Austin Watson Signs New Two-Year Contract

Watson-121213-1

New contract makes happy Watson happy. (Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

The Nashville Predators have signed Austin Watson to a brand new two-year contract this afternoon. The details of the contract specify that the first year of the new deal is a two-way contract for the 2015-16 season with the last year being an exclusive one-way NHL contract for the 2016-17 season.

Press Release via Nashville Predators:

Nashville, Tenn. (June 29, 2015) – Nashville Predators President of Hockey Operations/General Manager David Poile announced Monday that the club has signed forward Austin Watson to a two-year contract. The deal is a two-way contract in 2015-16 paying him $575,000 at the NHL level and $100,000 at the AHL level, and a one-way, $575,000 contract in 2016-17.

Watson, 23 (1/13/92), led Milwaukee and tied for 14th in the American Hockey League in goals (26) in 2014-15, in addition to tying for second among all AHL skaters in game-winning goals (8) while appearing in all 76 regular-season games for the second consecutive season. He’s also ranked among the Top Three Admirals in points in each of his first three professional seasons. The 6-3, 206-pound native of Ann Arbor, Mich., has appeared in six NHL contests with Nashville, all during the 2012-13 campaign, scoring one goal.

Nashville’s first choice, 18th overall (first round), in the 2010 Entry Draft, Watson won a pair of Ontario Hockey League titles with Windsor in 2009 and London in 2012 and the 2009 Memorial Cup during his junior career. He was the recipient of the 2012 Wayne Gretzky 99 Award presented to playoff MVP and helped London advance to overtime of the 2012 Memorial Cup title game, earning a spot on the tournament All-Star Team. The oldest of 10 children, Watson led the United States in points and assists at the 2012 World Junior Championship, and helped Team USA win gold at the 2010 U-18 World Championship.

Watson has been a big part of the Admirals over the past three seasons, scoring 20 and then 22 goals in his first two seasons, respectively, before notching a career high 26 goals in 2014-15. That total led all Milwaukee players, and he finished second in points (44) behind Viktor Arvidsson. Watson’s 46 points in 2013-14 were also a career high.

The Ann Arbor, Michigan native was the Predators first-round draft pick in 2010, and has six games National Hockey League experience on his resume, including his first NHL goal in a 4-3 win over Calgary on April 23, 2013. That was his last game with Nashville to date.

When I spoke to Watson last month, he anticipated being back in Milwaukee or Nashville in 2015-16:

“This summer I just want to continue to mature physicially and get bigger, stronger and faster, like we talk about every summer (in regards to) every single guy that is still playing in the AHL and wants to play at the next level. This summer is definitely a big step in my career and I feel like I’m ready to play at that level. When camp comes around, it will be time to see if that comes to fruition.”

You can read more from Watson and coach Dean Evason in my upcoming End of Season feature coming this week on MilwaukeeAdmirals.com.

So Roundtable . . . Are you excited to have Watty back in Nashville/Milwaukee? Do you see him making the NHL in the near future with the Predators or another NHL team?

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Summer Ramblings, Vol. 22

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

Could the sight of Mark Van Guilder as a member of the Milwaukee Admirals be a thing of the past? We’re closing in on the time when we’ll all be finding out. (Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

The 2015 NHL Draft is now in the pocket. What’s next on the off-season calendar? Two big dates back-to-back. Tuesday is the deadline for teams to tender qualifying offers to current restricted-free agents (RFA’s). Wednesday is the day that free agency begins. From there all bets are pretty much off until the regular season begins.

~RFA Watch~

There are quite a few Milwaukee Admirals that are still RFA’s to the Nashville Predators right now that haven’t been tendered a new deal (that I’m aware of anyways). The current RFA’s include: Taylor Aronson, Anthony Bitetto, Zach Budish, Magnus Hellberg, Josh Shalla, and Austin Watson.

There’s a few names there that I can see getting tendered. Bitetto made his NHL debut last season with the Predators and continues to make strides season after season here in Milwaukee. Watson could well be knocking on a full-time NHL role depending on the Predators off-season moves and by having a strong pre-season camp. Aronson managed an emergency call-up to the Predators last season and was a real pleasant surprise for the Admirals in 2014-15.

