Nashville Predators 2000 Draft Review

By Greg Andrade
After a wild mix of trades and surprise selections in the top five of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, the Nashville Predators used their sixth overall pick to make a very safe pick and selected Scott Hartnell of the Prince Albert Raiders. Hartnell is a 6-2 192-pound right wing who was ranked third among North American skaters in both the mid-season and final CSB rankings. Hartnell is a gritty forward whose greatest assets are his character, leadership and work ethic. His character landed him the captaincy in Prince Albert, even at only 17 years of age. But he also has impressive talent.

Hartnell has decent speed and is quick in making decision with the puck. He has very good passing skills and is very adept at setting up teammates for goal scoring chances. He is an aggressive forechecker who loves to work in the corners and play a physical game. Hartnell plays a solid all-around game and is a complete hockey player. He was clearly a safe and sound pick for the Predators, who until now have lacked a true leader and character player in their organization.

“Character always factors in,” said GM Davd Poile after Hartnell was selected. “He’s the type of player our scouts like to say you can win with and win with in the playoffs.”

Predators chief amateur scout Craig Channell echoed the praise for Hartnell. “Scott gives us the grit and character and leadership that we want. In a couple years, he’ll help our guys out. He can also put points on the board. We think Scott Hartnell will be a good player for us and the fans of Nashville will like him.”

With one solid prospect in the fold, Nashville used its second round pick, 36th overall, to select Daniel Widing, a 6-0 185-pound right wing who plays for the Leksand junior team in Sweden. Widing is very similar to Jonas Andersson, whom the Predators selected in the second round last year. Widing has great straight-away speed, something that the Nashville organization covets. He is a hard-working two-way player who brings intensity and determination to the ice. His primary weakness is his puckhandling, which needs improvement. If Widing comes to North America next season, he could follow the same path to success that Andersson has. And if his results are anything like what Andersson did in his OHL rookie season, the Predators could have another high-quality Swedish prospect in their system.

In the third round the Predators had two selections. With the 72nd overall pick, they selected Mattias Nilsson, a 6-3 189-pound defenseman from the MoDo junior squad in Sweden. Nilsson was only the 71st rated European skater in the final CSB rankings, but several NHL teams were said to be very interested in him. He is a tall, rangy defenseman who scored five goals and added five assists with 56 penalty minutes in 35 games last season. He played for team Sweden at the Under-18 World Championships, but had a quiet tournament with no points and 14 penalty minutes in five games.

The Predators believe that Nilsson could develop into a very productive defenseman if he can fill out his frame and work on his skills over the next few seasons. He is clearly a long-term prospect, but has the potential to be a respectable defenseman in the NHL.

With their second pick in the third round, 89th overall, the Predators selected Libor Pivko. A 6-3 189-pound winger, Pivko played last season with HC Femax Havirov in the Czech Republic Extraliga. Pivko is an older prospect at age 20, but as such he is a more refined and mature player. He was a member of the Czech Republic team at the World Junior championships, where he turned in a performance that impressed Nashville scouts. He had one goal, two assists, four penalty minutes and a +3 rating in seven tournament games.

Pivko has excellent speed and skating ability, and he had a strong season with Havirov, scoring 11 goals and adding 11 assists in 40 games. Considering his age and professional hockey experience, Pivko is more advanced than many of his fellow prospect, but he was only ranked 55th among European skaters in the CSB final report. The Predators love his speed and believe he fits their organizational philosophy very well. And the advantage for Pivko is that he can come to North America and start playing minor league hockey right away. So there is a chance that he might play in Milwaukee of the IHL next season.

In the fourth round, Nashville originally owned the 102nd overall pick, but the Predators traded it to Detroit for a third round pick in 2001. It was a good move by GM David Poile, because the 2001 will be loaded with talent and players who are taken in the third round may be comparable to high second round and late first round picks in the 2000 draft.

After sitting out the fourth, the Predators made up for lost ground with three selections in the fifth round. They opened the fifth by selecting Matt Hendricks, a 5-11 190-pound center from Blaine High School in Minnesota. Hendricks is a college-bound player who will attend St. Cloud State University in the fall. Hendricks moved up from 81st to 54th among North American skaters, between the mid-season and final CSB reports. He is a strong skater with good speed and overall offensive ability. He is a very solid player and a team leader who brings intangibles to the ice. He scored 23 goals and added 30 assists along with 28 penalty minutes in 21 games during his senior season at Blaine. He is an older prospect at the age of 19, but he could be a nice sleeper selection for the Predators.

