Predators pick Jack Dougherty leaves Wisconsin for WHL’s Portland Winterhawks

Jack Dougherty is poised to play for the WHL's Winterhawks next year after signing with Nashville. (
Jack Dougherty is poised to play for the WHL's Winterhawks next year after signing with Nashville. (

Portland Winterhawks GM-head coach Jamie Kompon has given his club’s back end an extreme makeover this offseason. Roughly three months after signing Edmonton Oilers draft choice Caleb Jones, the brother of former Winterhawk Seth Jones, he has appeared to land Nashville Predators second-round pick Jack Dougherty.

The 6-foot-2, 190-pound rearguard, who turned 19 in May, signed his entry-level contract with the Predators today, which makes him ineligible to return to the University of Wisconsin next season because of NCAA regulations. There is a chance he could go straight to the AHL next year, but it seems that isn’t in Nashville’s current plans. The organization said in its press release regarding Dougherty’s signing that he is expected to play for Portland in 2015-16. It’s a good indication that he knew he would be Oregon bound when he signed his contract with the Predators.

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The Cottage Grove, MN., native, who is regarded as a solid all-around defenceman with a good puckhandling ability, tallied two goals and nine points in 33 games with a -25 ratio as a freshman on Wisconsin last year. He did struggle at times to transition to college hockey, but his stats are more of a testament to Wisconsin’s struggles as a team rather than his own performance. The Badgers went through a rough season with a 4-26-5 record in the Big-10.

The upside to leaving Wisconsin for Portland is obvious. It allows Dougherty to take part in Nashville’s training camp and puts his NHL signing bonus in his pocket. Moreover, he is going from a struggling college team to a prominent major junior club.

In addition to losing Dougherty, Wisconsin lost St. Louis Blues goalie prospect Luke Opilka to the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers and veteran forward Morgan Zulinick, who left to return to B.C. for personal reasons, this offseason.

Dougherty, along with Jones and Washington Capitals prospect Blake Heinrich, make up a solid defensive trio for Portland. None of them stack up to ex-Winterhawk Derrick Pouliot, who anchored their back end prior to going pro in 2014, but the threesome should give Portland one of the top bluelines in the WHL.

In saying that, the Winterhawks’ back end and 19-year-old goaltender Adin Hill should ensure that they will be one of the best teams in the Western Conference next year. Whether they have enough offensive talent to win three or four playoff series could be another story, though. Their top two forwards from this past season – Columbus Blue Jackets pick Oliver Bjorkstrand and Winnipeg Jets prospect Nicolas Petan – won’t be returning for their 20-year-old seasons. Chase De Leo, a Jets pick, is also eligible to play pro next year, but there’s a chance he could find his way back to Portland if he struggles to transition to the AHL early on.

Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen