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Draft Roulette: Who’s It Going To Be

by Jimi Russell / Nashville Predators

The rollercoaster that is the days leading up to any professional sports draft has begun to speed up as the 2013 NHL Entry quickly approaches.

With this morning’s announcement that the Tampa Bay Lightning will use one of their compliance buyouts on veteran center and team captain, Vinny Lacavalier, the road to the Preds fourth overall pick just became a little more uncertain.

In eliminating their top-line center, General Manager Steve Yzerman seems to be opening the door for a young center, perhaps someone like Aleksander Barkov, to step right into Tampa’s lineup.

"After much internal deliberation, we believe this will prove to be a pivotal move for us as we strive to achieve our long term goal of competing at the highest level, year-in, year-out,” Yzerman said in a statement. “The economics and structure of the CBA are necessitating this decision and we at the Lightning are excited at the newly created opportunities this presents to us.”

The news out of Tampa comes just days after the Colorado Avalanche tipped their hand that they plan to draft Halifax Mooseheads center Nathan MacKinnon with the first overall pick on Sunday.

“Colorado has come out and said they are not drafting Seth Jones,” Nashville Predators President of Hockey Operations/General Manager David Poile said. “In an interview I watched, Joe Sakic said they are going to draft Nathan MacKinnon. This is somewhat of an usual posture – I haven’t really seen it done that way before. But I will take him on his word, and now we are down to three players assuming that they are going to draft MacKinnon.”

It’s not a huge secret that Nashville needs to improve upon its scoring from last season, and a young, top-line center is perhaps this team’s greatest need. That in mind, many of the draft experts have predicted that Barkov would fall to the Preds at No. 4, but if MacKinnon and Barkov both gone by the time Poile steps to the microphone, it could leave the Predators with a predicament that didn’t exist just weeks ago.

So where do the Preds go if the top-rated centers are gone?

One of two players will remain when the Preds step to the podium – defenseman Seth Jones or winger Jonathan Drouin.

Jones, the consensus top player in the draft, would immediately fill a top-four defensive spot that Poile said he needs to address this offseason. The 6-3, 205-pound blueliner posted 56 points (14g-42a) and a +40 rating in 61 regular-season games with Portland, and helped the Winterhawks reach the championship game of the Memorial Cup, where they lost to Drouin's Halifax team.

Drouin, on the other hand, provides a dynamic offensive threat that the Preds have never possessed. He posted a career-high 105 points (41g-64a) in 49 games this season en route to being named the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Most Valuable Player, Best Professional Prospect and Personality of the Year in 2012-13. The 5-10, 186-pound winger helped lead the Mooseheads to the 2013 Memorial Cup, their first in franchise history, finishing second overall in the tournament with eight assists (1g-8a-9pts).

But if Barkov is available when the Preds are on the clock, he could develop into the game-changing center Nashville is looking for. While playing against men in 2012-13, Barkov finished second on his team in scoring with 48 points (21g-27a) in 53 games, helping Tappara finish second overall in Finland’s top league.

Many Preds fans may see using the first-round pick on a defenseman as a swing-and-a-miss, but when asked if he would select Jones with the fourth pick, Poile did not hesitate.

“Absolutely,” Poile said. “One hundred percent. I think he’s the best player in the draft. That is just our organization’s opinion on the type of player he is going to become. He’s the whole package. He’s size, he’s a great skater, he has offensive abilities, he’s aggressive and I think he could be a Norris Trophy winner at some point. I’m not saying that the other guys won’t be as good, but right now, I have him as the best player in the draft.”

This predicament may also see the Predators move the pick, but Poile has made it known that he will only trade the pick if an offer he can’t refuse comes across the table.

“History shows that things often change when you get to the draft,” Poile said. “Whether that be team’s calling to offer you a deal that you can’t refuse, team’s switching positions or any number of things. From my standpoint, I don’t see the real likelihood that we will move up, and I really don’t anticipate moving back in the draft because we are really into these top four players. It would really take an unbelievable offer to do that.”

The Florida Panthers, who also have a few holes to fill in their lineup, hold the second pick in this year’s draft, and many of those same draft experts have predicted they will select Jones with the second pick if MacKinnon is already off the board. So in many ways, the Panthers hold the Predators’ draft fate in their hands, if the moves by Colorado and Tampa do in fact become a reality.

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