Nashville Predators 2014 NHL Draft preview

By Tony Piscotta

Jonathan-Ismael Diaby - Victoriaville Tigres

Photo: The selection of Jonathan-Ismael Diaby at 64th overall in 2013 added more size and a nasty physical edge to the Nashville blue line prospects (courtesy of Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

The second straight season of missing the playoffs led to the dismissal of Barry Trotz, the only coach the Nashville Predators have had in their 15 years of existence. With David Poile as the general manager and much of the hockey operations team still in place it is not likely that Nashville's organizational philosophy will be all that different.

The Predators, perennially in need of a dynamic offensive player, used the fourth overall pick in last year's draft to select Seth Jones, considered the top defenseman and in some corners the top player overall in the 2013 NHL Draft. With their first pick coming in the 11th spot this year, barring a trade prior to draft day the Predators are not likely to get an impact scorer and will likely look at a top two-way player that fits their scheme.

Top 10 Prospects:

1. Filip Forsberg, LW
2. Calle Jarnkrok, C
3. Taylor Beck, LW
4. Pontus Aberg, LW
5. Colton Sissons, C
6. Austin Watson, C
7. Jimmy Vesey, LW
8. Brendan Leipsic, LW
9. Marek Mazanec, G
10. Juuse Saros, G

Team Needs

Much like the New Jersey teams of the mid-1990's and early 2000's, any success Nashville has had has been the result of sound team play and a "whole is better than the sum of its parts" approach to team building. The most prolific scorer in franchise history, David Legwand, was the second player taken in the 1998 NHL Draft, the franchise's first. Legwand was more of a two-way player with the Predators, posting a career-high 63 points in 2006-07. The injury to Pekka Rinne last season exposed Nashville's lack of an NHL-ready future starter. Rinne appeared healthy playing for Finland in the 2014 World Championships but he is now 31 years old and the position is a concern. Jones made the jump directly from major junior to the NHL – showing the expected growing pains – but should be a fixture for years. Like most teams, the Predators could use more depth on the blue line.

Organizational Strengths

The Predators have consistently been one of the NHL's hardest working teams and have assembled their teams with veterans who can excel playing their system. Nashville missed the playoffs by three points a year ago due as much to the competitiveness in the Western Conference and the injury to Rinne as to any shortcomings. Nashville does have some promising offensive forwards in their prospect pool – eight of the Predator's top prospects currently in the system are forwards including center Calle Jarnkrok, who was obtained from Detroit in a trade in March – so their need to select a scoring forward may not be as urgent as it appears to fans. Filip Forsberg, Pontus Aberg, Jarnkrok, and Taylor Beck all could push for ice time under new coach Peter Laviolette. The core group of young defenders to go along with one of the league's best players in Shea Weber gives Nashville a corps that compares favorably to most other teams. Rinne, when healthy is among the NHL's premiere netminders.

Organizational Weaknesses

The Predators have never had one of their drafted prospects emerge as an elite scorer but that could be as much a result of the organizational philosophy as it is any deficiency in the skills of the players they've drafted. Nashville's biggest concern in terms of prospects is the uncertainty at the goaltending position and a lack of depth amongst the defenseman prospects after the players now making their mark with the parent club. The defense pool drops precipitously after the young players currently playing in Nashville so that could be a priority.
 
Draft Tendencies

The Nashville Predators come into the 2014 NHL Draft with eight draft picks, having obtained a conditional second round pick (46th overall) in the David Legwand trade once the Red Wings made the playoffs and another fourth round pick in a draft day swap of picks with St. Louis last June. Nashville does not have a seventh round pick having sent that to Washington in exchange for the rights to WHL defenseman Jaynen Rissling.

There have been rumors of the Predators shopping their first round pick (11th overall) for a top-six forward, but so far, nothing has materialized.

The Predators are currently slotted to pick in the 11, 42, 46, 72, 102, 112, 132 and 162 spots.

Poile is a believer in the draft and frequently accumulates picks. In the 2012 and 2013 NHL Draft, both seven rounds, the Predators selected a total of 19 players. Nashville was in the middle of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League rush a year ago taking three players from the CHL's eastern most league.

Generally, the Predators utilized all avenues in procuring talent with an emphasis on major junior hockey and Europe, particularly Sweden and Finland. Scouts Lucas Bergman and Janne Kekalainen, the younger brother of Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen, have a lot of influence and the Predators are among the NHL's most active teams in signing players from those two countries. On the other end of things, highly-skilled Russian forward Alexander Radulov was chosen by Nashville with the 15th overall pick in 2004 but has seemed more content playing in his home country. The Predators have not drafted a player from Russia since. Colin Wilson, the seventh player taken in the 2008 NHL Draft, is one of the few players either heading to or in his case already playing college hockey that the Predators have drafted in the early rounds.

Nashville has an interesting history when it comes to drafting goalies and selected a pair of goalies from Finland last year. Chet Pickard (18th overall, 2008), Magnus Hellberg (38th in 2011) and Jeremy Smith (54th overall in 2007) were all relatively high picks who have yet to establish themselves at the NHL level. Rinne was an eighth round pick in 2004, Anders Lindback, now playing in Tampa Bay, was the second of two seventh round picks in 2008 and 22-year-old Marek Mazanec, who played 25 games in Rinne's absence last year was taken in the sixth round with the 179th overall pick in 2012.

Hockey’s Future Staff Mock Draft Results:

11. Julius Honka, D, Swift Current Broncos (WHL)

Ideally the Predators would like to add a promising forward such as Nikolaj Ehlers, William Nylander or Nick Ritchie, but with all previously taken in the HF mock draft Nashville, finds the highly-skilled skating defenseman from Finland too good to pass up. Honka is a nice complement to the size and skating ability of Jones, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm as the Predators re-stock their back end to surround Weber.

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