Time to head to the country music capital of the world, Nashville!
Austin Watson - London Knights
Even if his goal scoring numbers were way down, Watson definitely had his best OHL season in 2011/2012. I mean, winning the Wayne Gretzky award as OHL playoff MVP was a great way to cap off his Ontario Hockey League journey. He was so good in the playoffs; just completely dialed in. His offensive production was definitely critical, (he was a beast in front of the net and was very difficult for opposing defenses to stop), it was his defensive game that shined. He finished the postseason at +10, despite going up against the opposition's best. He was an absolute shot blocking machine and laid everything on the line in order to try and reach the Memorial Cup. At this point, I'm not entirely sure his offensive game will translate incredibly well to the NHL, but he's a good playmaker and he's not afraid to take some punishment in the corners or in front of the net to make a play. One thing is for certain, there aren't many prospects out there who are as much of a lock as Watson to play in the NHL. It's just a matter of whether he's a fourth line, penalty killing, defensive stopper, or a 2nd/3rd liner who can put up 40+ points a year. He'll get his chance to show his stuff in Milwaukee this year where I expect he won't need much transition time.
Josh Shalla - Saginaw Spirit
Shalla's goal scoring prowess has been quite spectacular over his 4 year OHL career, with back to back 40 goal seasons. He's definitely got a nose for the net that you can't teach. He's certainly not a flashy goal scorer, but you give him space in the slot or around the net and he's burying it. I thought that his skating looked a little bit better this year, and he was able to play off the rush a little bit more effectively. I also thought his play away from the puck took a step forward this year, as he was more engaged along the boards and defensively. These are two areas that will continue to need to improve before he hits the NHL, but there was definite progress this past season. It'll be interesting to see where Shalla slots in, in Milwaukee of the AHL this year. If he's playing on a scoring line and sees some powerplay time, I think he could find some success and possibly hit the 20 goal plateau. If he's buried on the depth chart, the learning curve could be a bit stiff for him as he tries to adjust to the types of things he's being asked to do.
David Elsner - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Certainly not a memorable year for Elsner, who quite frankly, was not much of a factor in the OHL. He was rather invisible most of the times I saw the Soo play. I had heard that he could be at least an impact checking winger, but I didn't see a whole lot of physicality from him either. His skating looked below average as well. He saw some limited time in the Soo's top six when they were trying to ignite their offense, but he didn't do much with the opportunity. The Hounds have released his rights and I'm assuming he'll be heading home to Germany. At this point, I don't see much of an NHL prospect here.
*of note, Preds 4th rounder in 2012 Mikko Vainonen is slated to play for the Kingston Frontenacs this year after being selected in the import draft. The Fronts will have a young defense, so he's going to be thrown right into the fire there and expected to play top minutes. From everything I've heard about him from European contacts, it sounds like he'll be up to the task.