After missing out on the playoffs this season, the Nashville Predators are in a precarious situation heading into this weekend’s NHL Draft. General Manager David Poile and the Preds hold the fourth overall pick and with a number of options for picks. Last year the Predators appeared to be a team that could contend for a cup title, but heading into next season, the Predators look like a team in a mini-rebuild. The Preds have only had one general manager in the history of their franchise, and the club is putting their faith in Poile to make the right choice with the highest pick since the franchise's first draft in 1998.
Top 10 Prospects:
1. Filip Forsberg, LW
2. Austin Watson, RW
3. Pontus Aberg, LW
4. Zach Budish, RW
5. Mattias Ekholm, D
6. Jimmy Vesey, LW
7. Brendan Leipsic, LW
8. Zach Stepan, C
9. Colton Sissons, RW
10. Jeremy Smith, G
Every team, coach, player, and fan knows what Nashville’s needs are – scoring. The Predators are a notoriously defensive-minded squad and has won with that mentality in the past. Losing Ryan Suter through free agency last year left a glaring gap on both the defensive and offensive front, the latter being something that David Poile tried to address through the acquisition of Filip Forsberg. Nashville tied Florida for last in the NHL in goals per game with an abysmal 2.27 scoring average. No one on the Preds had more than 12 goals in the 2012-2013 season, but the Predators are in a fantastic spot in this offensively-loaded draft class, holding the number four pick. While certain players will never be expected to score, the Predators are hoping to get some increased offensive output from top forwards like David Legwand, Colin Wilson, and newcomer Filip Forsberg.
The Predators are one of the best defensive teams in the league, and have amazing depth when it comes to two-way forwards. Nashville’s strength lies primarily in their depth of grinding forwards and shutdown defensemen. However, at a time when offense is the biggest problem for the club, the Predators have a plethora of prospects at the junior, NCAA, and AHL level that can add a bit of scoring touch to their team. While there may be some time before they are seen in a Predators uniform, Jimmy Vesey, Brendan Leipsic, and Colton Sissons all bring the ability to put the puck into the net.
On the whole, the Nashville Predators have a fairly deep and diverse prospect group. That being said, goaltending is a big uncertainty for the team as Magnus Hellberg, who split starts with RFA Jeremy Smith for the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals in 2012-13, is their best prospective netminder. As has been mentioned previously, the scoring capabilities of Nashville’s players is a major weakness for the club and signifies a problem with the team’s top six forwards.
The Nashville Predators come into the 2013 NHL Entry Draft with an unbelievable 10 draft picks, but most importantly the number four overall selection. The Preds are slotted to pick at number 4, 64, 95, 99, 112, 125, 140, 155, 171, and 185.
David Poile does not have a history of making draft-day trades and has largely been willing to pick a player he feels fits his team regardless of nationality or the team he is coming from. The Predators are in a different situation this year, as there has been a trend over the last few years that have hurt the team. Poile has had prospects that have not quite panned out the way he has hoped, and has also had a more recent lack of success with European players. Because the team is picking fourth overall, and the assumption is that Jonathon Drouin, Nathan Mackinnon, and Seth Jones will all be picked, Poile is in a bit of a predicament. Poile could take a big European center in Aleksander Barkov, someone who has unbelievable hands and a knack for scoring. With the assumed risk that comes with drafting a European however, the team may look at drafting a North American forward or even going as far as trading the pick. Poile will likely have to wait to see who goes in the top three before making a final decision about his pick.
Hockey’s Future Staff Mock Draft Results:
4. Jonathan Drouin, LW, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
The Predators would be ecstatic if the dynamic Drouin fell to the number four pick. His playmaking ability and hands are second to none, and his ability to cycle the puck is already elite. Drouin finished well ahead of teammate Nathan Mackinnon in QMJHL scoring this year, and while scoring does not tell the whole story, on an offensively underachieving Predators team, goals are one thing they desperately need.
Follow Shaun Bisson on Twitter: @sdbisson