Austin Watson, first-round pick of the Nashville Predators in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, made his NHL debut on Sunday night against the Chicago Blackhawks.
It was a big day for the 21-year-old, who leads the Milwaukee Admirals in goals with 20 and is tied for second in points with 36 in 68 games played with Nashville’s AHL affiliate. Watson definitely had a case of the jitters leading up to a game that he will cherish for the rest of his life.
“Obviously nervous, excited, anxious. I think anything you could feel leading up to the first game. Obviously, it was a great experience and something I’ll remember forever,” Watson said.
Watson logged 13:47 of ice time in the 5-3 loss to the Blackhawks and registered one shot on goal. He even saw some time on the penalty kill, which is unusual for a player just breaking into the NHL in his first game. Watson’s comfort level seemed to grow as the game went along.
“It felt good. As the game started to roll on, I felt like I was a little less nervous. A little more just into the game and playing and competing for a win. As the game went on, I felt like it was getting better and better,” Watson said.
Watson is listed at 6’4″ and 193 pounds. He’s got the size to be a pretty effective power forward at the NHL level. Watson is a first-round pick, so the expectations for him are going to be a little higher than they are for most other young players. Still, he is focused on sticking to the fundamental areas that have gotten him to this point in his career and considers those things to be his biggest asset.
“I think just my compete level. I’ve got a big frame, so being able to get down low and stand over some pucks and kind of be a force down low in both ends. Just competing for the full 60 minutes I think,” Watson said.
This season is Watson’s first full season of professional hockey. He has played 68 games for the Admirals so far this season after playing very well in the Ontario Hockey League in 2011-12. Watson had 68 points in the 2011-12 OHL regular season with the Peterborough Petes and the London Knights and went on to post 17 points in 19 playoff games with the Knights. He then added another five points in four games of the Memorial Cup tournament after the Knights won the OHL championship.
With his first full season of professional hockey almost under his belt, Watson is starting to get accustomed to the way the game is played at the highest level.
“Everything has got to happen a little quicker. Well, obviously a lot quicker up here, but I think that’s it. Just the pace of the game and making decisions on your feet rather than waiting and having a little bit of time to make those decisions,” Watson said.
Watson will be in the lineup on Tuesday night as the Predators take on the St. Louis Blues at Bridgestone Arena. With his first game behind him, Watson is now focused on doing what he can to help the Predators win games and finding a way to contribute at the NHL level.
“I think now I just want to play the game,” Watson said. “All the jitters are out. All the newness of it. For me, now I want to compete to win hockey games and do well out there, so I think less hesitant and just try and create things.”