Then come some of the question marks. Hellberg tops that list because, if a trio of Carter Hutton/Marek Mazanec/Juuse Saros, are all here right now. Does Hellberg get tendered, brought back to Milwaukee, and in the process send Saros to the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL? That was the option I was pulling for because Saros is still very young, could learn the North American game in a competitive league like, and still push for AHL playing time should an injury occur. Problem? The Admirals signed Brandon Whitney with ECHL hockey in mind. So that role is already filled. The only alternative is to let him walk… or is it?

I’ve heard the rumblings that Hellberg could be tendered and then loaned out to Europe for the 2015-16 season. Should that happen it gives the Predators the option to move him throughout or at the end of the season – or even maintain him over say Hutton or Mazanec at the end of the playing season should he impress. It’s an interesting scenario but one that is puzzling considering any move to larger ice blows up Hellberg’s North American learning process – one that he admitted took time to adjust to. Why keep him just to loan him to Europe? If that goes down I feel as if someone should play “Rains Of Castamere” in the background when they break that news to Hellberg.

Others such as Budish and Shalla? It’s sad, but they’ve clearly never become what Nashville hoped for when drafting them. Budish was a second round pick in the 2009 NHL Draft and only just started getting some good work put together in the AHL this last season. But even he was scrapping for playing time against the likes of Joe Pendenza and Frédérick Gaudreau. Both of those names signed with the Admirals to AHL deals already. So you can see why Budish probably won’t be tendered a new deal. Shalla? Well, his ECHL numbers are pretty good. And that’s unfortunately all of the explanation you really need as to why he probably won’t be tendered either.

~Free Agent Frenzy~

When looking to the current free agents of the Admirals that is another interesting list: Triston Grant, Mike Liambas, Joe Piskula, and Mark Van Guilder. You could perhaps also throw in PTO contracted members of the Admirals this past season such as Scott Ford, Jared Nightingale, and Gary Steffes – and ATO contractee (I think I invented a word) Eric Robinson.

The first and only name of the ones above that should be a no brainer to return is Piskula. He has been the Admirals best defenseman for arguably the last two seasons. Plus, he provides Nashville that veteran AHL safety net in the event anything drastic happened up top. It would be a mistake for the Predators to not offer up yet another two-way contract to Good Guy Joe from Antigo.

I felt at the start of last year that the Admirals had too many of a specific type of player. Well, now they can solve that problem by selecting one or two out of the three. Three? Well yeah, because it looks like Rich Clune will become a free agent soon enough. Put yourself in those GM shoes. Who do you take: Clune, Grant, or Liambas? It’s not as easy a question as you might think.

Van Guilder has been a staple in Milwaukee for six full seasons now. He is the best faceoff man the Admirals have which makes him great on the penalty kill. Plus, his ability to make composed and intelligent plays on the ice is still there. Problem? Age and regression. At 31-years old he isn’t getting any younger and his numbers are starting to reflect that. There is a part of me that feels like his return to the Admirals hinges on Watson’s return to the Nashville system. If Watson is brought back, and doesn’t quite make the NHL roster, he basically plays the same role as Van Guilder. It would be great having both back, especially because they are the best penalty killing duo the Admirals have at the forward spot, but I’m not so sure that will happen.

Two moves I would love to see made were the two blokes that turned up late in the season and made a quick impression: Steffes and Robinson. Steffes exploded in the 2014-15 season for 61 goals between the ECHL (regular season and playoffs) and AHL. He even managed to win the Kelly Cup with the Allen Americans. He is due for a full time AHL season and showed in Milwaukee that he can produce. Then there was the youngster out of Dartmouth, Robinson. He skated incredibly well, found soft spots on the ice, looked comfortable at the AHL level right out of college, and might have been unlucky to not bury a few more feeds from Van Guilder to boot. Both would add to an already skilled Admirals forward group. And both are already familiar with the team. Good fit.

