Yesterday’s signing of Austin Watson was good business for both parties involved. The Nashville Predators locked him up for the next two-years with a two-way contract for 2015-16 and a one-way contract for 2016-17. It allows for flexibility this coming season for the Predators and gives Watson his eventual reward of an NHL contract.
For the longest time it has felt like Predators General Manager David Poile has brought up Watson’s name in relation to prospects and the Milwaukee Admirals. While that’s great and everything it never really means that much when he’s stuck at the AHL level. These last three seasons with the Admirals he has never been scratched nor missed a game and has scored 127 points (68 goals, 59 assists) in 224 games. His lone NHL spell came that first full-season with the Admirals back in 2012-13 where he played 6 games and scored a goal. Since, while doing better and better, he has been stuck at the AHL level.
There are of course reasons for Watson being stuck in Milwaukee. His speed has been a question mark in the past (and possibly the present). And it’s a question mark whether or not he would do better on the lower forward lines than the crop up in Nashville. That same sort of question mark was thrown on top of Colton Sissons this time last year when the Predators went after veteran centers on one-year contracts instead of bringing players up from within. It’s a matter of risk taking from the Predators perspective. How do you know what you have if you don’t give it a try? And what happens if you wait too long without giving these players a shot?
That last question is precisely what gets solved in the second year of Watson’s new contract. It’s likely that he starts and probably plays the majority of his 2015-16 season with the Admirals. Yet, he becomes an impact call up if needed and -with another consistent AHL campaign- earns his NHL one-way deal for the next season. Flexible contract. Works for Nashville and rewards Watson for his efforts and contributions within the organization so far.
I feel like Watson has been one of the more reliable and consistent members of the Admirals during his time with the team. He’s not flashy like Kevin Fiala. His shot isn’t wicked like Viktor Arvidsson. He doesn’t even hit like Miikka Salomäki. Nope, instead he’s just good in all three zones of the ice in all game situations. He does that while being a 20+ goal scorer and while being a leader on and off the ice:
This deal also sets a great example for current Admirals players and Predators prospects that make good on their AHL time down the road. It shows that the parent club does have eyes on its AHL product and that it wants to keep pieces in place that work hard. That is why qualifying offers were given out to players such as Taylor Aronson, Anthony Bitetto, and Magnus Hellberg yesterday. Bitetto and Hellberg have been working hard for quite some time now while Aronson really burst back on the scene with a good 2014-15 season. This time next year we could be seeing this same sort of sentiment in regards to Sissons and Salomäki.
The sign outside of the Admirals locker room states that the road to Nashville goes through Milwaukee. That saying doesn’t mean much when prospects get forgotten or left behind at the AHL level. The second half of Watson’s two-year contract goes right to that saying to prove it right. Good on Nashville for continuing to develop from within. Good on Watson for keeping on the Predators’ radar.