By Jim Diamond
In an otherwise gloomy performance in the Predators final home preseason game Tuesday night against the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets, one bright spot for Nashville was an early shorthanded goal by Austin Watson.
The unassisted backhand marker from in close gave the Predators a 1-0 lead at 9:03 of the first, and it was pretty much downhill from there in a 5-2 defeat.
First round draft picks bring high expectations; from the fans, the teams who drafted them, and most importantly, the players themselves. Watson was Nashville’s first pick (18th overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Entering his fourth professional season, Watson has not played an NHL game since making six appearances late in the 2012-13 season, a season in which the injury bug ran rampant through the Nashville system where it seemed another forward went down each game played.
Watson scored his lone NHL goal April 23, 2013 against the Calgary Flames.
Now 23, Watson is looking to stick with the Predators coming out of this season’s training camp. Tuesday was Nashville’s penultimate preseason game, with only Saturday’s game in Columbus on the slate in advance of next Thursday night’s regular season opener against the Carolina Hurricanes.
With 28 players still on the roster, five will have to go before the Predators set their opening night roster, which can be a maximum of 23. There’s less than a week remaining before the NHL-mandated October 6 at 3:00 p.m. CT deadline to establish that opening night roster, and Watson is focused on continuing to do what has kept him in camp this far.
“It’s just keeping with the process,” Watson said after Tuesday night’s game. “You’ve just got to come out here and compete and work hard every day. You’re trying to earn a job and that’s the mindset every time you come to the rink.”
He’s been here before and knows that the team’s coaching and management staffs see everything he does on the ice both in games and in practice.
“You know what’s going on,” Watson said. “They’ve got to get down to 23 guys and it’s going to happen here before the season. You’ve just got to keep doing what you’re doing, try not to read too much into it and just be the best you can be out there. Hopefully it works itself out.”
The two-year deal Watson signed this offseason is a two-way contract for this season and a one-way deal for 2016-17. That means that if Watson is sent to the minors this season, he will be paid the $100,000 portion of that contract. He will make $575,000 at the NHL level should he stick.
Having a player on a two-way contract makes it easier for a team to send him to the minors, especially if it comes down to a decision between him and someone on a one-way contract, who makes the same salary in the NHL or the minors.
Watson has at most a week left to try and prove to the Predators that he belongs on the NHL roster that they will submit to the league next Tuesday.