While the NHL postseason is underway, some exciting young Nashville Predators prospects are wrapping up their days in the junior leagues.
The Winnipeg Ice defeated the Saskatoon Blades in four games to reach the WHL championship game, posting an impressive 12-2 record to get there.
Their most recent trip to the final round was in 2011 when they faced the Portland Winterhawks, which featured current Predators forward Ryan Johansen. Ice defenseman Graham Sward, a Preds fifth-round pick in 2022, has posted 10 points in 14 postseason games. During the regular season, he recorded his second-best scoring output, tallying 33 points in 52 games.
Sward’s squad is still waiting to find out if it will play the Seattle Thunderbirds or the Kamloops Blazers for the title, and if it’s the Blazers, who lead the Thunderbirds 3-1 in a best-of-seven series, the WHL championship game would be have a heavy Predators flavor.
Defenseman Luke Prokop and recently acquired forward Reid Schaefer are on the cusp of reaching the finals. Prokop, selected in the third round of the 2020 draft, can return to the WHL finals for the second consecutive season if the Thunderbirds clinch the series on Saturday night. He just played with the Edmonton Oil Kings, winning the championship last year.
Oddly enough, the defenseman played against Seattle in the final last year, and he now finds himself back in it. Prokop was dealt to Seattle for three draft picks — one first rounder and two third rounders.
Schaefer is the forward who came back from the Edmonton Oilers in the Mattias Ekholm trade around the trade deadline. He was taken 32nd overall in last summer’s draft, and he’s scored 61 points in 55 contests this year. During his postseason run, Schaefer has notched 11 points in 12 games — good for sixth on the team.
In the OHL, the Predators have an undrafted signee lighting it up for the Sarnia Sting, who are tied 2-2 in a series versus the London Knights. Game 5 between the clubs is tonight at 6 p.m. with the series-clinching game set for Sunday at 1 p.m.
Nolan Burke wasn’t picked in the NHL draft, but he was noticed by the Predators. Since being signed by Nashville, he’s scored 82 points in 56 games this season. Burke led the Sting with 50 goals — 20 more than the team’s next closest scorer, Sasha Pastujov.
A Preds fan may love that Burke was a powerplay specialist, tallying an OHL-leading 23 goals on the man advantage this year. During the playoffs, Burke has 16 points in 13 games, and he’s coming off a three-point night in a 6-3 win to tie the series. Expect the 20-year-old forward to push some young guns at training camp in September.
In the QMJHL, another Predators’ first-round pick, Zachary L’Heureux, has been assisting the Halifax Mooseheads en route to a shot to win the Giles-Courteau Trophy. Halifax has not won the championship since 2013 when Jonathan Drouin, Nathan MacKinnon and Mackenzie Weegar were all on the team. During that season, the Mooseheads scored 945 points in 68 games as a team en route to a championship.
The ‘Mustard Tiger’, as L’Heureux’s teammates have dubbed him, is performing well in the playoffs. Nashville’s 2021 first-round selection has scored 17 points in 13 games. The Mooseheads need two more wins over the Sherbrooke Phoenix to advance. They were down 2-0 in the series and outscored the Phoenix 10-4 to tie it up after four games.