New contract gives defense prospect another opportunity to make it with Predators

Wednesday, June 15, 2011 at 6:53pm

David Poile admits that Teemu Laakso probably got a raw deal last season. Wednesday, he gave the Nashville Predators defense prospect a new deal.

Nashville signed the 24-year-old to a one-year, two-way contract, which will pay him an NHL salary of $675,000 and an AHL salary of $105,000.

“I know the coaches want to give him a good try this year,” Poile, the Predators general manager, said. “They actually probably wanted to play him and give him more of an opportunity [last season].”

The fact that he played under a two-way deal had a lot to do with the fact that Laakso spent much of 2010-11 with Milwaukee in the AHL. He was recalled to the NHL three times but appeared in just one contest — the seventh of the season.

“I think if we didn’t have Alexander Sulzer on a one-way contract last year that Laakso would have gotten his opportunity sooner and more often,” Poile said. “That’s probably not fair that I’m saying that, but it’s the bottom line.”

Sulzer was traded to Florida near the NHL trade deadline but the Predators finished the regular season with just six defensemen. Laakso was with Nashville and available for most of the team’s playoff run but did not appear in a postseason game.

Veteran Shane O’Brien is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the month and chances for his return are diminished by Laakso’s new deal. The Predators need an affordable option at that position given the fact that captain Shea Weber, who is scheduled to become a restricted free agent, is in line for a hefty raise.

O’Brien earned $1.6 million last season.

Laakso had career-highs of eight goals, 22 assists, 30 points and a plus-15 rating in 74 appearances last season for the Admirals. He was second on the team in plus-minus and his goals and power play goals (four) both were second among Milwaukee defensemen.

A third-round draft choice (78th overall) in 2005, Laakso has 52 points (14 goals, 38 assists) in 152 career AHL appearances. He has yet to record a point in eight NHL contests.

“He’s a guy who probably could have come up but we didn’t have a lot of injuries [on defense] throughout the year,” associate coach Peter Horachek said. “… [Laakso] is a guy who has been around the organization for a while. He’s big and strong and he has been very successful in Milwaukee.

“I think that he probably could have had more time last year. … I think he’s a guy who is ready to play.”