Entering the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, the Nashville Predators were in need of organizational depth, and certainly had enough draft picks to make a significant improvement in that area. The Predators owned 15 selections in the draft, which was by far the most for any NHL team. There were rumors that Nashville might use its sixth overall pick to trade into the top four and select one of the Sedin twins, and general manager Dave Poile revealed yesterday that he discussed the issue with Vancouver GM Brian Burke the night before the draft. However, Burke was reluctant to discuss anything in depth and that was a clear indication to Poile that the Canucks had another deal in the works.
Once the pre-draft trades emerged on Saturday, it appeared that Nashville would be content to stick with its selection. As the pick approached, however, another team contacted the Predators with a trade offer. According to Poile, the deal included “a pretty significant player” and involved the Predators trading the sixth overall pick. Poile turned down the offer and instead used the pick to select Brian Finley, the top rated goaltender in the draft.
Finley was ranked by the NHL Central Scouting Bureau as the top netminder throughout the 1998-99 season and brings impressive credentials to the Nashville organization. Finley has spent the past two seasons with the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League. He was named to the OHL All-Rookie team in 1998, is a two-time OHL All-Star and captured OHL Goaltender of the Year honors for the 1998-99 season. He also backstopped Team Canada to a gold medal in the 1998 Under-18 World Tournament.
A butteryfly style goaltender, Finley has great reflexes and moves very well in the crease area. He can recover quickly on rebounds, is technically sound and has excellent timing, positioning and anticipation. He is a proven winner who posted a 36-10-4 record with a 2.66 goals against average and .913 save percentage during the 1998-99 season.
Finley gives the Predators a top-flight goaltending prospect, something the team desperately needed after not selecting a goaltender in the 1998 draft. Finley will need time to develop, but if he can progress steadily, he may be ready to replace 27 year-old Predator goaltender Mike Dunham within a few seasons.
Nashville had four picks in the second round entering the draft and the Predators used the 33rd choice to pick right wing Jonas Andersson from the AIK junior squad in Sweden. This was considered a significant stretch for the Predators, especially since Andersson was only ranked 33rd amoung European-based players by the CSB and a shoulder injury limited his playing time this season. However, Nashville scouts were impressed with Andersson each time they saw him play and his interview with the team may have been the final factor in the decision to draft him. Andersson impressed Predators personnel with his highly professional demeanor and was likened by Poile to a CEO of a company. The Swede came to the draft without an agent and presented his medical records to interested teams himself. The records indicated that he did not need surgery and was completely healed from the shoulder injury.
At 6’2″ and 189 pounds, Andersson has good size, but his limited playing time and with only three goals and seven assists in 16 games with AIK junior this season, there is no certainty about his future. However, Andersson intends to play the next season in the Canadaion junior hockey system, which shows his dedication to making the transition to the North American game and developing his abilities. His performance in the CHL next season may be the real indicator for how well the Preadtors used their first pick in the second round.
After selecting Andersson, Nashville had the 40th overall pick in the draft, but traded down to get the 45th pick from the Florida Panthers. The Predators then traded the 45th pick to the Colorado Avalanche for the 54th and the 61st picks in the second round. Colorado used the 45th pick to select defenseman Martin Grenier, but the Predator were happy to trade down and get an additional pick in the second round.
Nasvhille used the 52nd pick, which it received as compensation for losing expansion draftee Mike Richter to free agency, to select right wing Adam Hall from the Michigan State Spartans of the CCHA. Hall is a 6’2″, 200-pound power forward who plays a tough, physical game and knows how to score goals. He was named the Spartan Rookie of the Year for 1998-99, earned CCHA All-Rookie honors and was runner-up for the CCHA Rookie of the Year award. He played with the U.S. national team at the 1999 World Junior Championships and had 10 goals and five assists in 31 games with the Spartans this season. Before he began his career at Michigan State, Hall captained the 1997-98 U.S. Under-18 team and registered an impressive 41 goals, 23 assists and 65 points in 71 games with the national squad.
