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Predators' pick Marques getting to know lay of the land in Smashville

Nashville picked Prince George native in third round, 87th overall in NHKL Drsft last weekend

If and when he cashes his first NHL paycheque, Miguel Marques will certainly want to pay back his parents in Prince George for footing the bills and making the sacrifices it took to raise their only son to become property of the Nashville Predators.

The Preds made that official on Saturday when they chose the 18-year-old Lethbridge Hurricanes right-winger in the third round, 87th overall in the NHL Draft.

Family ties run deep in the Marques household in the Heritage subdivision and the best appears yet come for Nilton and Zenaide Marques as they watch the next stage of Miguel’s hockey development in Nashville, where he’s getting his first taste of pro hockey this week at the Predators’ development camp.

He’s already been featured in the sports section of The Tennessean, Nashville’s largest daily newspaper, which highlighted the fact that Marques is the first player of Portuguese descent in the Predators’ team history.

“That’s pretty special, my roots and my background, as a family it’s important to us and something we embrace,” said Marques. “When the soccer games are on and Portugal is playing that’s the kind of stuff we’re watching together and keeping up with that stuff. It’s pretty cool to have that, I know there’s some pretty good NHL players like (John) Tavares with Portuguese (roots).

His dad’s brother Nelson got Miguel started in hockey when he was six years old and it was rough beginning but he soon fell in love with the game.

“Nelson and my cousin (Tyler) were playing hockey and asked me if I wanted to try and play as well, and I thought playing mini sticks on the ice would be pretty cool,” said Marques. “For the first couple practices I didn’t know how to skate and I was crying and wanted to get off the ice but Nelson put on the skates with me and coached me as well and that was huge help."

“I don’t know if I’d be playing now if he hadn’t done that.”

On Saturday, Marques will suit up in a Predators jersey to play with and against Nashville’s other top prospects, including McBride native Tanner Molendyk, in an intersquad game. That comes after a week of practices, skill sessions and seminars with guest speakers devoted to nutrition, yoga and mental health, and today’s 3-on-3 tournament.

After a season with the Cariboo Cougars U15s, Marques left Prince George at age 15 to play academy hockey at St. George’s in Vancouver. His coach that COVID-shortened 2020-21 season was former Prince George Cougars general manager Todd Harkins and that spring he was picked 10th overall in the WHL Prospects Draft by the Hurricanes. He moved to Delta Academy for his 16-year-old season and joined the Lethbridge last season as a WHL rookie, where he put up 28 goals and 74 points in 67 games.

“Last year was good, going into the season not knowing what to expect, we got a new coach (former Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters) who has that NHL experience and he knew how to get to the next level,” said Marques.

“Just listening to him and the feedback he gave us, he shared his experiences of coaching guys who made it in the NHL and had good careers and guys who could have made it but didn’t quite get there and the reasons, and all the hard work it takes, that was something that allowed me to grow and become a better player.”

Marques, 18, entered the draft as NHL Central Scouting’s 53rd-ranked North American skater and the Predators didn’t get far down their list before they selected him. He was there in The Sphere in Las Vegas to meet the Predators coaching staff and scouts and try on his new jersey.

“Once my name got called it was relief after a long season and all the interviews with the teams and the combine, and that part’s over now,” he said. “Now the hard work again begins to get to the next chapter which is the National Hockey League or the American Hockey League, and that’s kind of where I’m at now.”

Marques has been in Vancouver skating with his academy buddies since the start of June.

He hasn’t skated much in his hometown since he left for the academies, but did get to face the Cougars last season at CN Centre when the Hurricanes visited and he did not disappoint his friends and family in the stands, potting a goal and two assists in a 6-4 loss.

For those who don’t know why he’s such a highly-touted prospect, the Elite Prospects 2024 NHL Draft Guide wrote the following about Marques:

“Name an offensive skill, Marques brings it. He manipulates defenders to open passing lanes, connects with backhand passes through impossible lanes, starts passing plays, breaks ankles, and snipes with textbook curl-and-drag shots. He constantly presses the inside, but knows when to cut back or pop the puck back to the trailer for a better look.”

It doesn’t mention his skating ability, but anybody in attendance at that Hurricanes-Cougars game on  Nov. 24 is liable to remember how quickly Marques can separate himself from an opponent when he gets up a head of steam to start an offensive rush.

He and Molendyk have known each other since they were in the same class together at Heritage Elementary School and they were minor hockey teammates in Prince George. The Preds picked Molendyk, a powerful-skating Saskatoon Blades defenceman, in the first round, 23rd overall in 2023.

“There’s a few Western League here that reached out to me after the draft to congratulate me so after going to battle against them all the time, to have them here with me on my side as a teammate is cool,” Marques said. “They did it before last year and they know what to expect at the camp and how it works so having them here was a huge help and made me feel comfortable.”

Marques will return to Lethbridge in late August for the start of their WHL camp and hopes to be back in Nashville a couple weeks later for the Predators rookie camp, with the main camp to follow. Nashville just signed Steven Stamkos and Jonathan Marchessault as free agents and Marques says he’s looking forward to meeting them as well as incumbent Predators Roman Josi and Filip Forsberg.