingly only 27 years old and is a proven scorer in the league.
Colin Wilson and Craig Smith, who are both 25, are two restricted free agents that are heading to arbitration that the Preds hope to lock up long-term. Wilson scored the most goals by a Predator in a playoff series with five. Smith put up his second straight 20-plus goal season in the 2014-15. Both are in the long-term plans for the team, but need to be taken care of.
Other players like Cody Hodgson, Gabriel Bourque and Calle Jarnkrok are also 25-and-under that ould provide some good bottom six-depth. Nashville also picked up Steve Moses after a great deal of success in the Kontinental Hockey League.
Talent Massing in Milwaukee
However, there’s a good core of talent waiting in the wings at Nashville’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals.
Players like Kevin Fiala and Viktor Arvidsson have played with the parent club, and former first-round pick Austin Watson is coming off two straight years of more than 20 goals. Others like Colton Sissons and Miikka Salomaki are also young guys trying to make the team.
It’s a nice problem to have when you’ve got a lot of young talent that is hungry to make the big club. (The supremely confident Fiala even proclaimed to General Manager David Poile that he will “be playing for Nashville next season.”) All of these promising players will push the established veterans for playing time and roster spots
There will be two other additions to the Admirals in second-round picks Vladislav Kamenev (2014) and Iakov Trenin (2015) signed entry-level deals with Nashville. The two Russians will take some time to get to the parent club, but could provide an infusion of scoring punch that may have been missing late in the season.
Others Making Impacts
It’s not just players in the Nashville organization that are thriving. Jimmy Vesey is coming back for his senior season at Harvard after garnering a Hobey Baker Award nomination. Poile has said that Vesey is “pro ready” and could be one of the few Predators players that bypasses Milwaukee to play on the big club.
Justin Kirkland showed a few flashes in the Memorial Cup with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets, and is looking to bounce back after injuries derailed his 2014-15 season.
While some of these players may not have long careers with the Predators, it’s nice to see a lot of potential in this group. There could be some very interesting battles in training camp for jobs. Preseason games for the Nashville Predators could actually mean something.
This could be an exciting time in the next couple of years with all of these young, hungry forwards seeking to be the next great offensive star for the Predators. The firepower is going to be needed to keep up in the always loaded Central Division.
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Covered hockey since attending SUNY Oswego in Upstate New York in the early 2000s. Has written about college, major junior and professional hockey for the last five years.
Resides in Watertown, NY.