Preds prospects get first look

Monday, July 9, 2001 at 1:00am

Outside the temperature is hovering near 100 but inside Centennial Sportsplex the ice is almost as hot as the Nashville Predators put approximately 35 of their prospects through a week of conditioning.

Predators coach Barry Trotz likes what he sees after watching the youngsters work out for two days on the ice.

It is the first opportunity for Trotz to see the players selected in June at the NHL Entry Draft, including defenseman Dan Hamhuis, a first-round selection, center Oliver Setzinger and defenseman Tomas Slovak.

"Setzinger has really good hands," Trotz said. "He seems to be able to find the net. He has an upbeat personality. He is sort of a guy you don't know anything about.

"Hamhuis and Slovak are highly-skilled guys. If you're looking for guys with upsides and pure skills, Setzinger, Hamhuis and Slovak are three that really stand out."

Hamhuis has stated he would like to be able to make the Predators roster this season, but the odds for such a scenario playing out are not high.

"I don't think Hamhuis is physically strong enough to play in the NHL right now, but I hope he will prove me wrong," Trotz said. "If he does, great.

"We're a fourth-year team now and hopefully getting better. Most of our young guys are going to have to go through the process of going back to juniors or going to Milwaukee. Hopefully they will play in Nashville eventually."

Hamhuis knows he is in camp with the first-round label hanging around his neck. He has tried not to think about it as he shakes the rust off of his game after a month away from the ice.

"I want to make a good first impression from the conditioning aspects to what I do on the ice," Hamhuis said. "It has been tough getting back on the ice. I have a long way to go yet, but that is what this camp is for - to shake the rust off and get ready for the season. There is a little more attention because of how high I was drafted, but I try not to think about it.

"I want to familiarize myself with the facility and the management to make it easier for me when I come back for training camp. It's a lot hotter than I'm used to, but it's a great city."

Trotz also has enjoyed watching right-winger Jordin Tootoo in action. The colorful and rugged Tootoo has been compared by chief amateur scout Craig Channel to Trotz when he was a player in junior hockey.

"Tootoo is a character guy who is not very big, but according to all reports when he starts playing games he plays real big," Trotz said. "He has a chance.

"He is a much better player than I ever was. I'll take that as a compliment from Craig. I wasn't gifted with a lot of skills. But I didn't like losing so I played pretty competitively and pretty hard."

Trotz has seen improvement from some of the older prospects such as left-winger Martin Erat and defenseman Timo Helbling.

Erat had 23 goals and 59 assists in the Western Hockey League last season and two goals and an assist in seven games for the Czech Republic in this year's World Junior Championships. Helbling scored seven goals and had 14 assists for Windsor in 54 games in the Ontario Hockey League and one goal and one assist in seven games for Switzerland in the World Junior Championships. Both were selected in the 1999 Entry Draft.

"I really like Helbling," Trotz said. "I like his size and his attitude and I like the way that he moves. He has a good skill level and is just getting better. He plays with a little bit of an edge.

"We got good reports on Erat all last season. He is really hard on the puck. He makes things happen. He forces people to make mistakes."

Trotz is enjoying evaluating the new crop of draft picks in an up close and personal setting, but he doesn't see a Scott Hartnell in the group. Hartnell made the Predators last season as an 18-year-old left-winger and played in 75 games with 16 points (two goals, 14 assists).

"Scott was a good fit and we felt he could play and develop with us," Trotz said. "I thought Scott was a guy who could play for us right off the bat. No one has struck me right now as being someone who can play here right away.

"I look at our draft now as what we will have five years down the road. It's like being a new father. You hope that when they are ready to go into the working world that they will be prepared. You look at potential and skill. I think our scouts have done a good job."

Today the players will be at Vanderbilt University's track for an off-ice workout. Players will return to the Sportsplex ice Tuesday and Wednesday for sessions at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Another off-ice workout is slated for Thursday at Vanderbilt. The conditioning camp will end Friday when Group 1 faces Group 2 in the Nemo Cup at 9 a.m. at the Sportsplex.

The public is invited to attend the workouts at the Sportsplex. The crowds Saturday and Sunday were large.

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