The Nashville Predators entered the 2011 NHL Draft without a first-round pick – having dealt their pick to Ottawa late in the 2010-11 season. Even considering just the short-term gain — Mike Fisher, obtained from the Senators, was Nashville’s third-leading scorer and helped the Predators win a playoff series for the first time in franchise history — that trade would have to go down as one of the best in franchise history.
Fisher in many ways has been one of the heart-and-soul leaders for the Predators since that time and scored five goals in 14 playoff games this year. Stefan Noesen, the player selected by Ottawa with that 21st overall pick, is now in the Anaheim Ducks organization and a fringe NHLer.
Unfortunately for Nashville, the only player from the 2011 NHL Draft who has made an impact to this point is forward Miikka Salomaki, taken with the second of two second-round picks.
One silver lining was that the Predators obtained two 2012 Draft picks through draft-day trades, acquiring Toronto’s third-round pick from Los Angeles and a sixth-round pick from the New York Rangers. Both of the players selected with those picks — 2016 Hobey Baker award winner Jimmy Vesey and goalie Marek Mazanec — are still considered prospects (though Vesey is pursuing free agency and may not sign with Nashville).
With their first pick of the draft in the second round — the 38th overall pick obtained from New Jersey as part of the Jason Arnott-Matt Halischuk trade — the Predators selected goalie Magnus Hellberg from Almtuna in Sweden.
The first goalie taken in the draft, Hellberg spent three seasons in the Nashville organization, making one 12-minute appearance with the Predators. He signed a two-year contract with the Rangers as a free agent last summer. Hellberg played one game for New York in 2015-16 and was the starter for the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack.
The Predators had two picks in the fourth round, obtaining the 94th overall pick from Florida in exchange for forward Mike Santorelli. Both players they selected, Saginaw Spirit left wing Josh Shalla and Noonan, spent 2015-16 in the ECHL and are long shots to reach the NHL.
The Predators took another player from Sweden with their fifth-round pick, selecting defenseman Simon Karlsson from the Malmo junior program. Karlsson spent one season in North America — playing for Oshawa and Plymouth in the OHL in 2012-13 — but was never signed to a contract.
With the sixth-round pick they obtained from the Kings (170th overall) the Predators selected center Chase Balisy from Western Michigan. Nashville traded its own sixth round pick (172nd overall) to the New York Rangers in exchange for the Rangers’ sixth-round pick in 2012 (Mazanec).
Nashville used its final pick to take Halifax Mooseheads left wing/center Brent Andrews in the seventh round (202nd overall). Andrews spent three more years with Halifax, but never signed an entry-level contract, and is playing college hockey in Canada.
2nd round, 38th overall: Magnus Hellberg, G, Almtuma IS (Allsvenskan)
Status: Prospect (New York Rangers)
NHL Games: 2
When the Predators selected Hellberg in 2011, Nashville starter Pekka Rinne was coming off a remarkable third season in which he appeared in 64 regular season games and posted a 2.12 goals against (still his career-best mark).
Rinne, then 29, was in the peak of his career and it appeared Hellberg would have time to mature before eventually succeeding him in the Nashville net.
Hellberg, a big goalie with all the tools to be an NHL netminder, has yet to reach the level predicted. In fairness, some of that has been the result of injury — particularly in 2013-14 when a lingering injury in training camp and then an ankle injury in January kept him from finding ever finding a groove. Mazanec moved past Hellberg on the Predators’ depth chart and Hellberg was never able to regain that spot.
Both he and Mazanec played well as a tandem for the Admirals in 2014-15 but with promising rookie Juuse Saros on his way to North America the writing was on the wall.
Now with the Rangers, Hellberg never really challenged former Blackhawks backup Antti Raanta for that role behind Henrik Lundqvist. Instead, he played a career-high 53 games with the AHL’s Wolf Pack, finishing 30-20-3 with a 2.40 goals against (his best mark since his first season with Milwaukee). At 25 years old he could be hitting his prime and may still be a starter one day.
2nd round, 52nd overall: Miikka Salomaki, RW, Karpat Oulu (Liiga)
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games: 62
The only player from the 2011 NHL Draft currently in the lineup for the Predators, Salomaki played in 61 regular season games as a rookie in 2015-16. He is a reliable two-way forward who is especially effective on the forecheck and killing penalties.
