After spending the previous two offseasons preparing for higher-than-normal draft selections in the first round, the Predators will be taking a bit of a different approach to the draft later this week.
Without any type of trade to push them forward, Nashville will be watching the first round from the sidelines.
Even without a first round selection, this year has the potential to be one of the deepest drafts since 2003; the same draft that landed players like Ryan Suter, Kevin Klein, Alex Sulzer and Nashville’s current captain Shea Weber.
With the success experienced during the regular season this year, the Predators first pick isn’t until late in the second round with the 55th selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
Along with the 55th pick, Nashville also has the 85th pick in the third round, picks 100 and 115 in the fourth round, pick 145 in the fifth round, pick 175 in the sixth round and the 205th overall choice in the seventh round.
What’s important for the Predators isn’t necessarily worrying about losing out on some of the better talent through the first 10 to 20 picks, but to restock the proverbial cabinet after seeing a large crop of their current prospects experience a mix of graduating to the NHL, finding themselves a new home elsewhere in the league or, in some cases, heading back home to play in other leagues around the world.
Most will argue that the biggest need comes at center. To be fair, this remains an accurate statement. Nashville’s AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, have a handful of players that excel at playing down the middle, but they’re either remnants of former head coach Barry Trotz’s old system — such has been the case for both Austin Watson and Colton Sissons — or they just don’t fit into Peter Laviolette’s current gameplan.
Through no fault of their own as they haven’t been a model of futility, the Predators are and continue to be unable to benefit from selecting a top center in the top three picks in the draft.
Unless they were to truly tank for more than a handful of years, Nashville will never see the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Steven Stamkos or John Tavares.
Ultimately, that leaves free agency and the trading block for the Predators to shore up their center talent. It’s true that they can draft players to hopefully develop into elite NHL talent, however those top draft picks will most likely never happen.
What about drafting wingers?
Luckily for Nashville, Laviolette shifted around a handful of centers who didn’t fit exactly what he wanted down the middle to the wing to fill in for the lack of true talent on the left and right side.
Colin Wilson, Craig Smith, Matt Cullen and even Filip Forsberg — all players who were natural centers — played the majority of the 2014-15 campaign flanking different players across the lineup.
The problem with finding true high quality wingers is that they are a dime a dozen and can be found in any round of the draft, not just the first.
Tampa Bay’s Ondrej Palat? A seventh round selection in 2011.
Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher and Ottawa’s Mark Stone? Fifth and sixth round choices, respectively, in 2010.
Even Nashville’s Gabriel Bourque was picked late; a fifth round pick in 2009.
What should be a high priority for the Predators this year is — and stop me if you’ve heard this one before — finding defenseman.
Since 2009, Nashville has selected a total of 12 defenseman to develop into potential NHL-quality talent. Of those 12, only two have seen any playing time with the Predators — and only Seth Jones has had a significant amount of it.
Granted, most of their defensive talent — players like Anthony Bitetto, Garrett Noonan and Jonathan-Ismael Diaby — are still developing that next-level that Nashville wants to see.
However, the truth for Nashville lies in the fact that only one defenseman out of the previous five drafts has played in more than ten games for the Predators. That’s something that obviously needs to be addressed.
There’s absolutely no guarantee that any defenseman drafted this year or the next will be an immediate impact for Nashville, however that seed has to be planted now.
Last year, the Predators grabbed defensemen Jack Dougherty, Joonas Lyytinen and Aaron Irving in three of their seven picks. This year, players like Vince Dunn (Niagra Ice Dogs, OHL) and Mitch Vande Sompel (Oshawa Generals, OHL) should be getting a hard look from Nashville.
Laviolette and his current staff of assistants and scouts have their work cut out for them. Based on the previous body of work supplied by all in previous seasons, though, it shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone if the draft selections made later this week produce any number of NHL talent in the years to come.