Nashville Assistant GM Paul Fenton was in attendance for Milwaukee’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Rockford IceHogs on Saturday night. Mr. Fenton was very kind to give me a few minutes of his time in the first intermission.
Admirals Roundtable: So what kind of a fun are you missing out on by being here in Milwaukee instead of being in Nashville right now?
Paul Fenton: Well obviously the start of training camp is always a very exciting time. For me, it’s more important to be here, and to monitor our kids and our future, and try to keep them on track with all the distractions that are going to happen in the next bit.
AR: What are some of the things that are making your job a little more difficult now, due to the lockout and the shortened season?
PF: Starting this in the middle of the season, for an American League team….we’ve been inundated with some injuries here. On top of the injuries, we’ve just recalled three players. So it makes our lineup even thinner, and makes it more difficult to ice a team that we would really like to have in a more balanced type of lineup. Hopefully we’ll get a couple of these guys back, but with the way things go, we’ll get somebody back and somebody else will get a boo-boo, and then you’re reeling again. It’s important for me to plan, look at different options at guys that we may have to use in the near future both here and in Nashville.
AR: Due to the shortened schedule, does that change the way that you do roster management on the Predators side? Previously maybe you wanted to have X amount of forwards on the roster at any given point. Does the shortened season change the formula at all?
PF: There’s still a 23 man roster. A lot of times we’ll just carry 22 guys and we’ll just have to play that by ear. There will be some bumps and bruises and early season aches that you’re generally not used to. So we’re anticipating needing a lot of depth.
AR: Once Bourque is healthy, do you think there’s room for him and Chris Mueller in Nashville?
PF: Let’s just take that one step at a time. Bourquey has been out over a month now and we’ve got to let him heal. Chris has earned his position both the way he played last year and the way he’s played this year. Our coaches are very familiar with him. So at that point, if we have a challenge, then we’ll look at it then.
AR: Cam Reid had an incident with familiar face Triston Grant last week. He’s up to 20 games on his PTO right now. What do you think are the odds of him getting a regular contract?
PF: We’ll keep him around. I’ve already talked to his agent about it, and we’ll see what we can do. For me, he’s played very well. Certainly, this was an unfortunate incident. He got hit hard…it was a clean hit. There’s no repercussions to go back and try to get even or anything. Even though he didn’t see it coming, he realizes it was a fair hit, and he’s just got to come back and get healthy and start playing again the way he was.
AR: A guy that a lot of the Nashville hockey blogs are raving about is Austin Watson. What are your thoughts on his development from the start of the season?
PF: It’s great to see his maturity. Certainly being the high goal scorer down here, it’s in his favor. But as we’ve done in the past, we’re not going to rush our kids. We believe in development, we believe in giving them the time to hone their game. He’s 20 years old, he’s a first year pro….there are some kids that are ready to step in and take that next step. But for us, it’s important for him to play 15 to 20 minutes, play both ends of the ice, contribute both offensively and defensively, block shots, become a leader…and that’s what’s contagious with his game. And eventually, he will step into our lineup and play. And when he’s ready, then he’ll be able to take the minutes that we expect from him.
AR: I’m sure it’s tough to say right now, but do you project him as a top 6 forward or a bottom 6 forward?
PF: We don’t have any expectations to say ‘you’re going to be on my first or second line’. To me, he’s the consummate guy that you can play him on your first line, you can play him on your fourth line. Just depends on the role that you are assessing with him. He’s the type of kid that plays both ends of the ice — he always has. And when he’s on top of his game, he’s going to contribute to the offense just as much as he is to the defense. And when you look at it in that light, then you know what a valuable piece that you have.
AR: Of the guys that were here last year, who in your mind has taken the biggest step forward this year?
PF: I don’t know if I would say one guy has or one guy hasn’t. We’re starting to see guys mature. Victor Bartley, who had a great year last year, continues to show his game going forward. Kevin Henderson has as of late, especially, played very very well. I could have given him consideration to be in Nashville as well right now. Taylor Beck continues to get better. Michael Latta is developing his whole game. We’ve asked him to work on the wing instead of his natural position at center. By doing that, these kids give themselves some versatility to the game that we’re all going to be looking for.
Many thanks again to Paul Fenton for his generosity with his time, and his thoughtful answers.