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Nashville gets physical at entry draft

by Staff Writer / Nashville Predators

Photo by Kim Stallknecht/Getty
The Nashville Predators used four of their five draft picks to select power forwards at Saturday's Entry Draft in Vancouver, B.C.

Get the Smashville gear ready again. The rough and tumble moniker that once served as the theme for the Predators may be making a comeback, thanks to the organization's selections in Saturday's NHL Entry Draft. General manager David Poile and his staff used four of their five picks on power forwards, clearly addressing what they perceived as a shallow area in the Predators' depth chart.

"We've [previously] drafted some skill and some speed and some real tempo with the team we have now," Predators North American amateur scout Jeff Kealty said Saturday night. "I think these are guys that complement those guys well. When you look at the playoffs this year--how hard the games were and how physical it was--a team like Edmonton just got better and better and harder to play against the longer the series went because they were hard, they were tough and they were difficult to play against. We think that trying to supplement ourselves with those types of guys is going to be good for our depth down the road."

Scouts' descriptions of the four physical draftees began to sound a bit like a broken record by the end of the seven-round event. First up was Nashville-bred Blake Geoffrion, who the Predators selected in the second round. Central Scouting's report described the 6-1, 190-pounder as "a highly competitive player who is aggressive in the corners and in front of the net and will go over opponents to make a play. He finishes checks with authority and is a punishing hitter."

Next Nashville selected Niko Snellman, plucking the 6-1, 191-pound Finn in the fourth round. "His best asset is his physical play," Predators European scout Janne Kekalainen said of Snellman. "He hits extremely hard and extremely well. He's got great, great passion for the game and determination. He's got good skills and good hockey sense too. He didn't produce a lot this year, but I don't see that as a problem in the future because he can play with good players. He can pass the puck and he can make decisions. He needs to improve his skating ability a bit, but I'm pretty sure that it will come in the future."

Kekalainen, who has had Snellman on his radar since October, said not many other scouts saw the youngster during the Finnish Junior "B" championship. At the event, Snellman played a key role in his team's run to the title. "The first game I saw him in, he was just unbelievable," Kekalainen said. "He made great passes for guys. They just had to put in empty netters. Also he made some punishing hits and in a fashion that not many people can do. That just convinced me thoroughly about him."

After selecting goaltender Mike Dekanich with their third choice of the draft, the Predators picked up where they left off earlier in the day. Nashville took 6-2, 212-pound Minnesota native Ryan Flynn in the sixth round and 6-0, 207-pound Swede Viktor Sjodin in the seventh.

Flynn, who Kealty describes using many of the same adjectives and phrases applied to Geoffrion and Snellman, was a teammate of Geoffrion's during the 2005-06 season. The two played on the U.S. National Under-18 squad as part of the U.S. Development Program.

"He was a real integral part of the U.S. Under-18 team that won the gold medal this year [at the Under-18 World Junior Championship], with his character and his physical play," Kealty said of Flynn. "We get him and Blake Geoffrion, a pretty good tandem of character together on the team. We're happy to have both of them.

"When we drafted Ryan, I guess Blake was calling him right away and the two of them were really pumped up together. It's a nice thing for both of them, and for us too."

As for Sjodin, he fits the same mold. "He's really, really physical," Predators European scout Lucas Bergman said. "He hits almost like [Jordin Tootoo], the way he tries to nail the guys to the boards. He's got real good hockey sense and can protect the puck real well. He's got good enough hockey sense that he can play with better players and create space for them.

"He's not far off from Snellman as far as his physical game goes."

Bergman says Sjodin sports a big hairdo that sticks out of his helmet on the ice, but his style of play draws just as much attention. "He's been on my radar the whole year, and I've never walked away from a game without him making an impression on me," Bergman said.

At 6-2 and 192 pounds, goaltender Dekanich fits in size-wise with his peers in Nashville's 2006 draft class. A rising junior at Colgate University, the North Vancouver native not only has good size, but is athletic, quick and competitive, according to Kealty. "I think he's gone under the radar a little bit because he's an '86 birthday, which puts him two years over most of the kids here," Kealty said. "And he's just finishing his sophomore year. During his freshman year he backed up a senior, so he didn't play and was kind of an understudy to the senior. He had the starting role this year and had a great year. He'll be really the go-to guy moving forward for the next couple of years."

While Dekanich continues to develop at Colgate, Geoffrion is scheduled to attend the University of Wisconsin in the fall. Flynn will be enrolling at the University of Minnesota, which Kealty sees as a perfect fit. "The main thing that he needs to work on is the skating," Kealty said of Flynn. "It's as simple as that. He's got time to develop at the University of Minnesota, which has a big ice surface and [is a program that] plays an uptempo game. We think that will help him with his development."

The two European picks will likely come to North American and play in the Canadian Hockey League junior system next season, according to Kekalainen and Bergman.


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