Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Predators Rookie Camp Series Part Three: Two Players On The Bubble

As we continue with Part Three of our series on various aspects of issues to be decided for players that attended the Nashville Predators' Rookie Camp, we recognize that not every battle is to make the NHL squad at this time.

We will look at a pair of players that are eligible to move up the ladder from Canadian Major Junior Hockey to the AHL but due to a numbers crunch of top Pred prospects, they may have to return to the CHL.

First a little ground work (apologies to those north of the border - we are a nontraditional market). Major Junior Hockey falls under the umbrella of the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) and encompasses three leagues  - the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), the Quebec Major Junior League (QMJL), and Western Hockey League (WHL).

Teams are primarily made up of players that are 17, 18, or 19 years old but three 20 year old (aka overage players) are allowed per team. Four 16 year olds are permitted and on rare exception (two to date, John Tavares in 2005 and Aaron Ekblad this year) 15 year olds can play.

A side issue that we will address in a later post is that 19 year olds in the CHL cannot move to the AHL under the current league agreements.

We will spotlight two Predators players that are on the bubble of going to the AHL as a pro player or returning to their Junior teams as overage players for a final season.

Taylor Aronson is a promising 6'1", 205 pound, Predator defensive prospect that we first met in Los Angeles at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft when he was taken in the third round. He has played 71 games each of the prior two seasons with the Portland Winter Hawks of the WHL and has posted 30 and 37 points. More impressive was his +36 last season.

Currently, he is one of seven defensemen in the rookie camp and the youngest of the bunch. Scott Valentine and Charles-Oliver Roussel are also D-men born in 1991 that could also return to their CHL teams.

Ryan Ellis could technically also go back but that is not going to happen. Also to be considered is Teemu Laakso and Roman Josi are in the Nashville/Milwaukee mix but are going straight to the primary training camp.

Aronson has been slowed in his career by shoulder surgery and an ankle injury but says that he has fully recovered from both. He spent the summer working on "quickness, leg strength, upper body, healing my ankle and rehabbing my shoulder."

He realizes the task that he is facing but would not specualte on where things stand. "There are a lot of older guys and I’m the youngest one so I can’t really do anything but work my hardest and let the coaches decide."

Aronson remains focused on one thing while in camp. (To get to Milwaukee) "right now, that’s my goal."

The second player that we will discuss is 6'1" 202 pound winger, Josh Shalla who was taken in the fourth round of this summer's NHL Entry Draft in Minnesota. He was not at the draft in person to hear his name called. "I went the year before and did not get picked so I didn’t want to go again. I knew if I didn’t get drafted that I would at least go to a camp."

Shalla is a bit of a late bloomer that has four seasons of OHL League play under his belt. Last season was his best when he scored 47 goals and picked up 25 assists for the Saginaw Spirit. He is one of eight Spirit players in NHL camps. "We have a bunch of guys off in different camps - they want to stay (in the NHL) too. I’m the only one eligible to play in the AHL this year."

At development camp, Shalla was told specifically by the Preds "to work on my skating and get stronger because you are playing against men. I definitely did all that and I’m feeling good so far so we’ll see what happens."

As to what type of player he is most like Shalla said, "A James Neal kind of player, power forward, a guy that plays down low with the puck."

Shalla plans to do his best and let the chips fall as they may, "It’s not up to me. I’d like to play in Milwaukee and plan to do every thing I can to get to the next level but in the end it is Nashville" decision where I end up."

Both players have their work cut out for them to advance to the AHL. Milwaukee coach Kirk Muller commented on the what the pair has to do to make the move to the professional ranks. "Everyone brings something different to the table and for them, it is showing the speed and if they are capable of playing at this level, that their confidence level is so that they can play at the AHL level."

Further Muller said, "You see that there is a time there with those guys that there will be a progression process that they are at a level but are coach-able to keep growing until they get to the Nashville level."

It will be interesting to see where the whole crop of 1991 prospects end up when decisions are made up until the end of the primary Predator camp.

More Later...

Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass

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