What were your general impressions of this year’s World Championships tournament? David Poile:
The Tournament was great. The setting in Switzerland – both in Zurich and Bern – was ideal for us in North America that don’t get to Europe all that often. The facilities were great. The fans really rallied behind the World Championships, so it was a very festive situation.
The Predators had eight players participate in the tournament. How did the guys fare? DP:
The Predators players all accorded themselves very well. In goal, Pekka Rinne
, it was his first exposure to the Finnish National Team and he was their No. 1 goalie. As well as he played for the Predators, he continued to play that well for Finland. I think by virtue of how he played in the tournament, he’s certainly a strong candidate to be on the Finnish Olympic Team next year.
On defense we had four of our defensemen playing. Shea Weber
and Dan Hamhuis played as a pair for Canada. Barry Trotz, who was an assistant coach for Team Canada, was in charge of the defense and that was his No. 1 defense pairing and that was reflected in the ice time they got in relation to the other defense pairings. They were his shut-down pair; played against the top lines of the other teams. I’m sure that Shea (Weber) will be playing on the Canadian Olympic Team (in 2010) and I’m sure Dan (Hamhuis) is a candidate to be playing on the Olympic Team. For US, which I was involved in, we had Ryan Suter
and he was clearly our best defenseman. The more he played, the better he got. I think the fact that Ron Wilson, who was the US coach at this tournament and will also be the coach during the Olympics, got to know Suter a little better helped to solidify Ryan’s position for the Olympic Team. Ville Koistinen played for Finland. He got injured early on, so I didn’t get a chance to see him play, but he was among their leaders in ice time before the injury, so that gives an indication what they thought of him. We also had a younger defenseman, a prospect we selected in the second round last summer, Roman Josi
, play for Switzerland. He was the third youngest player in the tournament at age 19 and he played as a seventh defenseman. In the last game when one of their regular defensemen got hurt he slid into their top-six. I thought he played really well. I spoke to his general manager and his coach – he plays in Bern, Switzerland during the regular season – and they all think he is one of the best players who have come along in a long time. They compared him to Mark Streit with the NY Islanders, who was a premiere defenseman in Switzerland. Roman’s going to be coming over to our conditioning camp in July. Hopefully one more year in Switzerland and we can turn him pro the year after, but he’s a real good prospect for us.
At forward we had two guys, Alexander Radulov
and Colin Wilson
. Radulov was really, really good for Russia. Ilya Kovalchuk was their No. 1 forward and most dangerous player; Radulov was their second most dangerous forward. I think the year that he’s been away from us, he seems to be a little bit bigger, stronger, and I think he’s a more complete player – playing regular power-play and killing some penalties, something that he never did here with the Predators. He’s a really good player. Wilson played for Team USA, it was a great experience for him. He was one of the younger players in the tournament. I think he learned a lot. He played mostly fourth line, so he didn’t get the highest amount of ice time, but I think he found out a lot about what it takes to be a pro – what they are like, the preparation, some of the other nuances that it takes to be a successful pro. I think he realizes he has some work to do during the summer to make that transition from college to the pros, but he’s big and strong. All of our coaching staff really thinks we have very good player in Colin Wilson
How did Wilson and Josi look against players at that elite level? In terms of NHL preparedness, how much can you take out of their performances at the World Championships? DP:
I think just the fact that they are in the tournament at this age shows that they are at the head of the list in their age group. The World Championships, for the most part, is a man’s tournament. It’s usually older players, so the fact that they were playing is very complimentary to where they are in their hockey progress. The fact that they both played pretty well under the circumstances, bodes well for our confidence that they are going to be good NHL players some day in Nashville.
The thing that distinguishes Colin from Roman is Colin is around 6-foot-2, 215 pound, so even though he is 19 years old, he’s a big man and pretty well physically put together already, where Josi needs to get bigger and stronger before he can play successfully against men in the NHL. That’s probably the biggest difference between where they are right now. NP.com: Shea Weber
was named to the All-Star Team and named the Top Defenseman of the tournament. Does that performance solidify his position as one of the elite defensemen in the game right now? DP:
I think so. Shea had a breakout year this season; got the recognition with Norris consideration, scored over 20 goals, was our top defenseman, and then goes to the tournament and is Canada’s best defenseman, so I think now everybody knows who Shea Weber
is. I think you’re going to be seeing Shea as a member of the Canadian Olympic Team in 2010. NP.com:
All eight of the Preds players at the tournament were developed in the Predators organization; seven drafted by Nashville and Koistinen signed as a free agent and developed through Milwaukee. What does that say about the organization and the performance of your scouting staff? DP:
Our scouting, specifically our amateur scouting, is really our bread-and-butter. There are different ways to put a team together – drafts, trades, free agency – but our amateur drafts have been our go-to place to get our players. We believe in the development of drafting players at 18, stay in Junior or College or Europe, progressing to Milwaukee, and then up to Nashville. We’ve had a lot of players in our short history take that route and that’s the way we like to do it. Ideally, not that there’s any specific formula, but I’d like to have at least half if not more of our roster in Nashville come through the draft. NP.com:
Before you left for the World Championships you mentioned an interest in talking to Alexander Radulov
face-to-face in Europe. Did you get a chance to talk to him while you were over there? DP:
I got a chance to talk to him almost every day. We stayed at the same hotel and there was an overlap of different teams at the meals and at the arena, all the team dressing rooms were on the same level, side-by-side. So you were constantly mingling with other teams, which gave a lot of time to talk.
We got caught up on the past year, what he was doing, what the Predators are doing. I was very impressed that he knew everything about the Predators; every player, all the draft picks, what Milwaukee was doing, all the player stats. He was totally up to date on everything with us.
He also talked to all of our players there; Suter, Weber, Hamhuis, Pekka. He talked to all of those guys while we were in Europe. NP.com:
Are there any updates on his situation for next season? DP:
I know from talking to him that he realizes the NHL is the best league in the world. I truly believe he wants to come back and play. But that’s his decision now to make that overture to want to come back to the NHL. He has a contract with a Russian team now; I’m not sure what that means in terms of whether he can get out of his contract. But he’s the one who has to take the first step to tell us that he wants to. I would think that he’s thinking about that. NP.com:
As a member of Team USA’s staff were you surprised at Team USA’s success in the tournament; getting to the semifinals and putting the team in a position to play for a medal? DP:
Well, that’s what your goal always is, to win the tournament or at least a medal, but we haven’t had a lot of success at the Worlds. This was a better group of guys that when brought together you knew the combinations – whether it be defense pairings or forward lines – had a better opportunity. The attitude was good and we played hard. I think we are really close to being right there with the best teams this year, which is a good sign as we start to pick the team for the Olympics next year. NP.com:
Did any of the US players standout or help their cause for the 2010 Olympic Team? DP:
I think that’s exactly what happened. Some of our choices for players on the squad this year were guys who could be on the bubble for next year’s Olympics, so it was good to get them over there so we as management – Brian Burke, myself, Ron Wilson as coach – could get to see them on a daily basis as players and people so when we make those final decisions we have as much information as possible. I think it helped some players and I think it might have hurt a couple of players based on their play. NP.com:
Each year a couple of European free agents emerge out of the World Championships. Were there any players at this year’s tournament who emerged as potential NHL free agents? DP:
There is a goaltender from Sweden, Jonas Gustavsson, who played fabulous throughout the tournament. It seems like he’s being wooed by a lot of teams. If I wasn’t so happy with our goaltending I would certainly be looking at a player like him.