Michigan State has a long history of producing outstanding NHL players and the Spartans are one of the top college programs in the U.S., so there is no doubt that Hall will have an opportunity to develop into a top flight player. Hall needs at least two more seasons of development before he is ready for pro hockey, but he clearly has the size and scoring ability that NHL teams look for in a power forward. In a few years, he may be able to bring that size and goal scoring to the Predators lineup.
Nashville used the 54th pick it received in the Colorado trade to select another Michigan State Spartan, defenseman Andrew Hutchinson. At age 19, Hutchinson is an older draftee, but he has decent size at 6’2″ 186 and turned in a strong freshman season at Michigan State. He earned Honorable Mention CCHA All-Rookie honors, notching a goal and 11 assists in 33 games witht he Spartans. He was a member of the 1997-98 U.S. Under-18 national team, where he posted seven goals and 21 assists in 59 games. Hutchinson plays a safe, smart defensive game and may develop into a solid defensive defenseman. However, he needs to develop more offensive ability and improve his scoring production if he wants to make a serious run at the NHL.
The Predators selected another defenseman with the other pick they received from the Avalanche. Nashville used the 61st overall choice to pick Ed Hill from the Barrie Colts of the OHL. Hill is a teammate of top pick Brian Finley and brings more size to the Predators at 6’2″ and 215 pounds. He scored seven goals and added 17 assists in 53 games with the Colts this season. He participated in the 1999 CHL Top Prospects Game and was one of only two American players who played in the event, but he slipped from 20th at mid-season to 30th in the final CSB rankings. Hill is a good skater who moves well on the ice and has shown some leadership ability, but he is one of many big defensemen who have the raw tools, but will need steady improvement to make it to the NHL.
With their fifth and final pick in the second round, the Predators selected Slovakian goaltender Jan Lasak with the 65th overall choice. Lasak was the third-best European goaltender according to the final CSB rankings and his selection gives Nashville two quality goaltending prospects. An unorthodox goaltender, Lasak was one of the few undrafted 19 year-olds as the starting netminder for the Slovakian national team at the 1999 World Junior Championships. Lasak emerged as one of the top goaltenders in the tournament and backstopped a surprising Slovakian team that won the Bronze medal. He posted a 2.33 goals against average and a .927 save percentage during the tournament and was particularly impressive when he shutout Canada in a 0-0 tie.
Lasak split the 1998-99 season with the HKm Zloven junior and senior squads in Slovakia. During limited action with the senior club in the Slovakian Extraliga, Lasak struggled, as he compiled a 4.50 goals against average and .868 save percentage in eight games. His performance was simply an indication that, like all goaltenders, Lasak will need a few years of seasoning and improvement before he is ready to tackle the NHL.
Nashville originally had three picks in the third round, but traded away two of them, including the rights to Detroit’s compensatory pick for the loss of Bob Rouse to free agency. The Predators traded that pick to the Edmonton Oilers for defenseman Craig Millar. The moves left Nashville with the 72nd pick, which it used to select hulking defenseman Brett Angel of the OHL’s North Bay Centennials. At 6.05 and 221 pounds, Angel has the size that NHL teams covet, but he has limited offensive ability. He had give goals, nine assists and 139 penalty minutes in 55 games with North Bay this season, but he showed little improvement compared to his 1997-98 totals, when he had one goal, three assists and 131 penalty minutes for the Centennials. Angel is clearly a project, like so many big defensemen who are drafted more for size than anything else. The Predators hope he can elevate the other aspects of his game, but that will take some work.
In the fourth round, Nashville used the 121st and 124th overall picks to select a pair of Europeans, Russian forward Yevgeny Pavlov and forward Alexandr Krevsun from Khazikstan. Pavlov saw only limited action with Lada in the Russian league, but he has decent size at 6’1″ 190 and has shown good speed in the games he has played. He was ranked 45th among European-based players by the CSB. Krevsun was another significant stretch for the Predators. He was not ranked by the CSB and did not even make the final roster cut for the Khazikstan national team, which competed in the 1999 World Junior Championships. Krevsun is 6’2″ and 190 pounds and at 19 years old is another older prospect for Nashville. Krevsun would appear to be another case of the Predators going with their own scouting evaluations, much like they did with Jonas Andersson.
