Predators 2003 draft evaluation

By Matt Eichenblatt

After going their first five seasons without a playoff appearance, the Nashville Predators looked towards the 2003 draft to grab some help that would finally put them in the postseason for the first time in franchise history. To do so, General Manager David Poile viewed this moment as an opportune time to pick up some much-needed help on the blue line.

Of the Predators first five picks, four were defensemen. While the team ended up with a total of six defensemen, there were only two players that have panned out thus far: seventh pick overall, Ryan Suter, and the 49th overall pick, Shea Weber. Both of them have played well over 100 games for the NHL club.

While the draft did produce two solid defensemen for the Predators, and several more that could make it in the next few years, the talent on the offensive side has yielded little to nothing, as most of their offensive selections have either given up hockey or returned to Europe.

Despite their offensive shortcomings, the 2003 draft yielded two very talented defensive players, and several more prospects on the blue line such as Kevin Klein, who could one day turn into an everyday NHL player. Because the goal of the 2003 draft was defensive strength, it is safe to say the Predators successfully achieved their goal.

The Predators came out very close to the league average in NHL games played per pick in 2003, with 31.4
.

Ryan Suter, D – US National U-18 Team

1st Round, 7th Overall
NHL Player

With the seventh pick overall, Nashville selected Ryan Suter, the highly-touted offensive defenseman playing on the United States National Under-18. He came up in a hockey environment; as his dad was a member of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” team that defeated the U.S.S.R. and went on to win the gold medal and his uncle was a former NHLer.

Suter was the first of three defensemen taken, including Braydon Coburn and Dian Phaneuf.  Suter was thought to be the most offensive of the three.  While none were bad picks, the last, Phaneuf, taken by Calgary, has turned out to be the best.

After he was drafted, Suter went on to play for the University of Wisconsin playing in 39 games and scoring 3 goals in a moderately successful campaign. After one year in college, Suter played one year for the Milwaukee Admirals in the AHL during the NHL lockout season before joining the Predators in 2005. He thus far has played fairly well and appeared in all situations. Recently, Suter signed a four-year $14 million  contract.

Konstantin Glazachev, LW — Yaroslavl Lokomotiv (Russia)

2nd Round, 35th Overall
NHL Prospect

One of the biggest disappointments of the 2003 draft for the Predators was the development of Galzachev, a player who has NHL size, but hasn’t developed the foot speed to play among the world’s best. He is an intense player who does play hard, but many scouts have pegged him as someone who is often inept and gets caught out of position from time to time and while drafted at 18, hasn’t gained the amount of weight to take the beating that the NHL can dish out.

Unless he matures physically and as a player on both ends of the ice, it will be difficult for him make it across the pond anytime soon.

Kevin Klein, D — Toronto St. Michael’s Majors (OHL)

2nd Round, 37th Overall
NHL Prospect

Over the past two years, Klein has had a cup of coffee with Predators, but has never been able to stick with the team full time. In the past three years, he has played in 18 games with the big league club, but has spent most of his time with the AHL Milwaukee Admirals.

Klein is one of the biggest prospects in the Nashville organization, and has been the leading defenseman on the Admirals for two years running. A very good two-way skater, there is no question that he has the ability to get back when needed to, and he is a selfless player who will block a shot whenever needed. The major questions in his game still remain a questionable turnover rate, and the lack of a physical play, especially against the boards.

With the budget in Nashville tight and the money that both Suter and Weber will receive this offseason, expect Klein to get another shot at the NHL within the next few years, assuming he gets more physical and can adapt to the fast style of play.

Shea Weber, D — Kelowna Rockets (WHL)

2nd Round, 49th Overall
NHL Player

Probably the best value pick for the Predators and maybe the NHL as a whole in 2003, Weber has developed into one of the top defensemen the Predators have. Last year, it seemed as if Weber was on his way to stardom but an early season knee injury never really seemed to heal right, making him only somewhat effective in 54 games. He is an unbelievable combination of size and speed, and the Predators most certainly will retain the services of this restricted free agent.

Weber’s knee injury shouldn’t be a problem going into next season, and hopefully he can get a deal done and remain a cornerstone of a young Predators team that looks to improve on a first-round exit last year as the eighth seed in the Western Conference.

Richard Stehlik, D — Sherbrooke Beavers (QMJHL)

3rd Round, 76th Overall
NHL Prospect

Despite the hope that he may still turn out to be the great Slovak prospect that everyone hoped he would be, the development of Stehlik appeared to not be as great as once hoped. After finally signing a contract with the Predators in 2007 and appearing in 14 games for the AHL Admirals, this large defenseman weighing in at a meaty 240 pounds who delivers a punishing check, has yet to show he can make an impact at the professional level.