Lastly, what about the Sheriff? This time last year I felt like Ford was ready to hang up the skates and call it a career. What I didn’t realize was that during that time he was getting in incredible shape. I think that showed in the brief time when he returned to the Admirals late in the season as well. He looked better than he did in 2013-14. His ECHL season with the South Carolina Stingrays ended on the losing end of the Kelly Cup finals but his whole season at that level was classic ol’ Ford-o. Right handed veteran defenseman that the coaching staff and locker room are all fans of? I wouldn’t be too surprised to see it happen.

~UPDATE~

How about the timing, eh? The Predators signed Watson to a brand new contract this afternoon. In addition, they have made qualifying offers to all RFA’s not named Budish or Shalla:

As you can see then – even Hellberg was tendered. And now we play the waiting game.

Any further reaction from the Nashville Predators 2015 NHL Draft? How do you anticipate the RFA scenarios to play out and what names won’t be coming back next season?

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Nashville Selects Evan Smith (7th Round, 205th Overall)

(Photo Credit: Jerry Olson)

(Photo Credit: Jerry Olson)

The Nashville Predators 2015 NHL Draft is done and dusted with their seventh round draft selection of goaltender Evan Smith.

What was I just saying about height and goaltenders in the Predators system? Tall? Oh, good. Because Smith is 6’6″ at the age of 18-years old. Last season he split between the Victoria Royals (WHL) and Austin Bruins (NAHL). The majority of his 2014-15 season was played in the NAHL as a member of the Bruins where he played 15 games in net while posting a 1.73 goals against average and 0.923 save percentage. He also contributed for the Bruins in the playoffs where he recorded a 2.10 GAA and 0.914SV% in 6 games.

The Predators 2015 NHL Draft Class: Iakov Trenin, Thomas Novak, Anthony Richard, Alexandre Carrier, Karel Vejmelka, Tyler Moy, and Evan Smith. (4 forwards, 2 goalies, 1 defenseman)

Thoughts on the Nashville Predators 2015 NHL Draft? How would you rate the prospects they just added to the pipeline and which are you most excited to potentially see play in Milwaukee?

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Nashville Select Tyler Moy (6th Round, 175th Overall)

(Photo Credit: Gil Talbot)

(Photo Credit: Gil Talbot)

After selecting a defenseman and a goaltender the Nashville Predators went back to the center well and drafted Tyler Moy.

Moy is a native of San Diego who has spent his last two years playing for Harvard. In his 2014-15 season he tallied 27 points (12 goals, 15 assists) in 37 games with 16 penalty minutes and a plus/minus rating of +12. He turns 20-years old next month.

The Predators have now drafted four forwards out of six draft picks in the 2015 NHL Draft with one pick remaining.

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Rich Clune’s Days With Nashville Are Numbered

(Photo Credit: Christina Shapiro)

Rich Clune was an instant hit with Milwaukee Admirals fans for his wild and fun style on the ice – and on the mic for on-ice interviews. Sadly, it appears he won’t be back in the fall. (Photo Credit: Christina Shapiro)

Last week, both Viktor Stålberg and Rich Clune were placed on waivers. At the time it didn’t seem like anything to crazy. That appears not to be the case anymore:

Clune’s contract with the Nashville Predators ran through the upcoming 2015-16 season. As far as the waiver wire went – no one claimed either of the two but I’d go as far to say that Clune’s contract would have been an easier pill to swallow than Stålberg’s. Turns out it’s so easy that Nashville will send Clune packing.

If this turns out to be the case it will be sad for both players and fans in both Nashville and Milwaukee. There is no denying what Clune adds to a team: energy. He became an immediate fan favorite upon his arrival in Milwaukee and I’m sure the same will be said the moment he finds a new home.

Thoughts on the Nashville Predators potentially buying out the last year of Rich Clune’s contract? Is it smart business on Nashville’s part?

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Nashville Select Karel Vejmelka (5th Round, 145th Overall)

(Photo Credit: Juniorský hokej CZ/SK)

(Photo Credit: Juniorský hokej CZ/SK)

This off-season has already been one focused on goaltending. The Marek Mazanec, Magnus Hellberg, and Juuse Saros saga seems to have been figured out. That said, there is a new name to throw into the mix when thinking down the road and, like Mazanec, it’s a Czech. The Nashville Predators selected goaltender Karel Vejmelka in the fifth round.