The 23-year-old from Finland led Nashville AHL affiliate Milwaukee in scoring in his first season in North America in 2013-14 so there is some scoring ability. Injuries slowed him a bit in 2015-16, when he made his NHL debut but spent most of the year with the Admirals. One of a handful of rookies in the Nashville lineup this season, Salomaki’s solid play in all three zones and ability to get under opposing players’ skins have made him a favorite of head coach Peter Laviolette.
He chipped in five goals with five assists in the regular season and his offensive role could increase as he gains experience.
4th round, 94th overall: Josh Shalla, LW, Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
NHL Games: 0
Shalla was selected by the Predators after scoring 47 goals for Saginaw in 2010-11 and would have another 40-goal season for the Spirit the following season. These performances led to Shalla signing a three-year entry-level contract with Nashville in April 2012.
He did not come close to matching those numbers in his three seasons in the Nashville organization, skating in 32 games with Milwaukee in his first season and then spending most of the next two seasons with the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones.
Not tendered a contract by the Predators this year, Shalla signed with the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye. The 24-year-old is likely to play out his career at the minor pro level or could head to Europe if there is a lucrative contract offer.
4th round, 112th overall: Garrett Noonan, D, Boston University (Hockey East)
NHL Games: 0
Noonan was coming off an impressive freshman season at Boston University when the Predators selected him in 2011. The third-leading scorer amongst Terriers’ defensemen behind future NHLers Adam Clendening and David Warsofsky, he also displayed a physical element to his game.
Noonan had the best year of his college career in his sophomore season — scoring 16 goals with 11 assists and finishing +19 in 2011-12 — and was named to the Hockey East second team.
Freshman Matt Grzelcyk emerged as the Terriers’ top offensive defenseman the following season before Noonan had a strong senior season when Grzelcyk went down with an injury. Noonan signed a two-year entry-level contract with Nashville in April 2014.
Splitting his first pro season between the AHL and ECHL in 2014-15, he had decent numbers with Milwaukee — finishing +7 with 4 goals and 5 assists in 40 games — while also skating with Cincinnati.
This past season the Admirals added several AHL veterans and Noonan was the odd man out — skating in just 17 games with Milwaukee and spending most of the season with the Cyclones.
He made the most of a top pairing role with the Cyclones, scoring nine goals with 34 assists in 55 regular season games. But playing in the ECHL as a 25-year-old is rarely a good sign in terms of NHL potential.
5th round, 142nd overall: Simon Karlsson, D, Malmo (SuperElit U20)
NHL Games: 0
Karlsson was a projection pick when the Predators grabbed him in the fifth round. Tall but thin and a good skater for his size, he was not among the 140 international skaters in Central Scouting’s final rankings.
After returning to Sweden for the 2011-12 season and making his debut at the pro level with the Malmo men’s team in Allsvenskan, Karlsson was selected in the 2012 CHL Import Draft by the Plymouth Whalers. He played 34 games with the Whalers, scoring 2 goals with 9 assists but was traded to Oshawa in mid-season and saw limited ice time with the Generals.
Karlsson returned to Sweden in 2013-14, skating for Karlskrona HK in Allsvenskan. After a decent season with the second division club he signed with HV71 in the SHL but did not play in any games — missing the entire 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons due to injury. Karlsson was released by HV71 in March 2016 and his hockey future is uncertain.
6th round, 170th overall: Chase Balisy, C, Western Michigan University (CCHA)
Status: Prospect (Florida Panthers)
NHL Games: 0
Balisy, like Noonan, was drafted following an impressive freshman season of college hockey and he too played out his college career before turning professional.
But while Noonan received an entry-level contract, Balisy was not signed by the Predators.
After attending Winnipeg’s 2014 training camp as a free agent and being released, he signed an AHL deal with Jets’ affiliate St. John’s. Balisy was the second-leading scorer for the IceCaps as a rookie, trailing only defenseman Will O’Neill and signed a two-year entry-level contract with Florida as a free agent in June 2015.
Balisy skated for Panthers’ AHL affiliate Portland this past season. With minor league veterans Rob Schremp and Shane Harper leading the Pirates in scoring, Balisy did not have the same role as with St. John’s. But the Pirates were much more successful, reaching the AHL playoffs, and Balisy’s ability to play in all three zones did not go unnoticed.
With the Florida organization suddenly fairly deep in forward prospects it will be difficult for the 24-year-old to crack the lineup in Sunrise. But his play in his first two professional seasons is likely to garner interest for a team in need of forward help.