Now playing again for Sparta Praha in the Czech Republic, Stehlik looks to refine some of the major flaws in his game, namely mobility and a better shot. If he can improve greatly on these two facets of his game, look for him to be back in North America.

Paul Brown, LW — Kamloops Blazers (WHL)

3rd Round, 89th Overall
NHL Bust

A large Winger praised for his accurate shot coming out in 2003, Brown has never developed into the kind of player who has a shot to make an NHL club. After bouncing between the AHL and UHL for three different seasons, Brown has been out of hockey since the 2006-07 season, after playing the final 26 games with the Rockford IceHogs.
 

Alexander Sulzer, D — Hamburg Freezers (DEL)

3rd Round, 92nd Overall
NHL Prospect

After spending several seasons in Europe past draft day, the Predators finally brought Sulzer to North America to play with the AHL Admirals. In his first season with Milwaukee, Sulzer was a pleasant surprise, logging a decent amount of minutes and scoring 7 goals in his rookie campaign in North America.

His knowledge of the game is very impressive, and he always seems to find himself in the right position both in front of the net and in the offensive zone. While he doesn’t have elite physical size or speed, his work ethic and intense attention to detail will probably get him a shot at the NHL club within the next year or two. His next season in Milwaukee will go a long way in determining whether or not he can be a third or fourth liner an NHL team can count on in the near future.

Grigory Shafigulin, C — Yaroslav Lokomotiv (Russia)

3rd Round, 98th Overall
NHL Bust

Unsigned and stalled out in Russia, it is safe to label this center an NHL bust. While still playing hockey, most recently in the Russian Elite League for Ak-Bars Kazan, he is more a physical presence than he is an offensive threat, only scoring 5 goals in 54 games last season.

While he may continue to play the next few years overseas, this is one prospect you won’t have to look for anytime soon on the North American hockey map.

Teemu Lassila, G — TPS Turku (FNL)

4th Round, 117th Overall
NHL Bust

While looking like an initial steal when first drafted by posting a 2.14 GAA in the 2003-04 season and a 2.31 in 2004-05, Lassila fell off the map and rarely played since moving to the Swedish Elite League. Having now moved back to the Finish Elite League where he garnered so much attention, he has hopes of earning a starting spot once again for HPK Hameenlinna.

The Predators already have several goalies in their system that are coming on right now, and so the flop of Lassila has hardly been felt. This once highly-touted goalie will probably finish his career in Europe and will never see NHL action.

Rustam Sidikov, G — CSKA. Jr (Russia)

4th Round, 133th Overall
NHL Prospect

A large goalie who has a wide range, Sidikov is a pleasant surprise for someone who at first seemed to be a bit of a reach. He seems to be always in position and his lateral movement across the crease is already of NHL quality. The one problem with his game is his persistent problem of giving up rebounds in front of the net, and he needs to work on his rather poor stickhandling.

Playing this season with the Super League’s CSKA club, he probably won’t see very much playing time. Not an elite goalie, his chances of making an impact in the NHL seem very far off, but his raw talent will necessitate watching as he continues to develop.

Andre Mukhachev, D — CSKA Moscow (Russia)

7th Round, 210th Overall
NHL Bust

A late-round overage draft pick, this Russian defender is too old to be considered a true NHL prospect. Still playing regularly with Khmik in the Russian Elite League, Mukachev has found a good niche in his native homeland. This soon to be 28-year-old defenseman was always large enough to play the NHL game, but never had the foot speed or stickhandling that was required.

Miroslav Hanuljak, G — Litvinov Jrs. (Czech)

7th Round, 213th Overall
NHL Bust

Another surprise pick and the third goalie picked by the Predators in this draft, this obscure prospect had very quick reflexes, but very few opportunities to get seen on a national or major stage. At 5’11 and 165 lbs when drafted, Hanuljak was small. Though he was worth a flyer in the late rounds of this draft, his small stature combined with the fact he never faced elite talent led to this prospect drifting off into obscurity.

Lauris Darzins, LW — Lukko Jrs. (Finland)

9th Round, 268th Overall
NHL Bust

The Predators viewed Darzins as a potential diamond in the rough because of his blazing slap shot and hardnosed mentality. Unfortunately, that’s about all this kid had going for him. After playing fairly well in the WHL for the Kelowna Rockets scoring in 13 or more goals in his first two seasons, Darzins began to fizzle out and went on to play in the Finnish Elite League. Darzins was last playing in Czech Republic league, and does not look to be coming back to play in North America.