The NHL career of the Nashville Predators’ most recent first-round draft pick was delayed — as expected — on Thursday when defenseman Ryan Ellis was reassigned to his junior team in the Ontario Hockey League.
Two other top choices look as though they will make it to the final weekend of the preseason, however.
Defenseman Jonathan Blum (23rd overall, 2007) and Colin Wilson (seventh overall, 2008) were among the 34 players on the roster who ventured to Fort Campbell on Thursday for a day of team-building exercises.
With just two preseason games to go, the two remain longshots to start the season in Nashville.
“We always say the road to Nashville goes through Milwaukee,” assistant general manager Paul Fenton said “That’s not a bad thing either. We’ve had great success there with our development process.”
Wilson signed his first contract this spring following a two-year career at Boston University, and Blum made the leap to the professional ranks following a highly decorated career in the Western Hockey League.
The last Predators’ draft pick never to play in the American Hockey League was 2000 top choice Scott Hartnell. Last season, two first-time professionals, Patric Hornqvist (a 2005 seventh-round pick) and Ryan Jones (a 2004 fourth-round pick by Minnesota), opened the season with the Predators but each ultimately spent significant time in Milwaukee.
Wilson, a center, has appeared in only one of the four preseason games. He had a goal and two assists with a plus-3 rating and four shots on goal in the preseason opener, a 5-0 victory over Atlanta. He since has been slowed by a groin injury.
“I never really get too nervous before games,” Wilson said following his three-point night. “I just know that I take care of my business and what I can control and the rest will take care of itself. (Against Atlanta) I didn’t get too high or too low, and I’ve been told by a few guys that’s what it takes to be a pro.”
Blum has played in two of the four games. He has recorded three shots on goal but no points and has produced a minus-1 rating. He was fifth among Nashville defensemen in ice time last Friday at Carolina and again the next night against Columbus.
“I’ve pretty much done all of it and gotten all the awards,” Blum said. “Now, I’m just really looking forward to professional hockey.”
Trotz said he wants to have his roster close to the regular-season limit of 23 in time for the final preseason games — Saturday at home versus Carolina and Sunday at Columbus. He also said his goal is to play several players in both of those contests, which will limit the need for extra bodies.
Yet injuries could force management to keep a few more players than planned in camp through the weekend. They also could create one last opportunity for promising youngsters to make an impression.
“You have to come in confident but not cocky,” Wilson said. “I have to have the mindset that I can make this team — and I’m confident that I can. But if I don’t … if you look around the dressing room there’s a ton of guys who have played in Milwaukee and are now top players on this team.
“If I can do the same thing, that’s fine.”