Austin Watson got his championship in 2009. In 2010, he wanted a chance.
Eager to play a higher role, the 6-foot-3, 185-pound right wing agreed to a midseason trade from the Windsor Spitfires, the top team in all of North American junior hockey, to the Peterborough Petes.
Windsor climbed to the top of the Canadian Hockey League again and won its second straight Memorial Cup this spring. Watson moved up most – if not all – draft boards and was selected in the first round, 18th overall, by the Nashville Predators on Friday.
“It was definitely a tough decision to leave a place I had been for a year and a half,” Watson said. “But I definitely thought it was necessary to continue my hockey career and to grow my game.”
He entered the draft as the 14th-ranked North American skater, according to the NHL’s Central Scouting Service, which was up 11 spots from the midseason rankings. The Hockey News ranked him as the 15th-best overall prospect and McKeen’s Draft Guide had him rated No, 19.
Eight of the first nine overall selections, and 11 forwards in all went before Nashville made its selection.
“Our list was not that long – we did not have 18 players we liked at that spot,” Nashville general manager David Poile said. “There was a bit of nervousness as things went along, but we absolutely got a player we want and we need.”
Watson is just the second forward taken in the first round by Nashville in the past six drafts. The only other was center Colin Wilson (seventh overall, 2008), but the Ann Arbor, Mich., product is the fourth American in five years chosen by the Predators with their first pick.
“He gives it every night … and does a lot of the little things that help a team win,” Poile said. “He also has good leadership qualities. We’re trying to get bigger and at 6-foot-3 ½ he’s certainly going to get bigger and stronger.”
Watson played 42 games for Windsor before he was traded on Jan 16. In his third game with Peterborough, he sustained a broken ankle when he blocked a shot. He returned to action in late February and had seven goals in his first give games back.
In all, he had nine goals and 11 assists in 10 games with Peterborough. That was more than half as many points as he had with Windsor (11 goals, 14 assists) before the deal. In 63 games with Windsor in 2008-09, he had just 10 goals and 19 assists.
“To be able to go to Peterborough and to play on the first line and be on the penalty kill and power play, I think, made me a more complete player,” Watson said. “It was a decision I had to make, and in choosing to accept a trade, I knew I might be giving up a chance to win another championship.
“I was glad for the guys on that team that they did win, and I think it worked out for me as well.”
The 2010 NHL Draft will continue with the second through seventh rounds Saturday.