Nashville Predators 2012 draft preview

By Eugene Oliker

Photo: Recently signed to an entry-level contract, goaltender Magnus Hellberg was the Predators first pick in the 2011 NHL Draft. (Brace Hemmelgarn/Icon SMI)

 

The Nashville Predators do not have a first round pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. That is a result of the trade they made with the Buffalo Sabres for Paul Gaustad at the trade deadline. The Predators did however trade Anders Lindback to the Tampa Bay Lightning on June 15th for two second-rounders. Thus, the Predators first selection in the 2012 Entry Draft will be the 37th overall pick.

Top 10 Prospects:

1. Ryan Ellis, D
2. Jonathon Blum, D
3. Roman Josi, D
4. Michael Latta, C
5. Austin Watson, RW
6. Jeremy Smith, G
7. Taylor Beck, LW
8. Zach Budish, RW
9. Gabriel Bourque, LW
10. Magnus Hellberg, G

Team Needs

The Predators will once again be looking for forwards who can score more than 30 goals on a consistent basis. While the Predators did finish eighth overall in the NHL in goals scored during the regular season, they were just average in that area in the playoffs. The last time the Predators had a player score more than 30 goals in a season was in 2008-09 when Jason Arnott scored 33. The Predators were hoping that the return of Alexander Radulov would be the answer to their scoring woes. However, after only scoring one goal in eight playoff games and causing more drama than production, Radulov appears no longer wanted in Nashville.

Aside from that need, the Predators need to resolve the situation with Ryan Suter. His decision to test free agency can be a costly one for Nashville. If he does decide to sign with another NHL team, the good news is that the Predators do have options. Ryan Ellis, Kevin Klein, and Roman Josi are all under contract for next season. Shea Weber is a restricted free agent but if Ryan Suter does not re-sign in Nashville, the Predators will have plenty of money to throw at Weber. Hal Gill fit in quite well on a pairing with Roman Josi in his short stint with the Predators. Therefore, the Predators may consider signing him. The final spot could then become a competition between Jonathon Blum and Jack Hillen (if the restricted free agent is re-signed).

Organizational Strengths

The Predators have always been known for developing excellent defensemen like Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. Their success in this area is so impressive that their top three prospects are all defensemen. More so, they now have a lot of depth as well at the defense position. While names like Ellis and Blum are well known, there are a number of defense prospects who are not household names but still hold a lot of potential. Defensemen like Roman Josi and even Anthony Bitetto and Garrett Noonan are finally starting to shine and gain recognition as well. The fact that Ellis, Blum, and Josi are all very close to being ready for the NHL gives the Predators incredible depth when we consider that Shea Weber is only 26 while Ryan Suter is only 27.

Talent at the goaltending position is another area of strength for the Predators. They lost Mark Dekanich to free agency last summer and they now lost Anders Lindback via trade. However, the AHL success of Jeremy Smith and the high ceiling of Magnus Hellberg have allowed the Predators to sustain those loses. Having Pekka Rinne at the top of his game also does not hurt either.

The Predators also do possess some depth when it comes to two-way forwards. Forwards like Michael Latta, Austin Watson, and Gabriel Bourque are all fantastic all-around players who play well in all zones. Character has been important to the Predators when drafting and their group of forwards is a clear testament to that.

Organizational Weaknesses

As previously mentioned, the lack of blue chip prospects at the forward position is a real concern. While the likes of Taylor Beck, Zach Budish, and Latta top the Predators depth chart at each of the three forward positions, none of them have elite talent. It would be difficult to imagine any of these players consistently scoring over 30 goals at the NHL level. Without a first round pick in this draft, the Predators may have to consider a number of projects at the forward position.

Depth at the goaltending position could become a concern in the future. While Pekka Rinne is signed until 2019, it is always important to have goaltending depth in case of injuries. Jeremy Smith, Magnus Hellberg, and Chet Pickard are all yet to play a single NHL game. It is of course possible that the Predators will sign a backup goaltender during this off-season.

Draft Tendencies

For the second year in a row, the Predators lack a first round pick. In 2011, the organization picked four forwards, two defensemen and one goalie. This trend is likely to continue as the Predators main weakness remains a lack of scoring. Since the 2012 draft is not deep in terms of talent at the forward position, expect the Predators to maybe gamble on a few high risk/reward type prospects.

The organization has shown an affinity for OHL players. Over the last three drafts they selected five players from the OHL. Two of them, Austin Watson and Ryan Ellis, were drafted in the first round. This trend is likely to continue as the Predators have had much success going the OHL route. Nick Spaling was a product of the OHL and is now a key member of the Predators. Ryan Ellis and Jeremy Smith are also OHL alum who are now close to making the NHL.

The Predators also seem to be drafting more players from Sweden in recent years. They selected one player from Sweden in each draft between 2007 and 2010. However, in 2011 they selected Magnus Hellberg with their first selection and Simon Karlsson in the fifth round.

The Nashville Predators now own nine selections in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. They own the 37th, 50th, 65th, 111th, 117th, 141st, 163rd, 171st and 178th picks.

 

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