Every year in March comes out Hockey News Future Watch. While these rankings are by no means a bible, it is still an indication about the quality of the youth pipeline each team owns. This year, the Predators rank well in all categories. Nashville has five prospects 21 and under that were considered graduated, second only to the Avalanche who owns six graduated prospects. In the top 50, Predators have four prospects for the third rank behind Chicago and Anaheim who have six and five respectively. Overall, in the top 75, Predators stand at the top with six prospects along with the Ducks, the Blackhawks and the Islanders.
The first group features a total of 49 prospects that are considered graduated and thus absent from the top 75 prospects. The Predators own roughly about 10% of that pool of prospects. This group is composed of Justin Faulk, Zemgus Girgensons, Jaden Schwartz, Matt Nieto and Cory Murphy. That healthy nucleus of youth constitutes a big part of the future for Nashville.
Then within the top 75, there are a total of six Predators prospects ranked. Two defenders lead the way in Derrick Pouliot and Sami Vatanen both inside the top 25. Then just a bit behind but still within the top 50 are Brett Ritchie and Brian Dumoulin. Ty Rattie at 51 is just outside the top 50 while Steven Santini is ranked in the 60s.
Overall, considering both groups, the Predators have 11 prospects out of a total of 124 top prospects and young players. While overall balanced, that group features a few more defenders than forwards (6 to 5).
With a good young goaltending between the pipes in Varlamov, two other defensemen under 25 in Ryan McDonagh and Karl Alzner plus six defenders considered within the top 125 upcoming young players, the Predators have built a strong base. This should allow the departure of veterans over the next few years: Sami Salo, Mark Streit and Brooks Orpik.
At the forward position, the youth movement still has to take place. Within the current top 12, only three players are under 26 years old: Wayne Simmonds, Derrick Brassard and Nick Spaling. Fortunately, Girgensons, Schwartz and Nieto should all become fixtures in the near future to replace aging veterans like Ray Whitney, Jarome Iginla and David Legwand. Chris Higgins, R.J Umberger and David Moss aren’t getting younger either and there’s Guillaume Latendresse who is likely to retire at the age of only 26. Ritchie and Rattie could play a big role in replacing those guys, along with Beau Bennett whose in a special situation, being with the Penguins but currently injured (and thus not featured at all in Future Watch). The Predators have drafted more forwards than defensemen the last two years to try and develop young players that can also chip in replacing the aging veterans.
Globally, the Nashville Predators are in a good situation, with a bagful of quality prospects and a decent core of younger players already playing big minutes for the team. Still, look for the Predators to keep on adding forwards at the draft in 2014.