Predators 2004 draft preview

By Sukhwinder Pandher

Predators Top Ten Prospects

1. Ryan Suter, D
2. Scottie Upshall, RW
3. Timofei Shishkanov, LW
4. Brian Finley, G
5. Shea Weber, D
6. Libor Pivko, LW
7. Kevin Klein, D
8. Konstatin Glazachev, LW
9. Brandon Seagal, RW
10. Darren Haydar, RW

Team Needs

The most glaring weakness is at the center position and this showed in the playoffs against Detroit as Nashville was dominated in the faceoff circle and did not show enough grit. With Zholtok unlikely to re-sign and Denis Akrhipov, after being scratched from four of the playoff games, possibly on the trading block, David Poile will want to bring a couple of centermen with good balance of size, skill and grit.

As most NHL teams, the Nashville Predators will be searching for a physical defenseman that can play in the top four and shut down the other team’s top scorer. Dan Hamhuis is still developing into one of those types, and Shane Hnidy may not get into the lineup every game. A veteran crease clearer would be an ideal defenseman that would take pressure off Hamhuis and is someone that the young rearguard can learn from.

Organizational Strengths

The Predators are very strong down both the right and left wings with a good mix of skill players and grinders. Scottie Upshall and Timofei Shishkanov are two of the higher rated wingers that have a good opportunity to make the club next year. Konstantin Glazachev, drafted last year in the second round, is a winger who may develop into a classic Russian winger.

After Poile and first year chief scout Paul Fenton used five of his first seven draft picks on the blue line, the position has gone from a weakness to a strength for the organization. Even with Hamhuis in the NHL, the Predators still have prospects like Ryan Suter, Shea Weber, and Kevin Klein developing in their system.

Organizational Weaknesses

The Predators system’s main weakness is the same as on the NHL level, which is the center ice position. The list of Nashville prospects at center lack a player with size and skill that projects to the second line, play with a combination of skill and grit. While a player like Robbie Schremp, if he slips down, would go a long way to fill the skill quota, centers like Bruce Graham or Kyle Chipchura would be better fits as two-way centers with upside offensive potential.

Although goaltender Brian Finley is still only 23 and enjoyed a solid season with Milwaukee of the AHL, he was still outplayed by minor leaguer Wade Flaherty. Skeptics question whether he can display the consistency needed to become the starting goalie in the future. After Finley, the only goalie in the system with a legitimate chance at making the NHL is FinnTeemu Lassila. Though very unlikely, if Al Montoya slips to Nashville at number 15, he may be too tempting to pass up, as a potential franchise goalie doesn’t come along too often.

Draft Tendencies

Despite drafting more than half of all of their 65 draft picks since inception on European born players, all of Nashville’s first round picks have been of North American descent. Of the six drafted in the opening round four have come from Canada (Finley, Scot Hartnell, Hamhuis and Upshall), and two of them haven born in the U.S. (David Legwand and Ryan Suter). To the scouting staff’s credit not one of the first rounders has fallen into the dreaded bust category.

Nashville has drafted 29 percent of their players from Canada with 18 percent coming from Russia and 15 percent of American descent. The Predators scouts’ favorite league to draft from is the Western Hockey League, with 18 percent of the draft picks originating from Western Canada, and coming in second is the Russian League at 14 percent. Players born in Finland have not been a favorite so far with only two players coming from that country.

The Predators have had some success in the late rounds with the best pick being current player Martin Erat, drafted in the seventh round in 1999. Another solid pick in 1999 was Darren Haydar, drafted in the ninth round, who scored 26 points in 22 games in Milwaukee’s run to the Calder Championship. Karlis Skrastins has been a solid defenseman selected as an overage European in the ninth round in 1998 and the scouting staff may have unearthed another overage defensemen in Andrei Mukachev, a Russian drafted in round seven last year.

The Predators used a strategy last year to fill their needs, when they used five of their first seven picks on defense to shore up that weakness. If the same were to occur expect many center ice men to be picked by David Poile and the Nashville scouting staff.

Player most likely to be taken with first selection (Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result):
Bruce Graham, C/Moncton (QMJHL)