When it comes to rebuilding a hockey franchise, few are better qualified than the Nashville Predators' David Poile.
The only general manager in Predators history likely learned a trick or two from his late father, Bud Poile, who served as general manager of two expansion franchises -- first with the Philadelphia Flyers (1967) and then the Vancouver Canucks (1970). Bud Poile's legendary skills as a hockey architect earned him the Lester Patrick Award in 1989 and entry into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990.
A proven builder in his own right, the junior Poile demonstrated the wheeling-and-dealing acumen characteristic of his family name during two days in Ottawa. By executing a trade prior to each of Nashville's first-round picks at the 2008 Entry Draft, Poile and his staff made it clear that they are determined to build a lasting winner in Tennessee.
And that was just the start. The Predators continued to speak boldly by utilizing their first three draft choices to select future cornerstone players at critical positions -- center, goaltender and defense. It couldn't have worked out better for a rebuilding hockey franchise.
For the first time in their 10-year history, the Predators had two first-round picks, and they used them wisely by selecting Boston University center Colin Wilson seventh overall and goaltender Chet Pickard of the Tri-City Americans 18th overall. Early in the second round, Nashville brass was delighted that defenseman Roman Josi was still available and wasted no time in plucking the talented native of Bern, Switzerland, 38th overall. Each rated highly among all prospects at their respective positions and contribute character and skill in equal doses.
The son of former 12-year NHL veteran Carey Wilson, the Predators' first draft choice recently completed his freshman season at Boston University, where he became the fifth player in school history to be named Hockey East Rookie of the Year. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound center posted 35 points in 37 games with the Terriers in 2007-08, ranking second in conference scoring among freshmen and third on the Terriers. Like the Poile family, the Wilson clan has special bloodlines.
"Carey and Colin are both extremely strong," says former NHL defenseman Neil Sheehy, who played with Carey in Calgary and was traded with him to the Hartford Whalers during the 1987-88 season. "Carey was deceptive as a player in that if you ran into him on the ice it was like running into a tree. Carey didn't have a nasty streak and he never wanted to instigate confrontation. But Colin has some real bite to him. He has that edge where he will instigate and he is not afraid if someone starts instigating with him. Colin will look at his opponent eyeball to eyeball. And he also resembles a tree when you run into him. They are similar that way.
"They have very similar skills. They both have great puck skills and a great sense for the game. But Colin has a nastier side than his dad. He trains hard and he has learned a lot of that from his dad, who has been his coach all the way through minor hockey. Carey has always talked about what it takes to make it, and Colin listens to every word that his dad says and has worked hard to get where he is today."
Wilson has leadership written all over him. He is equally impressive in a hockey jersey or a finely-tailored suit. The well-spoken prospect combines a win-at-any-cost attitude in the heat of battle with a dignified confidence off the ice. Wilson has all the makings of a true hockey ambassador.
"Colin confirmed his spot as a top pick at the Combine," says NHL Central Scouting Director E.J. McGuire. "He confirmed it with his interviews, his medical and his fitness. Colin is going to be a wonderful ambassador for our league. He is well-spoken. He is well-educated, not only because he goes to Boston University but also because his grandfather is a medical doctor and the former team physician for the Winnipeg Jets, and his father had a fine career in the NHL. The League is in good hands with the likes of Colin Wilson."
When the Predators drafted Pickard they fortified an existing stable of goaltending prospects that is the envy of several other teams. The first goalie selected in the draft won the 2008 Del Wilson Trophy as the WHL's Goaltender of the Year after posting a league-high 46 wins in 2007-08 (46-12-4). He also ranked fourth among WHL goalies in save percentage (.918), and helped lead the Americans to the WHL Western Conference final, compiling an 11-3-2 record with a 1.78 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage in the playoffs.
"Chet was the highest-rated player coming into the Top Prospects game out in Edmonton in February," McGuire said. "We canvassed the NHL teams and they said far and away that they would like to see him. A little irony is (longtime Washington Capitals netminder) Olaf Kolzig is part owner of the Tri-City team that has produced some good goalies and just before Chet emerged there was (Montreal Canadiens standout rookie) Carey Price. I don't think that Pickard is going to follow the footsteps of Price exactly and ascend to the NHL as quickly, but Nashville is building depth at that position through their organization."
Wilson and Pickard will soon be teammates, but not for the first time. The two were close friends while growing up in Winnipeg and played together on several youth hockey teams. One of those teams was coached by Wilson's father and the team wore a jersey modeled after a team in the NHL -- the Nashville Predators. When the Predators announced their second selection, Wilson beat a path to his childhood friend and gave Pickard a huge hug.
"It's an unbelievable feeling," Pickard said. "We talked about the possibility of being drafted together. But I didn't know where I was going to go, in what round or how high. I'm blessed to be a part of Nashville's organization. This is truly an honor. To have my friend beside me is especially exciting."
Poised, talented and confident, the Predators' third selection will one day leave the Swiss Alps for Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.
"I follow the Nashville Predators closely," Josi said. "I can't watch the games on television, but I watch all the highlights on the Internet. The Predators traded up to get me and they really want me and that's good for me. I'm excited about joining the team in the future."If Josi continues to develop at the pace he showed last season, his future in Nashville might come sooner than later.
"He started last year with the Bern junior team and then he got a regular spot on the Bern senior team in the Swiss league," said Goran Stubb of the NHL's Central Scouting. "Bern won the regular season by several points and he played regularly on that team. That is a major accomplishment for a 17-year-old. Roman played against men and with men. He likes to join the offensive rush and has a good shot, but he doesn't use it very much. But he sees the ice very well and he opens the game up with very good vision and tape-to-tape passes.
"Roman is a good overall defenseman. He moves well, he skates well and plays with a lot of confidence. Once upon a time nobody thought highly of Marek Zidlicky and then he became a star with Nashville. I think Roman Josi could become that type of player too."
Over the course of two days in Ottawa the Predators added three critical ingredients to their talented mix of young players. McGuire is optimistic that Nashville's dynamic trio will help form the backbone of the franchise in Tennessee for years to come.
"I really feel the pieces are there," McGuire said. "I know that there are always people saying that the Nashville team is going to move to Hamilton, Ontario, or whatever. I hope that these three picks will be the cornerstones on which they stay in the League for a long time."