Vejmelka has spent his entire career to this point in his native Czech Republic and most recently played with HC Dynamo Pardubice. When thinking of the height of the goalies within the Predators system you think tall – and Vejmelka is 6’3″ at the age of 19-years old. Last season, he spent the majority of his time in the under-20 squad where he played 37 games with a 2.54 goals against average and a  0.928 save percentage. With the senior team he played in 7 games and posted a 2.86 GAA and 0.922 SV%. He also was in net for the senior team in the playoffs for 6 games where he put up a 3.02 GAA and 0.915SV%.

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Nashville Select Alexandre Carrier (4th Round, 115th Overall)

(Photo Credit: Francois Laplante)

(Photo Credit: Francois Laplante)

With their second pick of the fourth round of the 2015 NHL Draft – the Nashville Predators have finally drafted a non-forward by taking defenseman Alexandre Carrier.

Carrier will be joining Gatineau Olympiques teammate Iakov Trenin in this Predators 2015 Draft Class. Trenin was the first pick selected by Nashville. Carrier has played for three seasons at Gatineau and was an alternate captain the last two seasons as well. His career stat line in juniors is: 90 points (17 goals, 73 assists) in 185 games, 0.49 points per game, 121 penalty minutes, and a plus/minus of +47. He is a native of Québec and turns 19-years old in October.

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Nashville Select Anthony Richard (4th Round, 100th Overall)

Val-d'Or Foreurs Anthony Richard celebrates his game winning goal on Edmonton Oil Kings goalie Tristan Jarry during second overtime period Memorial Cup hockey action in London, Ont., Tuesday, May 20, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley

Val-d’Or Foreurs Anthony Richard celebrates his game winning goal on Edmonton Oil Kings goalie Tristan Jarry during second overtime period Memorial Cup hockey action in London, Ont., Tuesday, May 20, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley

With the first of two draft picks in the fourth round the Nashville Predators have continued building up prospects at the forward position by selecting center Anthony Richard from Val-d’Or Foreur (QMJHL).

Richard is listed at 5’9″ on Elite Prospects and will turn 19-years old just before Christmas. He has spent three seasons in the QMJHL and has a stat-line of 151 points (74 goals, 77 assists) in 174 games – all of which have come with Val-d’Or. His 2014-15 season was easily his best in junior hockey: 91 points (43 goals, 48 assists) in 66 games with 78 penalty minutes and a plus/minus rating of -9. He had 52 points (25 goals, 27 assists) in the same amount of games the year prior.

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Nashville Select Thomas Novak (3rd Round, 85th Overall)

(Photo Credit: Brandon Anderson)

(Photo Credit: Brandon Anderson)

The Nashville Predators second selection of the 2015 NHL Draft is yet another forward. They’ve taken River Falls, Wisconsin native Thomas Novak with the eighty-fifth overall selection.

Novak is a product of the St. Thomas Academy where he played for three-years before playing with the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL last season. He scored 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) in 46 games to go along with 12 penalty minutes and a plus/minus rating of +14. He is committed to the University of Minnesota next season at turned 18-years old in late-April.

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Nashville Select Iakov Trenin (2nd Round, 55th Overall)

(Photo Credit: Claire Ratté // Olympiques de Gatineau)

(Photo Credit: Claire Ratté // Olympiques de Gatineau)

The second day of the 2015 NHL Draft has started up and should be a busy day for the Nashville Predators who didn’t have a first rounder yesterday. Their first selection comes in the second round with the fifty-fifth overall selection, Iakov Trenin.

Trenin is a native of Chelyabinsk, Russia who played for Gatineau Olympiques of the QMJHL last season. He scored 67 points (18 goals, 49 assists) in 58 games – along with 34 penalty minutes and a plus/minus rating of +17. Prior, he played for his hometown club Belye Medvedi Chelyabinsk. He is 18-years old and can play both left wing and center.

This makes back-to-back years where the Predators have selected a Russian forward in the second round. They drafted Vladislav Kamenev with the forty-second overall selection of the 2014 NHL Draft.

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