As the Nashville Predators go – so does that ever expansive depth coming at defenseman. While this current season was setting up to be so much more than it currently is I fear how most other organizations could have handled stretches that the Predators have had to go through this season without the depth that they already possess. It’s scenarios like this season as well as long-term planning as to why stockpiling and creating new talent at defense is a terrific asset to have.
One of those long-term plans came with the Predators third draft selection in the 2014 NHL Draft, Jack Dougherty. The 20-year old from St. Paul, Minnesota was drafted in the second round, fifty-first overall, as a product of the U.S. National Development Team. He had split time ahead of his draft year between the Juniors and Under-18 squads where he had a combined 2013-14 season total of: 34 points (10 goals, 24 assists) in 78 games. He also participated and won Gold for Team USA in the 2014 IIHF World Juniors U-18 Championship – scoring the opening goal in the Gold Medal Game against the Czech Republic.
As a small aside. That 2014 NHL Draft Class for the Predators right now features their first five selections of the class all playing in the AHL or NHL: Kevin Fiala, Vladislav Kamenev, Justin Kirkland, and Viktor Arvidsson. The latter of the class, Joonas Lyytinen and Aaron Irving, turned up to Milwaukee around the end of the 2015-16 season and Irving managed to make his pro debut with the Admirals. Fiala and Arvidsson are both in the NHL right now. Kamenev is knocking on the door for his first NHL call up. And both Dougherty and Kirkland are roommates in Milwaukee playing in the AHL. Irving remains in juniors while Lyytinen is back playing for his lifelong club KalPa in his native Finland. As it stands today, that was quite an impressive haul for Nashville.
At the time Dougherty was drafted I’m not sure he could have imagined the path he was about to travel en route to turning pro. After being drafted by the Predators his sights veered towards the college direction where he would join the University of Wisconsin. That 2014-15 season for the Badgers was an absolute disaster. The program went from having a 24-11-2 record and a first round elimination in the NCAA Tournament to a mortifying 4-26-5 record that saw only a pair of wins against conference opponents. His time as a collegiate athlete would end after just one season with the Badgers and he would move out to the Western Hockey League (WHL) for junior hockey.
If there was anything that Dougherty needed after that lone season with the Badgers it was a change of scenery. He was able to find that and success as a member of the Portland Winterhawks. He was named an alternate captain for the 2015-16 season and produced 52 points (11 goals, 41 assists) in 68 games. He was in the top fifteen in scoring amongst WHL defensemen last season and was the second highest scoring rookie defenseman only to teammate Caleb Jones. His season with Portland ended early following a first round sweep by the Everett Silvertips from the 2015 WHL Playoffs.
While no one at any level wants an early playoff exit there was an upside to Portland being eliminated so quickly. Dougherty was able to join the Milwaukee Admirals in the closing stages of their 2015-16 season. Usually, this example plays out a great deal by the end of an AHL season. It serves real well to give young prospects the chance to see the professional hockey lifestyle up close and get a taste of what’s ahead of them. For Dougherty he was able to do one better than that. He made his pro debut. And he also managed to record his first career pro point, a primary assist, ten-minutes into that pro debut. Plus, that weekend he played in both games on the road against the Charlotte Checkers which would see the Admirals clinch their first divisional title since the 2010-11 season. Dougherty would play once more following that in another road game against the Rockford IceHogs in the regular season finale before playing observer from there on out.
What makes this season so special for Dougherty isn’t just that it is his first career professional playing season. It’s that he is effectively sticking with the same team that he was with for the first time since playing for St. Thomas Academy when he was 16-years old. He can finally settle in and continue to grow with the same coaching staff and a group of players that he is familiar with. That’s usually not viewed as a luxury – but it is for Dougherty given these last three-years.
It’s been an up-down-and-around beginning to Dougherty’s 2016-17 season. With all the fluctuations that have taken place within the organization at defense this season it feels like Dougherty has gone through the motions that come with that. “Is he paired with Jimmy Oligny or Trevor Murphy tonight,” is a question that comes to mind nearly every game now. That can be tricky to handle early in the year. Fortunately, with enough in-game experience and all the practices that a pro team delivers, the “who am I playing with” aspect all becomes a much easier process to handle. Dougherty does appear to be adjusting better and better. And, while he might not look it for his size, it’s important to remember that he is the fourth youngest player on the Admirals. There is still far more to come from the Minnesota kid.
Without further ado. Let’s learn even more about Mr. Minnesota, as I call him, from the man himself. Fifteen questions. And I think on his part he’s glad we conducted this interview prior to the end of the NFL season… because Vikings.
A big thank you to Jack Dougherty for taking the time to conduct this interview. As for what is next for Fifteen – that is where you come in. Please leave your suggestion for who should be featured next in the comment section below.
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