With only six picks (the second lowest in franchise history), and no glaring needs on the farm, the Nashville Predators chose to stay the course in terms of drafting strategy. Of course, when you’re talking about the Predators and General Manager David Poile, staying the course is a very good thing.
Nashville drafted four forwards and two defenseman, spreading their picks between the United States and Europe. The Predators continued their recent trends by drafting three Americans (at least two in each of the past four drafts), and a Swede (at least one in each of the past five drafts). There was also one player drafted out of Finland and another Germany, the latter being only the third ever taken by the Predators.
Watson is the prototypical Nashville Predator. He is a versatile two-way forward that blocks shots, plays with high energy, high effort, and plays on the penalty kill. He also has a good amount of offensive skill and upside. He fits the Predator mold of a hardworking player while still being able to chip in around 20 goals.
Playing for the Windsor Spitfires, Watson was stuck behind top flight skaters and was not a featured player. As a result, he found a niche as a high energy guy, playing hard in his own zone and on the blue line. This caused scouts to label him as a third line player. Then he was traded to the Petes towards the end of the season. The 18-year-old became a featured player in Peterborough, and immediately turned it on offensively, with nine goals and 11 assists in his ten games there.
This caused some scouts to change their tune, and say he had second line ability. Everything taken into consideration, a full year with Peterborough will shed some light on Watson’s true potential. Right now, he will be at least a good third line player, with potential to be a top six winger. The Predators look like they want to build a team where all 12 forwards can score 20 goals, while playing on both ends of the ice. Watson fits that bill perfectly.
Nashville couldn’t move into the second round this year, so they stayed at their spot in the third round and grabbed the fast rising defender out of California. The 18-year-old is reminiscent of another Californian player in the Nashville system, Jon Blum, in that he came out of nowhere to earn top minutes with his club by season’s end.
He was considered among the most improved players in the league this past season, and is a solid puck moving defenseman. "The players we got today were Taylor Aronson, a very skilled WHL defenseman." said GM David Poile, "If you’re going to be successful in the NHL, you have to have a skilled defenseman that can get the puck to the forwards and Taylor can do that."
Aronson has played only one season of junior hockey, but he posted an impressive 30 points in 71 games as a rookie, and nine points in 11 games in the playoffs.
Taylor is a long way from the NHL, but has the potential to be an impact player at the top level. He’s also another player that has a stereotypical Predator work ethic and attitude. As he said at the draft, "I’ll do whatever it takes."
Patrik Cehlin, RW – Djurgårdens IF (SEL)
Drafted: 5th round, 126th overall
Height: 5’11 Weight: 168 pounds
With their fifth round pick, Nashville went to a familiar European team. The Predators took Patrik Cehlin, the speedy winger from the same team that produced current Predator standout Patric Hornqvist.
Cehlin had 11 points in 54 games in the Swedish Elite League this past season, and is another player with a typical Predator work ethic. He is a fierce, high energy competitor and isn’t afraid to battle it out in the corners.
Reports can vary widely about Cehlin, saying he’s anywhere from 5’10 to 6’3. But one thing is for certain, he is fast, strong on the puck, and tends to draw comparisons to Hornqvist. Turning only 19 in late July, Cehlin will be a project, but could easily have an impact future in the Music City.
The Predators returned to the United States with their sixth round pick, drafting the high-scoring defenseman, Anthony Bitetto. He is yet another player who fits the Nashville mold, as a hard working, high energy type player.
Committed to Northeastern University in the fall, the 20-year-old Bitetto jumped onto scouting lists this past season when he posted 40 points in 58 games, good for fourth among USHL blueliners. Despite the lofty point totals, Bitetto is seen as more of a physical, stay at home defender rather than one who will light the lamp in the NHL.
Despite his one-way label, Bitetto offers an array of offensive weapons. He is a quality passer out of the zone, and had a booming point shot that is as hard as it is accurate (his 13.6 shooting percentage was good for second among USHL defenders). Overall, he is a strong, physical defenseman, with solid offensive ability from the point.
David Elsner, LW – Landschut Cannibals (DEL)
Drafted: 7th round, 194th overall
Height: 6’0 Weight: 185 pounds
With their first pick in the seventh round, Nashville took the third ranked prospect out of Germany, 18-year-old David Elsner. Elsner spent the majority of his time in the 2nd Bundesliga playing in a third line agitator role. He excels at getting in the faces, and under the skin of his opponents.
However, he is not limited to just being an on-ice pest. Elsner has a mean streak in him, and possesses good strength and checking ability to back it up. He also has a very heavy shot, and good size, leading some to believe he could grow into an NHL power forward.
On the other hand, he tends to take too many penalties, especially for a player whose job is to draw them, and his effort has been inconsistent. He will likely end up as a third line agitator, but he has a much greater upside, which can be rare for a player taken in the seventh round.
Joonas Rask, C – Ilves Tampere (SM-Liiga)
Drafted: 7th round, 198th overall
Height: 5’11 Weight: 168 pounds
Shortly after their first pick in the seventh round, the Predators decided to give Finland a try, and took 20-year-old forward Joonas Rask. The younger brother of Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask, Joonas is another player you would expect to find in a Predator uniform. He is an all-around type player, with high marks in character, heart, and passion for the game.
The young center scored 10 goals, and 19 points in 43 games with Ilves this past season, and has played for Finland in the past two World Junior Championships.
"Rask from Finland is a very skillful center that was probably a little off everyone else’s radar." said Nashville GM David Poile, "That’s why guys like him were available."