NHL Draft Weekend is much like Christmas morning for kids; each draft pick a new present to open and fawn over. All 30 teams excited over the new haul of prospects entering the organization. Truthfully, it is tough to fully grade out a draft class until at least three-to-five years pass as prospects develop and start to make their full mark on the NHL, especially in Nashville where the Preds organizational culture stresses patience in prospect development. That being said, there are several similarities between this year’s Preds draft class and Nashville’s 2009 draft class.
It is way early, but the depth of the two classes provide for several immediate comparisons. The Preds selected 10 players in 2009 – nine on Day 2; this year the Preds selected nine players, all on Day 2. And the ’09 draft class has already shown itself as one of Nashville’s most productive groups. Just three years removed from Draft Day, already four members of that class have played in the NHL – defenseman Ryan Ellis (Round 1) & Mattias Ekholm (Round 4) and forwards Craig Smith (Round 4) & Gabriel Bourque (Round 5). Forwards Taylor Beck and Michael Latta turned pro last season and put together promising seasons in the AHL; both appear poised for the NHL if not in ’12-13, not too far beyond. Forward Zach Budish, one of two second round picks in ’09, has had his development slowed by a pair of season-ending knee injuries, but he was injury free last year and appears back on track as a top power forward prospect with plus-offensive skills.
Hearing the Preds scouts describe the guys selected this weekend, there is plenty of reason to feel forward Pontus Aberg can become a dynamic offensive catalyst like Ellis has become for the ’09 class; a creative big-play offensive talent with game-breaking ability. Ellis's ability to have that impact as a defenseman is what makes him such a rare, special talent, but that takes nothing away from Aberg's offensive creativity.
Colton Sissons projects out to a top-two line center very much like Craig Smith has become from the ’09 class. In fact, Smith and Sissons have rather complementary skill sets; Smith more the playmaking dynamic scoring element at center and Sissons more of a hard/direct/blue-collar scoring style from the middle; add in 23-year old Nick Spaling and the Preds could have their top-three line centers for years to come.
Third round pick Brendan Leipsic is described very similarly to Bourque back on ’09 Draft Day; Jimmy Vesey perhaps matches up similarly to fellow NCAA product Budish (only hopefully with better luck in the health department than Budish), gifted offensive forwards with NHL scoring line potential. Zachary Stepan’s scouting reports match up with Latta from ’09, while Max Gortz’s sound much like what was written about Beck three years ago.
Swedish defenseman Simon Fernholm’s size and skills are eerily similar to Ekholm’s – both late-blooming 6’4, smooth skating defensemen who were just starting to slide on the Team Sweden radar during their draft year. Ekholm went undrafted his first year eligible before the Preds tabbed him his second year through; Fernholm flew up the ratings late this season finishing as the 32nd ranked European Skater by Central Scouting after sitting at No. 79 in the midterm rankings.
If the Preds can mirror that production in this year’s draft class, then the system --- which Preds GM David Poile openly admitted took a hit from Deadline Day Trades the past two years --- should be in impressive shape in short order. We’ll learn a lot more about this year’s group this week as the Preds coaches will get their first on-ice work with this year’s draft class when they show up for Nashville’s rookie development camp.