Predators 2008 draft review

By Matt Eichenblatt

The Predators were one of the most active teams in this year’s draft, trading picks early and often throughout the two-day selection process. One of the major moves the Predators made happened just before the draft as they sent backup goaltender Chris Mason to the St. Louis Blues for the 111th overall pick.

Once the draft began, things began to get interesting as Nashville not only moved up two spots in the first round to select the coveted Center Colin Wilson, but also traded back in the round with their original pick to nab Wilson’s childhood friend and standout goalie, Chet Pickard. Of the Predators seven draft selections, there were two goalies, two centers, two defensemen, and a left winger.

Colin Wilson, C — Boston University (NCAA)

1st round, 7th overall

Desperately needing some help up the middle, General Manager David Poile, took no chances in the first round by trading the ninth overall pick and the 40th overall pick to the New York Islanders for the 7th overall pick, and the chance to pick up what many call a franchise center. This made a big impression on Wilson as he remarked after his selection, “by trading up for me, it definitely showed that they have big plans for me and that they really wanted me, so it’s a great honor to be picked after being traded up for.”

The 6’1 215-pound Wilson was the 10th ranked North American skater by Central Scouting, and was the fourth ranked at his position by ISS. Despite the ranking, he was drafted as the second center, behind the consensus No. 1 pick, Steven Stamkos.

Wilson is one of the best center prospects developed in America, and has been a very productive playmaker since his days with the U.S. National U-18 team in which he notched 10 goals and 11 assists in 34 games for the team. After one year with the program, Wilson took his game to Boston University, where he logged even better numbers, scoring 12 goals with a whopping 23 assists in only 37 games.

As you can see from his statistics, Wilson’s strongest suit is his ability to pass the puck. His big frame is an asset as he rarely gets pushed off the puck, and his ability to maneuver through traffic while maintaining an eye out for his teammates makes him an offensive threat, especially on the power play. As the son of former NHL player, Carey Wilson, it is obvious Colin carries a high hockey IQ, and knows a lot about the game and it translates onto the ice. He rarely ever makes a mental error on the ice and finds himself in the right position to make a play in the offensive zone.
Wilson has superb hands, and never gets too cute with the puck. His stick handling combined with above-average skating will be an asset for the Predators in the future as he continues to make his rise to the big club.

The one knock on Wilson is, despite his big frame, he is not as physical a player as you would expect for a center at his size. If he can throw his weight around more on the defensive end of the ice, Wilson should make the Predators roster within the next year or two.

Chet Pickard, G — Tri City Americans (WHL)

1st round, 18th overall

After trading up to grab Wilson, Nashville decided to trade back from their original spot at 15 to the 18th overall spot, snatching up a 2009 third-round pick from the Ottawa Senators along the way. After trading away Chris Mason to St. Louis earlier, there was an immediate need to bring in some depth at the goaltender position, therefore the Predators went ahead and took the highest rated goaltender on the board in Pickard.

Of being the first goalie in the 2008 Entry Draft, Pickard said, “It’s a great honor. There are so many great goalie prospects, especially in this year’s draft, it’s unbelievable.”

Pickard was a staple of the Tri-Cities Americans for three years playing with another future NHL standout Carey Price, and last year posting a stellar 2.32 GAA in 54 games.

Pickard is a tall goaltender, measuring in at 6’2 and 210 pounds, and he uses his size very effectively. His butterfly style accompanied by his quickness from crease to crease has been an immeasurable tool to his success in the WHL. He has a fairly quick glove and he isn’t one to make stupid mistake when handling the puck. His stellar record of 46-12-2 was by far the best in the WHL last season, and it secured his team the mark of regular-season champions.

Pickard will look to challenge for a spot behind incumbent starter Dan Ellis with Pekka Rinne and fellow goalie prospect Mark Dekanich in the fall, but will probably end up with the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals in order to improve his endurance and gain much needed playing time.

Roman Josi, D — Bern (Swiss-A)

2nd round, 38th overall

Continuing to stockpile their already deep pool of blue liners, the Predators surprised everyone and took Roman Josi 38th overall from Bern of the Swiss-A League.

Touted as “one of the most complete players for his age” on his junior team, Josi shows he has all of the tools to be a successful NHL player. Like most Europeans, Josi is an extremely good puck handler with a hard slap shot to accompany it. His ability to score from the blue line makes him a valuable asset in many offensive situations, and his offensive presence is far beyond most defensemen of his age. He is a fearless player, and is a quiet leader on his team who leads by example, especially when it comes to getting down to block a shot.

