When the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft begins on June 24 in Buffalo, the Nashville Predators will have their list ready to go. So will 29 other teams.
That catalog of top players, who could be available when the Preds make the 17th overall selection in this year’s Draft, is the result of Predators scouts spending thousands of hours traveling the country, the continent and the world, making notes and filing reports on who they believe could be the next star in Nashville.
The Draft is essentially a scout’s equivalent of a Game Seven; an entire year of preparation, all for two days of trying to find those players who may one day become household names. While the Predators scouting staff, led by Chief Amateur Scout Jeff Kealty, know who they want to pick, the rest of the League does as well.
For Kealty and Co., the ability to act quickly when players are coming off the board at the Draft is paramount, especially with a first-round pick for the first time since 2014.
“Where we’re picking in the first round, I think we’ll be really comfortable with the pool of players that’s there,” Kealty said. “You identify the pool of every Draft, and then you have to have a plan in place to execute the Draft that takes place on one day, because you don’t know how it’s going to play out. You might have one guy that you rated a little bit differently than a lot of other people that maybe falls, and you can’t believe he’s there for you in the second round. There’s a huge amount of preparation that goes into it.”
There primarily tends to be three or four prospects who are guaranteed to be the top picks, and this year is no different, with Arizona native Auston Matthews likely to go first overall to the Toronto Maple Leafs. But after that, clubs sometimes address their own needs depending on what players are available, making it difficult to predict who will fall where.
With a pick in the middle of the first round, Kealty says Nashville will likely utilize their traditional strategy of taking the best player available according to their rankings. By employing that method, the player can help the franchise in time, no matter the situation.
“As far as the philosophy of taking the best player, that’s what we’ve always tried to do,” Kealty said. “There’s always discussions that you have as to what our prospect pool looks like and what we have coming, where our holes are, but by taking the best player, you’re giving yourself an asset. For those years down the road, you don’t know exactly how your team is going to look. Having an asset, having a guy that is a good player and can play in the League is important because there are trades, there are things that affect your team later on. Our job is to get as many assets as we can.”
The Preds have always put stock in not only developing good hockey players, but good people too. That also plays a role in determining whose name will be called at the podium.
“We always talk a lot about character and competitiveness and the makeup of the player; those are all important, because at the end of the day, it’s a long process to make it to the NHL,” Kealty said. “It takes years to get there, so how focused you are, how determined you are, how you handle adversity, they’re all part of the equation. It’s not an overnight type of thing; it takes years, and there’s going to be a lot of bumps in the road to get there. Can the player get through all that and can they have the determination to do it? That’s a huge part of it.”
All of that time spent all over the world in cold rinks in the dead of winter will come to fruition when the Preds add who they hope might be the next Shea Weber or Craig Smith. Maybe that player will fall to them. Or perhaps the Nashville table will need to do some adjusting. Either way, the list will be ready.
“You’re sort of at the mercy of what all the other 29 teams are doing and who they’re picking, so you have to be prepared for how that’s going to play out and who you’re going to pick,” Kealty said. “We go through all these different scenarios and there’s days and weeks and months of preparation that goes into it. When it all plays out in one day, you have to be able to think on your feet and know what you want to do.”