The Nashville Predators went into the draft looking to address their well-chronicled need for scoring help and general manager David Poile felt things fell just the way they were hoping they would go.
Nashville selected Kevin Fiala — who skated for HV71 in the SHL as a 17-year-old and played for Switzerland in the U18, U20, and Men’s World Championships — with the 11th overall pick and then grabbed Russia U18 team captain Vladislav Kamenev with the first of their two second-round picks (42nd overall). The Predators took Wisconsin-bound US National Team Development Program defenseman Jack Dougherty with their other second-round pick (51st overall).
“Our philosophy of the draft we said that in the high part of our draft with our first pick and our two seconds we’d try to take what we considered the best offensive forwards,” Poile said. “The first and second pick Fiala and then Kamenev those were the two guys that we exactly wanted to get.”
Nashville chief amateur scout Jeff Kealty felt that the extra second-round pick that the Predators obtained from Detroit in the David Legwand trade allowed his team the flexibility to address both its offensive and defensive needs.
“Anytime you have more of them closer together in certain areas it enables you to move and take different types of guys and those sort of things,” said Kealty. “This year we had the extra picks and we felt like we managed it really well. You work the whole year scouting, gathering information evaluating players but then the draft happens on two days.”
For the first time since 2010 the Predators did not select a goalie in the draft. While the injury to Pekka Rinne was a key factor in Nashville missing the playoffs this past season, the Predators do have five young prospects in their system. Last year’s fourth-round draft pick, Juuse Saros, was the Rookie of the Year in the Liiga in Finland as a 19-year-old.
Asked about the state of his club after the draft Poile said that while the club is still seeking a true number one center — either through free agency or trade — the addition of James Neal in a trade and a year of experience for the prospects coming up has his club headed in the right direction.
“Everybody says, “I’d like to go to a team that has a chance to win a Cup.” We’re trying just as hard as everybody else to win it,” Poile said. “Who knows? Maybe we’re closer than anybody thinks,”
“We were terrible two years ago. We were much better last year but we were at a real disadvantage not having Pekka Rinne. We’re trying to get back. It’s just hard to make the playoffs. If we can make the playoffs as you see every year maybe we can win the Cup. Hey I want to be optimistic I think we’re in a lot better position than people give us credit for.”
Kevin Fiala, LW/C, HV71 Jonkoping (SHL and SuperElit J20)
1st Round, 11th Overall
Height: 5-10 Weight: 180 lbs
Fiala moved to Sweden to play at a higher level of competition — skating for the Malmo U20 team in 2012-13 — and had a breakout year for HV71 this past season. Scoring at nearly a point-per-game pace for the HV71 U20 team he had three goals and eight assists in 17 regular season SHL games and was plus-5 with one goal and five assists in eight games during the SHL playoffs. Poile feels Fiala fits in well with Filip Forsberg, Calle Jarnkrok, and some of the other skill forwards the club has accumulated in recent years.
“I think there’s just another really good young guy with a really good upside,” said the Predators GM.
While some have mentioned Fiala playing in Nashville as soon as this coming season Poile feels the influx of young talent into the Predators lineup might allow the club to give the gifted forward time to fully mature.
“Filip Forsberg we tried to put him on our team on a regular basis last year it probably was a little too much,” said Poile, referring to the 19-year-old who was selected 12th overall by Washington in the 2012 draft and was obtained in the Martin Erat trade. “You send him to the world juniors in Sweden. He’s the captain of Sweden. He’s the most valuable player of the world juniors. You know what’s going to happen. Hopefully this year he’ll be better and he’s a year older. Maybe we rushed him too much.”
“I’ve heard some people say, ‘Well Kevin Fiala may be able to make your team this year.’ That’s pretty special if you can do that,” Poile said. “I always say the same thing, ‘I don’t want you to play a game I want you to have a career.’ We’ll just try to do the right thing.”
