Yesterday, the Nashville Predators announced their Pre-Season schedule and rosters for both the Rookie Tournament and following Training Camp. The Rookie Tournament roster can be found here and the Training Camp roster can be found here. Both are subject to change but offer a quick glimpse into those competing in a week’s time. Also, for the uniform enthusiast, you might notice quite a few members of the Milwaukee Admirals getting either brand new rookie numbers or their choice of uniform numbers.
With the Rookie Tournament roster there are numerous familiar or -soon to be- familiar names due for either the Milwaukee or Norfolk Admirals: Frédéric Allard, Alex Carrier, Jack Dougherty, Samuel Girard, Tyler Kelleher, Justin Kirkland, Joonas Lyytinen, Angelo Miceli, Trevor Mingoia, Tyler Moy, Matt O’Connor, Jake Paterson, Emil Pettersson, Anthony Richard, and Yakov Trenin.
Of those names there are some wild cards. The first to sort out would be Girard who still has a year remaining of his junior playing career with Shawinigan Cataractes in the QMJHL. The 19-year old suited up with the Admirals to make his pro playing debut at the end of the 2016-17 season and even produced a goal before season’s end. Depending on how Shawinigan’s season plays out he could join in time for the Admirals 2018 Calder Cup aspirations. Though, the player that stands out the most as a wild card will be 22-year old Finnish defenseman Lyytinen. He signed a contract with Kärpät in Finland’s top flight known as Liiga. He then signed his entry level contract with the Predators. At Rookie Development Camp that he told Admirals Roundtable, “I think I want to come to the Training Camp and see how things go there.” Well, he will be arriving all whilst Kärpät begin their 2017-18 season. Considering how deep the AHL depth is currently with young defensive talent it could be that any move keeping him in the mix within North America this season might have him down with the Norfolk Admirals in the ECHL first. The question coming from both the Rookie Tournament and Pre-Season Training Camp will be whether or not both himself or the Predators feel now is the time to get going or if he should hang back home for one more season before getting a better chance for more consistent AHL playing time.
You also don’t have a bigger wild card than what should be the biggest Pre-Season storyline: Admirals goaltending. The battle between O’Connor and Paterson starts with the Rookie Tournament and then spices up when both spill into the Predators main camp where Anders Lindbäck will be waiting. This race for first, second, and third choice is still very much up in the air. Lindbäck is who I feel the Predators hope to be the successor out of the bunch to be a reliable third choice NHL option for them. But, as his recent history of form goes, that simply is no lock. If O’Connor or Paterson show well at the Rookie Tournament it could trickle into the run back to Milwaukee when that position in net gets solidified prior to the start of the AHL season.
Away from the known knowns there are also a few lads that did play a part during Rookie Development Camp that will also be playing in the Rookie Tournament. The Portland Winterhawks duo of Ryan Hughes and Alex Overhardt will both be present. Which, to me, feels odd given both are due to play for the Winterhawks in the WHL this season. Neither have been drafted. But both are being given a real good grooming experience by the Predators. Perhaps that’s a sign of more to come. Hopefully the same can be said of someone the Predators did draft, Jacob Paquette. The Kingston Frontenacs defenseman will be returning to the mix after participating in Summer after being drafted in the seventh round of the 2017 NHL Draft.
Others on the Rookie Camp squad include: Christian Hilbrich, Pavel Koltygin, T.J. Melancon, and Mathieu Olivier. It’s Melancon who becomes a pro this season. If there was someone looking to impress to earn a contract it will be the 21-year old defenseman that played his trade for the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in the QMJHL. Though the same can be said of Hilbrich who completed his first pro season in 2016-17 and did so under the watch of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and Wheeling Nailers. The majority of his season was spent in the ECHL in Wheeling. Could be become another Derek Army?
Speaking of everyone’s favorite cookie guru. Army joins the immense wealth of talent that will take part in the main Pre-Season Camp for the Predators. It is going to be fascinating to see just how that roster gets trimmed and especially how the defensive group will be whittled down. I have to believe, with no veteran defensive presence signed or prepped to go for the Admirals in the AHL such as Matt Irwin was this time last season – soon to be followed by Adam Pardy, that someone should be getting dropped or waiver tested in an effort to get an experienced defenseman anchoring the Admirals AHL efforts. Perhaps Milwaukee will need to update its flag after how last season worked out. Perhaps Anthony Bitetto or Yannick Weber become options. One thing is for certain: Alexei Emelin is still a member of the Predators roster.
What is the most interesting storyline to you heading into the 2017-18 season? Who is your first-choice goaltender in Milwaukee right now? How will the Nashville Predators sort out their current defensive depth and will the Milwaukee Admirals gain an asset from that excess in talent? And who do you feel ends up fighting the good fight until the final roster cuts in Nashville?
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