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Schwartz lead Preds prospects at mid-season

Since the Predators are fighting for the division title at the pro level, there is little talk about how the prospects are evolving. However, even if the present performance is quintessential to a team, the prospects are an integral part on what will happen in the future. So here is a top 20 prospects list for the Predators, with honorable mentions:

1. Jaden Schwartz

While the skill and work ethic have been there all along, there were questions about Schwartz size and his role at the top level of play. This year, Schwartz is answering the bell with gusto, playing at a point per game pace for the last 20 games and showing an impressive team leading +23.

2. Beau Bennett

Oft-injured, Bennett is still a very promising prospect despite a slow start to the season points wise. Playing a complete, two-way game, Bennett can do everything on the ice. He possesses a good on ice vision and can zip passes left and right without blinking. His shot is still potent despite losing strength in one of his wrist.

3. Derrick Pouliot

One of the best puck movers at the junior level, Pouliot has the poise and the stickhandling to create plenty of scoring opportunities for his team. On defense, he needs to be more steady but that's often something that can be improved when moving to the pro game.

4. Zemgus Girgensons

Just two years ago, Girgensons was still playing in the USHL. Making the jump so quick in the NHL isn't easy, but the industrious winger has shown the work ethic and talent to stick at the pro level. Competitive, intense and skilled with the puck, Girgensons is becoming an impact player at the top level.

5. Connor Murphy

From 2010 to 2013, Murphy has barely played the equivalent of an NHL season. Yet, he has developed quickly despite his multiple knee injuries and limited playing time. This year, he is showing at the pro level that he can combine size and skills to make an impact in the best league in the world. If he can stay healthy, he has a good future as a physical defenseman that can chip in from time to time.

6. Brett Ritchie

A big and physical winger with a scoring touch, Ritchie is learning to adapt to the quicker speed of the pro game in the AHL. He currently sits 11th among rookie scorers in the AHL but he has yet to score at his junior pace.

7. Ty Rattie

The prolific junior goal scorer is adapting to the tougher pro game in the AHL on a poor team. After a slow start, Rattie has quickly improved and leads his AHL team in goals with 12 in 33 games. He needs to add strength to his frame to become more effective.

8. Sami Vatanen

On the small side, Vatanen has been able to stick with the Ducks by exploiting his puck moving skills. He still needs work on his defense but his offensive skills should be enough to keep him in the big league.

9. Matthew Nieto

A quick skater with offensive instincs, Nieto has been able to stick with the Sharks based on his overall pro game. Recently, he has been getting a bit more ice-time after playing sporadically on the fourth lines for long stretches.

10. Steven Santini

The defense first oriented dman has refined his offensive game with Boston College. He uses his smooth skating to shutdown the opponents in the defensive zone. On top of that, he doesn't shy away from physical play. His style of play has been compared to Ryan McDonagh at the WJC.

11. Alex Stalock

Stalock has an unorthodox style of goaltending which combined with his recent injury history made his progression at the top level a question mark. So far he has provided a strong answer with excellent numbers through 9 presences between the pipes. Stalock boasts a .930 save percentage and a 2.06 goals against average and could see a little more ice time in the 2nd half of the season.

12. Adam Erne

Erne is a big and powerful winger that plays a pro style game. Unfortunately, he suffered a concussion right before the WJC and hasn't been a good contributor for team USA. With his junior team in Québec, he has been a major contributor in all aspects of the game.

13. Brian Dumoulin

In his first year in the AHL (2012-13), Dumoulin was probably the player that most improved his game throughout the year. Now this year, Dumoulin has gotten a few games at the pro level where he hasn't looked out of place. He has the size of an NHL defenseman but still needs to improve his defensive reads and his poise with the puck before making the jump to a full timer NHL player.

14. Scott Kosmachuk

The hard working forward with good hands is leading one of the top Canadian junior squads in Guelph. He is currently 4th in goals scored in the OHL.

15. William Carrier

The big winger is rounding his game with a weak Cape Breton team in the QMJHL. He needs to improve his skating to be more effective at the next level.

16. Pontus Aberg

Fast skater with a big shot, Aberg currently sits third in scoring on his team (Farjestad) in the SHL. He should come over next year to get acclimated to the North American game in the AHL.

17. Dalton Thrower

After a down year in 2012-13, Thrower has been traded to the Vancouver Giants where he has been named captain of the team. He is playing a leading role on the team and has put up 32 points in 34 games.

18. Cole Ully

The very thin winger is a leader in points for the poor Kamloops Blazers with 43 points in 39 games. His skills with the pucks are evident, but Ully really needs to bulk up and add strenght to his frame.

19. Alex Guptill

He has soft hands, a good frame and thinks the game well... however Guptill's work ethic has not been top notch and he will need to become more serious about his hockey career to make it to the next level.

20. Michael Brodzinski

The versatile defender has a good season as a freshman with the University of Minnesota, with 9 points through the first 14 games. He can move the puck but at the same time he is a steady presence in his zone.

Honorable mentions:

Dane Fox - With 46 goals in 40 games, Fox is having a monster season even by overager standards.

Paul Byron - He has not looked out of place this year in the NHL with the Flames, finally figuring out how to put up points at the top level.

Branden Troock - Plagued with injyrires since the half season of his draft year, Troock has finally taken off leading the Thunderbirds in points.

Tyler Bertuzzi - Known mostly for his agitating skills, Bertuzzi was over a point per game before his injury.

Sergei Andronov - He has improved his all-around game enough to be called up recently, even though he didn't suit up for a game.

John McCarron - Michael's older brother has put up more points than was expected of him with 17 points through 15 games despite being known more for his defensive and physical play.

Nathan Pancel -  With 35 goals in 38 games, Pancel is second in OHL scoring behind Dane Fox.