A few picks later, at 137th overall, Nashville selected Mike Stuart, a 6-0 193-pound defenseman from Colorado College. Stuart was ranked 209th among North American skaters by the CSB, but the Predators liked something in his ability and took him much earlier than expected. Stuart is a solid all-around player who was a member of the U.S. World Junior squad at the 2000 championships. He had no points and just two penalty minutes in the tournament. Stuart would have to be considered a long-shot prospect for the NHL, but he has the basic tools to be a steady physical defenseman.

With their third and final pick in the fifth round, 154th overall, the Predators picked Matt Koalska, a 5-11 188-pound center/right wing who played last season for Twin Cities in the USHL. Koalska is another college-bound player; he play for the University of Minnesota this fall. He was rated as the 121st North American skaters in the final CSB rankings and is an older prospect at age 20. He scored 24 goals and added 34 assists, along with 19 penalty minutes in 57 games last season.

In the sixth round, Nashville once again had multiple picks, but this time only two. The Predators used their first selection, 173rd overall, to pick Tomas Harant, a 6-3 180-pound defenseman from Zilina in the Slovakian first division. Harant was rated as the 84th European skater in the CSB final rankings. He had no goals, three assists and 34 penalty minutes in 27 games last season.

At 197th overall, the Predators picked Zbynek Irgl, a 5-11 178-pound winger who played last season for Vitkovice in the Czech Republic. Irgl was rated 68th among European skaters in the final CSB rankings, but he is one of the best young prospects coming out of the Czech Republic. He was a teammate of Pivko on the Czech world junior squad and had a strong tournament. He scored two goals, added one assist, six penalty minutes and had a +3 rating in seven tournament games. He is another fast and skilled forward who fits into the Predator philosophy. He had seven goals and five assists in 47 games for Vitkovice last season. Another older prospect at age 19, Irgl could be lured to North America to play junior hockey or possible enter the minors in the near future.

The quest for older and more mature prospects continued into the seventh round for the Predators. In that round, with their 203rd overall pick, they selected Jure Penko, a 6-1 190-pound goaltender from Green Bay of the USHL. Penko is a native of Ljubljana, Slovenia and is 19 years old. He played for Leamington of the OPJHL in 1998-99, where he posted impressive numbers. He was 17-3 with a 2.39 goals against average, .921 save percentage and three shutouts in 20 games. With Green Bay last season, Penko continued his success by posting a 25-12-3 record with a 2.81 goals against average, .906 save percentage and one shutouts in 40 games.

In the playoffs, he led the Gamblers to the Clark Cup championship, posting an impressive 10-4 record, 2.13 goals against average, .930 save percentage and one shutout. The Predators have proven to be masters of sleeper picks in the draft and Penko could join the growing list of players who have gone from late round selections to success within the Nashville organization. He is likely headed for major junior hockey next season.

Nashville had just one pick in the eighth round and used its 236th overall selection to take Matts Christeen, a 6-0 180-pound defenseman from Sodertalje SK in the Swedish under-18 junior league. Christeen played just five games for the team this season, registering one assist and totaling eight penalty minutes.

Finally, the Predators used their ninth round pick, 284th overall, to select Martin Hohener, a 6-2 180-pound defenseman who played last season for HC Kloten in Switzerland. Hohener was a member of the Swiss national team at the World Junior Championships, compiling one assist and four penalty minutes in seven tournament games. With HC Kloten, he was a key player on the blueline, with four goals and three assists along with 22 penalty minutes in 47 games. At age 20, Hohener is yet another older prospect that the Predators selected during the draft. He will join fellow Swiss player and world junior teammate Timo Helbling as a defense prospect in the Nashville organization.

Overall, it was another successful draft for the Predators, who put together their usual mix of solid prospects and intriguing sleepers. Hartnell gives them a potential team captain and franchise leader, while players like Widing and Pivko give them the kind of speedy forwards that they like to have in the lineup. If a couple of the later picks can break through over time, this draft could prove to be another suprisingly good effort for Nashville.