The Predators used their lone pick in the fifth round to draft Konstantin Panov, a 5’11” 186-pound Russian right wing who plays for the Kamploops Blazers in the WHL. An older prospect who will turn 19 on June 29, Panov played his first season in North American in 1998-99 and compiled impressive numbers with the Blazers. He scored 33 goals and added 30 assists in 62 games with Kamploops. He jumped from 135th to 70th in CSB rankings from mid-season to the final report. With one year of experience in North America, Panov has an advantage over many other European-born players who were selected in the draft. He could be a sleeper who pays big dividends for Nashville in the future, but only time will tell.
In the sixth round, Nashville picked Swiss-based defenseman Timo Helbling. Ranked 47th among European-based players by the CSB, Helbling is 6.02 and 183 pounds. He played last season with the Davos junior squad in Switzerland. Not much is known about Helbling, other than he has been invited to the Davos senior team training camp for 1999-2000 and will likely compete with the club next season.
With their first of two picks in the seventh round, the Predators selected left wing Martin Erat from the ZPS Zlin junior squad in the Czech Republic. Erat was ranked 23rd among Europeans by the CSB, but his lack of size was probably the biggest factor in his late selection. The CSB listed Erat at 5’11” and 180 pounds, but Czech Republic Under-18 team rosters have shown him at 5’9″ and 174 pounds. Despite his diminuitive size, Erat has been an effective player and led the Czech Under-18 squad in scoring with a goal and three assists at the 1999 Freedom Challenge in Lake Placid, NY. It is doubtful that Erat could handle the NHL grind at his size, but the Predators are willing to take a chance to see if he can.
Nashville used its other seventh round pick to select goaltender Kyle Kettles. This was a bizzare selection. Kettles played this season with the Neepawa Natives of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, where he was less than impressive with a 4.14 goals against average and .885 save percentage. His major junior rights are owned by the Medicine Hat Tigers, who acquired him as part of a trade with the Brandon Wheat Kings.
In the eigth round, Nashville selected defenseman Miroslav Durak from the Bratislava junior squad in Slovakia. He was ranked 80th among Europeans by the CSB at mid-season, but he dropped out of the rankings in the final report.
With the 248th overall pick and their final selection in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, the Predators selected right wing Darren Haydar from the University of New Hamphire. At 5’9″, Haydar may be too small to be a top prospect in the NHL, but he certainly made a sizable impact during his freshman year at UNH. He spent most of the season playing on the top forward line with Hobey Baker award winner Jason Krog and prolific scorer Mike Souza. Haydar finished 7th in NCAA Division I hockey with 61 points and was fourth in the nation with 31 goals. He proved to be a potent scoring threat, especially during critical NCAA playoff games. He assisted on New Hampshire’s first goal and notched the game-winning tally as the Huskies defeated defending champion Michigan, 2-1, in the NCAA regional playoffs. Haydar registered two assists in New Hampshire’s 5-3 win over Michigan State in the NCAA Championship Semi-Finals and he had a goal and assisted on the only other score by the Huskies in their heartbreaking 3-2 loss to Maine in the National Championship game.
Haydar will have to overcome his size disadvantage and develop into an elite college player to have any chance of reaching the NHL. However, if he can continue to score and add whatever size he can, there could be a place for him in Nashville after his college career is complete. NHL players like Theo Fleury and Brendan Morrison have definitely proven that a lack of size is not an insurmountable barrier.
Overall, the Nashville Predators had a very successful draft and certainly stocked their organization with young talent. They addressed their need for goaltending by taking two of the top netminders in the draft and added size at forward and defense. Players like Brian Finley, Jan Lasak and Adam Hall may be the most legimitate prospects, but Nashville could wind up with several more quality players for the future if their sleeper picks like Jonas Andersson, Konstantin Panov, Martin Erat and Darren Haydar overcome initial doubts to develop.