This entire season has had a running story in the background. The story read like a question that was asked in louder and louder tones of voice as the season dragged on. Will Jimmy Vesey, the Nashville Predators third round selection in the 2012 NHL Draft, sign? The answer to that question came last night and it was an emphatic no.
There are several places to read about all things Vesey and the Predators’ General Manager David Poile‘s response to the news. For things specific to that I’d say they should be rather easy to find via search. That news story is really all for the Nashville media to pick to pieces on-site and I’m sure, in the days to come, there will be more reactions and opinions made from Vesey’s decision to opt for free agency rather than sign with the Predators.
This story isn’t about Vesey as much as it is why a person in my position hasn’t really cared too much about the question, “will Vesey sign?” It’s not that I don’t care about him as a prospect or person. Far from it. He’s had a tremendous collegiate career and I feel that his decision to enjoy a full college experience and earn a degree is something that more people should actually be applauding him for. Where my lack of caring comes in is quite simple. My eyes are always gazing at the Predators prospect talent pool and, considering Vesey wasn’t under contract in the first place, that pool’s depth hasn’t been decreased. It’s deep. It’s young. And it gets better with every draft class.
Playing for the Milwaukee Admirals right now there are currently ten players, who I would deem prospects, that I would have no problem saying they could play in the NHL tomorrow if they were absolutely needed. Amazingly, one of those players isn’t even under contract to the Predators but rather the Admirals on an AHL contract for the next two-seasons. That list, in no particular order, goes as follows: Kevin Fiala, Frédérick Gaudreau, Vladislav Kamenev, Max Görtz, Pontus Åberg, Félix Girard, Jimmy Oligny, Taylor Aronson, Marek Mazanec, and Juuse Saros.
For those that don’t know – the man under contract to the Admirals, not the Predators, that is on that list is the shutdown defenseman Oligny.
All of those players I feel could go up, log a game, and perform well. There is a rather good reason for that, too. They’ve been in the system already this season, for some even longer, and can make the transition rather seamlessly. It’s something that has made the moves up for players such as Austin Watson, Miikka Salomäki, Anthony Bitetto, Viktor Arvidsson, and Colton Sissons feel like the evolution in their developmental process that it really should be. They’ve absorbed Predators hockey already. They’ve performed it at the AHL level. And now they’re stretching their legs and warming up in Predators gold. If it sounds familiar at all it is because the Predators have made something of a process out of their developmental and roster organization throughout the years. The Predators roster right now features fourteen players who spent significant time at the AHL level before being familiar names to the NHL circuit. It’s how they’ve operated for years: draft, develop, and promote from within.
What many seem to lose sight of in the mystique factor of having Vesey enter the Predators fold, only to seemingly lose him via free agency now, is that it doesn’t lessen the current team in Nashville nor the future team in the years to come.
The Predators 4-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche last night was just their third regulation loss from their last twenty-two games. They’re doing fine. The Admirals are currently leading the AHL’s Central Division, have the most points (87) in the AHL’s Western Conference, and are tied with their opponent tonight -the Grand Rapids Griffins- for the most wins (41) in the AHL’s Western Conference. The Admirals are doing fine. And, not to sound harsh or nasty because it isn’t the intent when I say it, but this has all happened without Vesey on either team.
A look even further down the road has more and more prospects on the radar. There are currently four players under contract to the Predators playing junior hockey right now: Yakov Trenin, Alexandre Carrier, Anthony Richard, and Jack Dougherty. There are also several names drafted by the Predators who have been enjoying great 2015-16 seasons at the moment that have yet to sign entry level contracts: Justin Kirkland, Aaron Irving, and Janne Juvonen. The future wave of prospects will only make the Predators and the Admirals continue to operate at the high rate of success that they have.
A season ago, the Predators didn’t even have a first round draft choice. That pick was packaged alongside Brendan Leipsic to the Toronto Maple Leafs in one of those “we’re going all in” trades that failed. The lesson of that scenario was learned from and the Predators made a massive trade by acquiring Ryan Johansen from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Seth Jones. The move was made long in advance of the NHL Trade Deadline and, on that day, the lone trade the Predators made was one that was specifically aimed at bolstering the Admirals defense. Should Vesey had told the Predators organization in advance of the NHL Trade Deadline that he would be testing free agency would that have been the case? Would the Predators have traded more future assets in an effort to rent a booster to the current campaign? And, if that happened, who is to say the exact same unfortunate failure of last season wouldn’t be playing out once again now?
The current state of things is great right where it is across the organization. It really is. One player entering, leaving, or never joining doesn’t quite rattle that.
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