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Dev. Camp notebook: Watson aims for NHL spot

Of the 30 players chosen in the first round of the 2010 NHL Draft, 11 have already made it to the NHL. Predators prospect Austin Watson, chosen 18th overall in 2010, hopes he’s the next to join that list.

This past week was Watson’s third trip to the Development Camp in Nashville, and the 6’3” forward is coming off his best season yet.

Watson’s 68 regular season points (split between Peterborough and London) tied a career-high, but he burst on to the scene in the postseason with a 17-point effort in 19 games. Watson was named to the CHL’s 2012 Memorial Cup All-Star team as a result to his great playoff run that helped propel London to the historic tournament’s title game.

Two years after winning the Memorial Cup with Windsor in a lesser role, this past spring was Watson’s second trip to the CHL’s final four.

“Just getting to be able to experience that again and be a leader in the situation, rather than a wide-eyed young guy trying to figure out what was going on, was pretty awesome,” said Watson.

After a successful OHL career, the 20-year-old prospect is ready for a “new chapter” in his book, as he puts it. Watson plans on turning pro leading up to the 2012-13 season, meaning he will likely play in either Nashville or Milwaukee come October. He hopes it’s the former, but understands if it’s the latter.

“I want to come in here with my best foot forward and see where that takes me,” Watson said. “Any decisions are up to Barry and the staff, but for me I just want to have the best showing I can have. Whatever they feel is best for me and my development, that’s what the best thing is.”

Last summer, Craig Smith caught the attention of the Predators’ brass with an impressive showing at Development Camp. Smith continued that success in training camp and cracked the Predators’ opening night roster without playing a minute in Milwaukee.

Watson mentioned that he will use that as an example for why he could make a name for himself this fall.

“Everybody, including the players saw what kind of player Craig had become and how hard he worked to get to the way he was able to perform,” he said. “To see a guy do that and have such a great showing and see where he is at now is definitely motivation for us to see that it’s a good possibility and to have our best showing.

“Obviously I want to be here (with the Predators) as soon as possible. That’s what I’m going to be working towards all summer and trying to improve when I get to camp.”

More:

– Five of the Predators’ first six draft picks were present in Pittsburgh last weekend. Third-round pick (89th overall) Brendan Leipsic wasn’t at the draft, so we caught up with him on Tuesday:

On the past few days…
“It’s a little bit hectic not knowing where you’re going to get picked. I was waiting at home and my family had some people over and hung with some buddies, then Monday came to Nashville bright and early.”

On how he found out he was drafted…
“I was watching on TV; they didn’t actually show the pick where I was picked, so my agent called me and all of a sudden I got a lot of text messages.”

On Nashville’s pre-draft interest…
“There was some interest from some teams that may take me in the third round, but that was a little higher than I [expected]. I talked to Nashville three or four times, so I knew they were definitely one of the teams interested.”

On describing own game…
“I play with a lot of energy and can put the puck in the net. I did it quite a bit in junior. I play a little bit like Brad Marchand or Gabriel Bourque. I’m a smaller guy, so you have to be effective in the ways that you can. There aren’t that many small pure scorers in the game and I’m not one of them, so I use my energy.”

– Predators goaltending coach Mitch Korn got a look at seventh-round pick Marek Mazanec for the first time. Korn’s thoughts:

“I’ve been very impressed with his quickness. He’s really agile on his feet. His diversity in the way he uses his pads, that’s been the most impressive. The hardest part is communicating. His English is the weakest of the group and that takes a little bit of time.”

– On Thursday night we had a story on goalie Magnus Hellberg, the Predators’ second-round pick from a year ago. Before Korn said he would like Hellberg to improve on his conditioning, the Swede admitted Thursday afternoon that he was tired after an hour-long practice.

“I haven’t been on the ice in over a month, so it was tough but a lot of fun. I think you can see [I’m tired],” Hellberg joked.

– In mid-June, Dean Evason was officially hired as head coach of the Milwaukee Admirals. Evason, who most recently was an assistant coach with the Washington Capitals, has been on the ice for Development Camp this week. Forward Taylor Beck, who spent all of last season in Milwaukee, has a good first impression of Evason.

“He’s a really good guy,” said Beck. “He seems like a funny guy, but at the same time demands a lot out of you. That’s what any coach – especially the coaches I like, they demand a lot out of their players. That’s something that hopefully he takes into Milwaukee and I’m looking forward to it.”

 
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