7th round, 202nd overall: Brent Andrews, C, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
NHL Games: 0
Primarily a lower line forward in his first four QMJHL seasons with some powerful Halifax Mooseheads teams, Andrews was not signed to an entry-level contract by the Predators and re-entered the 2013 NHL Draft. He was not selected and headed back to Halifax for an overage season.
After scoring 28 goals with 41 assists in his final season of junior hockey— both career-highs — he has spent the last two seasons playing college hockey at the University of Prince Edward Island. One of the Panthers’ leading scorers in 2015-16, he is expected to return for his junior season and will likely play on the team’s first line.
Andrews may have some potential as a third or fourth line forward due to his awareness in all three zones but it is a long road from Canadian college hockey to the NHL.
Notable Playoff Performances
The Predators have had a dramatic run in the post-season — playing two seven-game series. After defeating Anaheim in the opening round they lost to San Jose, falling just short of reaching the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history. Goalie Pekka Rinne and Nashville’s top scoring line of Mike Fisher, James Neal and Colin Wilson received much of the acclaim but rookies Viktor Arvidsson and Miikka Salomaki both played well.
Arvidsson’s first career playoff goal was a big one — coming 2:03 into overtime in Game 6 against San Jose with the Predators facing elimination. After scoring eight goals with eight assists in 56 regular season games, Arvidsson was flying all over the ice in the playoffs, frequently skating with center Ryan Johansen and winger Filip Forsberg.
Salomaki played with center Paul Gaustad and Calle Jarnkrok on the Predators’ fourth line and was one of Nashville’s top penalty killing forwards along with Fisher.
The Milwaukee Admirals were one of the top teams in the AHL all season but their season came to a disappointing end with a first-round playoff loss to Grand Rapids. In the ECHL, the Cincinnati Cyclones, were second to Fort Wayne in the Midwest Division and lost to Fort Wayne in a riveting seven-game series in which three of the games went to overtime.
The Admirals scored just three goals in three games against the Griffins with goalie Tom McCollum stifling the Milwaukee attack. On the flip side, Admirals goalies Saros and Mazanec, so brilliant during the regular season, could not overcome the lack of firepower.
For the Cyclones, minor league veterans with no ties to the Predators did the bulk of the scoring. One Nashville prospect who opened eyes was 22-year-old defenseman Jonathan-Ismael Diaby. The second-year pro skated in all seven games for the Cyclones, scoring one goal and finishing +2 with 13 penalty minutes. His lack of mobility and limited technical game are challenges in a Nashville system that emphasizes both but his playoff performance was encouraging.
Post-season success was limited for the seven Nashville prospects who skated in major junior this past season.
Kelowna’s Justin Kirkland was one exception as the defending WHL champions reached the Western Conference finals. In 18 playoff games the 18-year-old scored 11 goals with four assists. Kirkland signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Predators in May 2016.
The Gatineau Olympiques — which featured Predators prospects Yakov Trenin and defenseman Alexandre Carrier — swept the Quebec Remparts in the first-round before falling to the Moncton Wildcats in the QMJHL quarterfinals.
Trenin had two assists in the final game of the series with the Remparts and played in the opening game of the second round series against Moncton before suffering a wrist injury. Carrier led Olympiques defensemen in scoring, recording five assists in 10 games and had the team’s third-best plus minus (+5). Both players signed entry-level deals with the Predators during the season.
One other player who had a big post-season was 2013 sixth-round pick Emil Pettersson. Playing for MODO in Allsvenskan, Pettersson was the team’s second-leading scorer in the regular season. MODO played in the relegation playoffs, avoiding demotion after finishing 12th. In seven relegation games Pettersson scored five goals with two assists. He has yet to sign an entry-level deal with the Predators but earned an SHL contract with perennial power Skelleftea in 2016-17.
Prospect of the Month
23-year-old Viktor Arvidsson has silenced critics who felt he was too small to play in the NHL. After steadily seeing more time in 56 regular season games, he played in all 14 playoff contests. Kept on a tight rein at times by Nashville head coach Peter Laviolette, Arvidsson consistently created scoring opportunities and caused havoc on the forecheck. Even when not making the scoresheet — his overtime game-winner against the Sharks was one of two points in 14 playoff games — Arvidsson was constantly breaking up plays or maintaining puck possession. At times he appeared to be playing the game at another speed from the rest of the players on the ice.
Follow Tony Piscotta on Twitter via @Piscottas_Way