Entering the 2010 NHL Draft the Nashville Predators were coming off a successful regular season followed by yet another disappointing first round series loss in the playoffs.
Nashville finished third in the Central Division in 2009-10, reaching 100 points for the third time in five seasons, but lost to eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago in six games in the first round. This marked the fifth straight time Nashville lost in the first round and the Predators would not win their first playoff series until the 2010-11 season.
The Predators had just six picks in the 2010 draft, having sent their second-round pick to the Oilers in exchange for defenseman Denis Grebeshkov and trading their fourth-round pick to Calgary in exchange for center Dustin Boyd in separate trades in March 2010. Nashville had two seventh-round picks — securing the Blues’ seventh-round pick in exchange for their own pick in the 2009 NHL Draft in a draft day trade. Neither Grebeshkov nor Boyd returned to Nashville following the 2009-10 season.
The Predators had a mix of solid veterans and rising stars such as leading scorer Patric Hornqvist and defensemen Shea Weber and Ryan Suter as well as goalie Pekka Rinne. As a result, general manager David Poile and the Nashville personnel staff focused on building for the future — with the bulk of their six players being projections who were not likely to be ready for the NHL for at least three seasons or more.
To date only three of the six players have appeared in the NHL to this point — first-round pick Austin Watson, forward Joonas Rask and defenseman Anthony Bitetto. All three have yet to secure full-time roles with the Predators and Rask is back in Europe and no longer part of the organization after appearing in just two games in 2012-13.
1st round, 18th overall: Austin Watson, C, Peterborough Petes (OHL)
NHL Games Played: 6
Watson recently completed the third season of his original three-year entry-level contract, leading the AHL’s Admirals with 26 goals and finishing second to rookie Viktor Arvidsson with 44 points. Since appearing in six games with the Predators in 2012-13, his first pro season, he has spent his entire pro career with Milwaukee. Now 23 years old, he has worked hard to develop his game — learning to play wing after being a center most of his junior career — and will do the hard things necessary to score goals. Like current Predator Taylor Beck, Watson has paid his dues and will likely play in a lower line role at the NHL level.
Watch this 2010 NHL Draft Look Back video featuring the Nashville Predators top pick, Austin Watson.
Aronson was expected to be a long-range project when he was selected in 2010 following his first year of junior hockey with the Portland Winterhawks and that has been the case.
After spending most of his first three pro seasons with the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones he cracked the Admirals’ lineup on a full-time basis for the first time in 2014-15. Coming off an impressive ECHL playoff run with Cincinnati last spring, he was the leading scorer amongst Milwaukee defensemen. Aronson was briefly called up by the Predators in February but did not appear in any games.
Defensively, he can be a liability at times but he has some potential for a team needing a jolt of play-making from the back end. With the Predators’ blueline corps featuring young talents like Roman Josi, Seth Jones, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis, Aronson still faces significant challenges to one day playing in Nashville.
5th round, 126th overall: Patrick Cehlin, RW, Djurgardens IF (SHL)
NHL Games Played: 0
Cehlin played some of the best hockey of his young career at the end of the 2013-14 season skating with Filip Forsberg for Milwaukee. He was a mentor to some of the young Swedish prospects with the Admirals early in the 2014-15 season but has been slowed by nagging injuries and returned to Sweden in January 2015.
Not a highly-gifted offensive talent like Forsberg, Kevin Fiala, Arvidsson and some of the other young prospects, Cehlin has some playmaking ability but is more of a two-way player.
Unfortunately his injury issues have hampered his progress and he is still in the process of recovering from the off-season surgery he underwent last summer. With several talented forwards making their way through the Nashville pipeline, it is likely that if Cehlin one day gets another NHL opportunity it will be elsewhere.
6th round, 168th overall: Anthony Bitetto, D, Indiana Ice (USHL)
NHL Games Played: 7
Bitetto was drafted after skating for the USHL’s Indiana Ice with the understanding that he was headed to Northeastern University to play college hockey. He spent two years with the Huskies, signing a pro contract in March 2012 following his sophomore season. After splitting his first pro season between Milwaukee and the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones he had a breakout offensive season for the Admirals in 2013-14 and provided both scoring and toughness for Milwaukee this past season.
Bitetto made his NHL debut on January 17th in a game at Detroit. In a seven-game stint with the Predators he was -1 with no points nor penalties in limited ice time before being returned to the Admirals in late February.
As with any late round pick, Bitetto faced long odds against skating in the NHL. His positional game is still a work in progress and he sometimes takes risks that create opposition scoring opportunities. In terms of the Predators’ future plans he appears to be ahead of Aronson in terms of his development but is by no means a can’t-miss prospect.
Elsner was the fifth of five players from Germany selected in the 2010 NHL draft — the most since 2001. At the time he was coming off a strong tournament with the German U18 team in the Division I World Junior Championship and had also competed for EV Landshut in the German DNL as a 17-year-old.
Eisner’s offensive abilities were limited but what attracted scouts was his ability to play a physical game and compete all over the ice. Following a season with the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in 2011-12, however, he was not tendered a contract by the Predators nor was he selected in the 2012 NHL Draft.
Since then he has skated in Germany — putting up decent numbers in the German second league and seeing limited ice time with Nuremberg in the DEL. It does not appear likely that he is an NHL prospect at this point.
7th round, 198th overall: Joonas Rask, RW, Ilves Tampere (Liiga)
NHL Games Played: 2
The younger brother of Boston goalie Tuukka Rask, the Predators took a late-round flier on the talented but undersized 20-year-old in his third year of draft eligibility. At the time, Rask was coming off a rookie SM-Liiga season in which he scored 10 goals for last-place Ilves.
Rask signed a two-year contract with Nashville in March 2012 following his fourth season with Ilves and was loaned to Jokerit by the Predators for the 2012-13 season. He made his NHL debut in April 2013 — joining the Predators for two games following Jokerit’s season — and also had one goal and one assist in three AHL games, including one playoff game with Milwaukee. In his only full season in North America he played 58 games for the Admirals in 2013-14 and totaled 14 points. Rask was not tendered a qualifying offer by the Predators and in 2014-15 he played for HIFK in Finland’s Liiga.
While Rask’s skill set – particularly his skating – is impressive he does not play an overly combative style and his lack of stature is a liability at times in defending or playing in tight spaces. The fact that he is playing for HIFK — and is not either in North America or skating in the KHL or in Sweden— indicates that he is likely destined to play the rest of his career in the domestic league.
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