Vladislav Kamenev, C, Metallurg Magnitogorsk (KHL)
2nd Round, 42nd Overall
Height: 6-2 Weight: 205 lbs
Kamenev is bigger than Fiala, and while the young forward from Orsk, Russia did not put up the big offensive numbers that the Predators first-round pick did, he played in the KHL as a 17-year-old on a team that won the KHL championship under former NHL coach Mike Keenan.
Kamenev is the first player form Russia drafted by the Predators since right wing Alexander Radulov was taken with the 15th pick of the first round in the 2004 draft.
“We kind of fell of the wagon there for a little bit but as you know things have really changed in terms of their development a little bit with the KHL situation (and) your ability to get these players and not get these players,” said Poile. “We did a lot of investigation which is our job. Our scouts did some. Personally I talked to Mike Keenan…about the player and his thought process and whether he comes over here and plays junior hockey or whether he stays there and plays for Mike Keenan I’m fine. The development would be good.”
Jack Dougherty, D, US National Team Development Program
2nd Round, 51st Overall
Height: 6-1 Weight: 185 lbs
One of five defenseman from the NTDP selected in the 2014 draft, Dougherty heads to a college program that has produced impact defensemen on an annual basis — including former Predator and current Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, who spent one season with the Badgers in 2003-04 before signing a pro contract.
“We think he’s a really good prospect. Obviously he was identified in the US program as one of the up and coming young guys,” Poile said. “He’s going to the University of Wisconsin that has a great track record of developing players and especially defensemen. We have a pretty good track record of getting defensemen out of there so that really seemed to be a pick that made really good sense.”
The Predators have had similar success with players who played with Kelowna such as Shea Weber and 2012 second-round pick Colton Sissons. Like Weber, Kirkland did not see much ice time when he began playing with the Rockets but showed steady progress and had five goals with five assists in 14 playoff games.
“We think Kirkland is a player who is really blossoming and could be a power forward. He could have some big scoring ability,” Poile said. “How do you say a late bloomer because they’re 17 or 18, but in terms of recognition if you will, hopefully we were in the position where maybe other teams didn’t quite see the same thing.”
Viktor Arvidsson, LW, Skelleftea (SHL)
4th Round, 112th Overall
Height: 5-9 Weight: 170 lbs
Arvidsson, 21, is one of the oldest players selected in the draft this year but his offensive numbers playing in the SHL were too much for the Predators to ignore. In his second SHL season, he scored 16 goals with 24 assists in 50 regular season games and then had four goals with 12 assists in 14 playoff games as Skelleftea captured the SHL championship.
“Arvidsson is a ’93 in a draft of ’95′s and ’96′s. You can talk about a late bloomer but he’s an exciting player,” Poile said. “He’s quick. He’s fast. He scores. Our guys think he can be one of the top scorers in the elite league as soon next year so it’s a little bit a shot at offense.”
Joonas Lyytinen, D, KalPa Kuopio (Liiga)
5th Round, 132nd Overall
Height: 6-0 Weight: 155 lbs
Lyyttinen, who was in his second year of draft eligibility after not being selected in the 2013 draft, split the season between KalPa Kuopio in Liiga and its U20 team. While both squads had a forgettable season and neither made the playoffs in their respective leagues Lyyttinen showed promise.
“The Finnish defenseman I understand is a really good skater,” Poile said. “He sees the ice really well. It’s a little bit of everything.”
Aaron Irving, D, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
6th Round, 162nd Overall
Height: 6-0 Weight: 185 lbs
With their final pick, the Predators added defenseman Aaron Irving of the Memorial Cup champion Edmonton Oil Kings. Irving is one of those players whose success and production has exceeded his technical and tactical skill level to this point but he will need to develop all aspects of his game to compete at the next level.
“Irving’s got a little bit of a bite to him,” Poile said. “You’re just hoping some of his characteristics develop to the point to at least give him a chance to be a good prospect.”
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