Despite the 2014-15 season still being months away, NHL General Managers will agree that the next few weeks are the busiest of the year. With GM Meetings in New York, the NHL Awards in Las Vegas and the 2014 NHL Entry Draft in Philadelphia, team officials will be racking up some frequent-flyer miles as they travel across the country. In the midst of the events, Predators General Manager David Poile returned to Nashville to meet with members of the media to discuss Friday’s NHL Entry Draft.
“It’s going to be a busy time for our entire organization,” Poile said. “Like I say every year, this is the lifeblood of the Predators.”
Poile and his team of advisors will head to Philadelphia for the draft after hiring a new coaching staff earlier this summer. This will be the first time in franchise history that Poile will be filling a roster for someone other than Barry Trotz. Despite the changes that Poile foresees with the hire of new coach Peter Laviolette, he isn’t letting it alter how he manages the draft.
“I think our template is out there regardless of who the coach is,” Poile said. “I have to stay true to what I’ve always said in that you have to take the best player in the draft and shuffle the deck accordingly.”
Despite being comfortable with their spot in the first round, Poile has proven that he isn’t afraid to pull the trigger on a trade that can land him a proven NHL commodity. Poile enters this year’s draft with both their first and second-round picks, something that hasn’t happened since 2009. Poile sent a second-rounder to Edmonton for Dennis Grebeshkov in 2010, before dealing first-round picks to Ottawa and Buffalo for Mike Fisher and Paul Gaustad in 2011 and 2012.
“I’m always very bullish on the draft and all the possibilities that exist,” Poile said, who has made 27 draft-day deals in the 15 years as the Predators General Manager.
This year, Poile isn’t shy in saying he is looking to acquire a forward that can provide quality offensive production. Whether that be through the draft or via trade remains to be seen.
“If I we’re trading our first-round pick it would be strictly for a top-six forward,” Poile said. “I’m not predicting that it’s going to happen but if someone wanted the 11th pick and they had that type of player I would be very open to discussing it.”
If the Predators were to hang on to their first-round pick they have a number of options that could be available at 11. Forwards Nikolaj Ehlers, Nick Ritchie, Brendan Perlini, Jake Virtanen, Dylan Larkin and Kasperi Kapanen have all been featured on the Predators website in a draft preview series. Each one of these players have fairly different styles of play but all have one thing in common, outstanding offensive production.
“We know certainly in the area of a few players who we’re going to get. There are two outstanding defensemen in this draft (Aaron Ekblad and Hayden Fleury) but we certainly would favor a forward,” Poile said.
Despite missing the playoffs this past year, Poile is optimistic with the direction of the team, particularly the prospects they have acquired in recent drafts.
“I think our scouts have done a real good job of filling up the cupboard again to improve our overall depth,” Poile said. “The depth is getting back to the level to which I think you need to be successful in the National Hockey League. We’ve got some really good young players and another good draft here could put us in really good shape.”
Poile mentioned youngsters Filip Forsberg, Calle Jarnkrok, Austin Watson and Colton Sissons as players who will challenge for roster spots next year.
“In the last two or three drafts we’ve gotten players that can play on our team this year,” Poile said. “Along with the trades we’ve made for Jarnkrok and Forsberg, we have some talented young players.”
With the wealth of youth in the Predators system, Poile may be more inclined to shopping the 11th pick. This would put more emphasis on finding talent in the later rounds.
“If we’re going to be successful we need to find talent in every round,” Poile said. “This is what you dream about; it’s Patric Hornqvist in the seventh round or Pekka Rinne in the eighth round. That’s the stuff that makes your franchise successful.”
The Predators will enter the draft with a total of eight draft picks, with two in the second-round. While reflecting on the GM Meetings in New York, Poile admitted his two second-round picks were drawing more attention than the Predators first-round pick.
“What I’ve been approached about most is the fact that we have two second round picks. Some teams who have later first-round picks have asked whether we had some interest in shopping our two second-round picks for a first.”
Whatever direction Poile decides to go in, he stresses the idea of building a successful team through the draft.
“You look back at the history of our franchise and you look at three or four drafts that stand out way above the others,” Poile said. “A couple years after those drafts the team seemed to take a significant step-up. That’s what we’re trying to achieve with this draft.”