Nashville Predators 2000 Draft Preview

By Greg Andrade
After two years of building the franchise and laying the foundation for success in the NHL, the Nashville Predators will participate in their third Entry Draft on June 24 and 25 in Calgary. The Predators will select sixth overall, barring a trade to move up or down in the first round order. Rumors and speculation about possible trades have been circulating for several weeks, especially in the wake of the New York Islanders winning the draft lottery and moving up to the top overall pick. What the Predators do in the first round will likely be determined by those potential deals, whether Nashville is involved in them or not.

Lately, Nashville GM David Poile has talked about trading down, especially if there is no one the team is excited about at the sixth pick. Poile has indicated that the team might use its “time out” option when its pick comes up in the draft, to allow more time for trade negotiations. If another team wants a player badly enough at the sixth pick and is willing to pay the price in order to move up, Poile would love to make the kind of trade that Tampa Bay did last year, when the Lightning acquired Dan Cloutier and Niklas Sundstrom, along with first and third round draft picks in 2000 in exchange for the fourth overall selection in 1999. The chances of that kind of deal emerging are very slim, but Nashville will definitely listen to all offers on draft day.

If the Predators remain in the sixth position and there are no suprise selections ahead of them, their potential selections might be a bit surprising. Nashville would love to take Rick DiPietro if he is available, but most expect the Boston University goaltender to be selected in the top five. Some might wonder why the Predators would select a goaltender when they already used the sixth pick last year to take Barrie Colts standout Brian Finley. But Nashville GM David Poile has made it clear that he is interested in DiPietro, whether it means then trading him to another team or possible dealing Finley. Poile knows that DiPietro is one of the top commodities in this draft and that other teams might offer a significant trade to acquire him. If DiPietro falls to the sixth pick, expect the Predators to take him or possibly swap picks with another team in a draft day trade.

If DiPietro is not available, the top priority for Nashville will be to select a defenseman. The franchise has lacked a standout defensive prospect since it began in 1998 and there are several possibilities at that position. Brampton Battalion defenseman Rostislav Klesla would be the obvious choice, since he is clearly the top blueliner available, but he is considered a lock to be taken in the top five. That leaves a trio of defensemen available, all of whom would be a bit of a stretch at the sixth pick.

The first choice among them would likely be Brooks Orpik of Boston College. Orpik is a 6-2, 217-pounder who is listed as the fourth-best North American skater in the CSB final rankings. He has very good size and is one of the best hitters in college hockey. He has spent the past two seasons behind Mike Mottau and Bobby Allen on the Boston College blueline, so he has been limited to a more defensive role for the team. But some scouts believe that he has the talent to become an excellent two-way defenseman and even compare him to a young Rob Blake. He definitely has good speed and lateral movement for a player his size and he can move the puck very well, but he has not put up much offense thus far. There is a lot of debate over Orpik’s true potential, especially whether he could be a top two defenseman in the NHL or only a physical fifth or sixth defenseman at the next level. Those doubts might make Orpik a stretch at the sixth pick, but if he lives up to the comparis! ons to Rob Blake, he could end up being a sleeper in this draft.

Another possibility on defense would be Ilya Nikulin, a 6-3 211-pound Russian who is listed as the fifth best European skater in the CSB final rankings. He has excellent size and strength, and can play a physical game. He has a hard shot from the blueline and is a decent passer, but he is mostly a defensive defenseman at this point in his career. Based on his size and willingness to play a physical game, Nikulin might be a solid first round pick for the Predators, but it would be very tough to justify using the sixth pick on him. If they like him enough, they might take Nikulin at the sixth spot, but likely would trade down to get him later in the draft.

The only other option would be Lars Jonsson, who has rocketed up the CSB rankings and is now listed as the 11th-best skater among Europeans. Jonsson is the best offensive defenseman available in the draft and one of the best skaters. He posted very impressive numbers for the Leksand junior squad in Sweden, but scouts were disappointed that he was not a member of the Swedish team at the Under-18 World Championships. It is unlikely that Nashville would take a defenseman like Jonsson, because there are too many doubts about his defensive game and the Predators are in need of a standout two-way player on the blueline.

If DiPietro is already taken, there are no viable trade options and the Predators do not believe that one of these defensemen warrants the sixth pick, then Nashville would simply take the best forward available. The Predators have already talked to Bramtpon Battalion left wing Raffi Torres and Erie Otters center Brad Boyes. Both of those players might be available at the sixth pick, along with others like Scott Hartnell, Mikhail Yakubov, Alexei Smirnov and Pavel Vorobiev. Any of these players might be a safe or at least reasonable pick at sixth overall, but none would be a gem in the organization.