When you really look at everyone that the Nashville Predators drafted at this year’s NHL Draft you might question just what’s going on. There were five defensemen selected by the Predators out of a possible eight draft picks. There were two European players selected, a Swedish defenseman and Russian goaltender, who have yet to play a game of senior level hockey. There were three players drafted that are joining college programs for the first time in the Fall and one that just completed his first season in college. In fact, there aren’t really any names that leap out as players that will have an immediate impact on the organization.
Dante Fabbro (1st Round, 17th Overall) will be heading to Boston University for the 2016-17 season. Samuel Girard (2nd Round, 47th Overall) has only played two seasons of junior hockey with the Shawinigan Cataractes and should be returning for the 2016-17 season. Rem Pitlick (3rd Round, 76th Overall) will be joining the University of Minnesota for the 2016-17 season. Frédéric Allard (3rd Round, 78th Overall) has logged three full-seasons with the Chicoutimi Saguenéens and could likely play out his fourth for the 2016-17 season. Hardy Häman Aktell (4th Round, 108th Overall) is such a ghost that the only known photograph I can find of him is his Skellefteå AIK headshot which no longer appears on his player profile page on the team website. Patrick Harper (5th Round, 138th Overall) will be joining Fabbro this Fall at Boston University. Konstantin Volkov (6th Round, 168th Overall) has yet to play a single game of senior level hockey and joins the back of the line in the Predators goaltending waiting list which includes: Marek Mazanec, Juuse Saros, Jonas Gunnarsson, Janne Juvonen, and Karel Vejmelka. Adam Smith (7th Round, 198th Overall) is a 20-year old defenseman but he only just logged his first year of collegiate hockey at Bowling Green State University which is where he would likely develop for at least another season or more.
So, what does all of that mean? Is this a bad draft by the Predators? The answer to that is no and a firm “NO” at that. This was a draft class selected with eyes set not on there here and now but on the two or four years from now mentality.
Forget about the Predators prospect pool itself for a moment and think about the Predators themselves. They’re solid, young, and trending upward. Their mission is to really maintain the team that they had last season while allowing the younger pieces to the program to mature and improve them well enough that they can get over the hump. There isn’t a need for any crazy trades or major free agent signings. The bigger goal should actually be re-signing certain players to long-term contracts. Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Calle Järnkrok all come to mind when I say that.
As for the Predators prospect pool it is in a really great place. You could look at the Milwaukee Admirals last season to get a good understanding of just that. The team entered the season as the second youngest in the American Hockey League and finished the regular season with a record of 48-23-3-2 (101 points, 0.664 points percentage). They won the Central Division and narrowly missed out on having the best record based on points percentage in the entire Western Conference. That was accomplished with young talents that were drafted by the Predators such as: Saros in net… Pontus Åberg, Kevin Fiala, Max Görtz, Vladislav Kamenev, and Félix Girard leading the charge up front at forward… and then Taylor Aronson on defense.
I am not saying that final point as a negative, because Aronson’s 2015-16 season with the Admirals in the AHL was a terrific one, but really give a good hard think about it. The Admirals, the Predators AHL affiliate, had one real legitimate drafted homegrown player pushing the bill for NHL playing time by the end of the season. Perhaps that was another circumstantial reason for why Aronson packed his bags, left the team, and signed for HC Lada in Russia’s KHL. Where did all the defensive depth go? If someone big in Nashville goes down due to injury, one of the top four defensemen, who is really going to legitimately step up from Milwaukee and fill that void for a long spell if called upon? The depth isn’t drafted depth, or long-term depth, it is relegated to signing mid-20 defensemen in the off-season with the hopes that their form can hold up or that they don’t regress or have to go up to Nashville in the event of an injury in the first place.
There is a good reason the Predators drafted five defensemen with their eight draft picks in the 2016 NHL Draft. They need them. They don’t necessarily need them instantly but they need to know that their near-here defensive pipeline isn’t limited to Trevor Murphy, Jack Dougherty, Alexandre Carrier, and -for what it’s worth- Jonathan Diaby. Options are needed. Depth is needed. The prospects that the Predators have eyed up over the last many years that we are all experiencing and watching now are still really an aftershock of the Barry Trotz defensive-minded Predators where the need for a scorer was paramount. There are lots of those hanging around now or getting really to make impacts in the next few years. For example, we’re about to experience Justin Kirkland here in Milwaukee during the 2016-17 season. That out to be fun. As for the Admirals defense? It’s still rather bare. That will need to be fixed similarly to how it was last season -in free agency- through depth signings that are willing to take on two-way contracts.
Free agency is the short-term option when it comes to depth for NHL fringe players. As for the way the Predators drafted this weekend that is the long-term option where eventually a lot of these defensemen are going to be nestled into the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena playing Admirals hockey knocking on that first NHL opportunity… much like a good handful of forwards are doing right now. The two forwards that they drafted? They join that expansive forward pool that is only getting better. That Russian goaltender that was taken late with a sixth round pick? He either does tremendously well and joins the mix or prospects such as Saros, Gunnarsson, Juvonen, or Vejmelka simply edge him out as a matter of competition.
When it comes to a draft class such as this, with no real groundbreaking name talent selected, it isn’t a bad thing at all. When a lot of these players aren’t going to instantly join either Nashville (NHL), Milwaukee (AHL), or Cincinnati (ECHL) right away it isn’t a bad thing at all. As my pal Macho says, “the cream rises to the top.” When it comes to defensive prospects right now? There hasn’t been much cream. Thankfully that has been addressed. Now the real fun can begin.
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