It is obvious that Josi will need time to continue to grow physically. He most recently measured in at 6’1, and 183 lbs —- meek even for a kid at his age. Along with some physical maturity, he could also use some work with his skating. While his power seems fine, he needs to work on his transitions as well as backwards skating to avoid getting caught out of position in a much faster paced North American game.

Josi won’t be ready to play in the NHL in the near future, but given some time to grow both physically and as a player; this gifted defenseman can end up being a real gem for the Predators already deep blue line.

Taylor Stefishen, LW — Langley Chiefs (BCHL)

5th round, 136th overall

A diamond in the rough type prospect, Stefishen is a brilliant offensive-minded player who knows not only how to score, but distribute the puck. Last year in 57 games with the Langley Chiefs, Stefishen notched 33 goals and 48 assists in only 57 games. He has a quick and accurate shot, and can be a very creative player with the puck in the offensive zone.

Despite his stellar offensive numbers, Stefishen has some serious flaws in his game that contributed to him falling to the middle of the fifth round. First, his defensive game is almost non-existent. He takes way too long to get back in the defensive zone, and is quite easy to get by.

For someone who is only 5’10 and 170 lbs, he is not as good a skater as many would hope. His lack of skating skills surely contributes to his poor efforts on the defensive end, but many would also point to a questionable work ethic that has led to simply mediocre improvement in his defensive game over the past few years.

Because he is such a playmaker on the offensive end, it was a good gamble by the Predators organization to take a player like Stefishen. Whether or not you will see him in the NHL at some point remains to be seen, but if it does happen, it will be because he worked on becoming more of a complete player, rather than an offensive hot-shot.

Jeff Foss, D — RPI (NCAA)

6th round, 166th overall

Another cog in the Predators defensive cupboard, Foss is a big and skilled defenseman who uses his stick very well in defensive situations. Last year for the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Foss posted just 4 points in 38 games, but contributed far more on his end of the ice.

Measuring in at 6’2 and 200 lbs, Foss is an imposing figure who with more experience, should become more of a physical presence on the ice. His poke check and long reach already make him a plausible defenseman, so a little more aggressiveness would do him good.

On the offensive side, Foss is a competent player who can handle the puck well, and will not be a hazard in the offensive zone. While he has a decent shot, don’t expect him to become a high scoring defenseman at any point in his career, as it just simply isn’t a part of his game or skill set to be a real offensive threat from the blue line.

Foss is expected to enter his sophomore campaign at RPI this coming fall and should be a prospect to keep an eye out for, especially if he learns to be a more aggressive player along the boards.

Jani Lajunen, C — Blues Jrs. (Finland)

7th round, 201st overall

The second center taken by the Predators in the draft, Lajunen is an incredibly quick skater for someone who comes in at a lanky 6’1, 174 lbs. Having only played in 25 games for Blues Jr. in Finland last season, Lajunen notched 4 goals and 10 assists, most of which happened towards to tail end of the season.

Lajunen’s large frame will allow him to put on more weight to protect him as he continues to play at higher levels of competition, all while maintaining his quick jump and explosiveness on the ice.

Lajunen is a very raw and young player and will probably stay overseas the next couple of years in hopes of maturing as a man and as a more complete player. He has great hockey sense on the offensive end and can distribute the puck very well, but he needs to learn how to make use of his size as he gets pushed off the puck relatively easily. This will be an area in which the Predators organization will keep an eye on as he continues to his climb through the ranks in Finland.

Anders Lindback, G — Almtuna (Sweden)

7th round, 207th overall

With their final pick of the 2008 NHL Draft, the Predators went ahead and took a flyer on an exquisite physical specimen, goalie Anders Lindback. Lindback measures in at an incredible 6’6, but weighs only 198 lbs.

At only 18 years old, it is to be expected that Lindback will put on some weight to accompany his incredible height. Nevertheless, Lindback showed great potential last year playing for Almtuna in Sweden. While posting  a 3.07 GAA and .907 save percentage in 18 games, Lindback impressed scouts by being able to use his height to his advantage, flashing a wide range and quickness across the crease.

Lindback is the kind of player who at his size, is worth a seventh-round pick. With his raw potential and extraordinary height, Lindback will be watched the next few years to see if he can get stronger and shoulder the weight of a full schedule. If he can handle it, bringing him to North America is not out of the question.