Only time will truly measure the Predators success at the 2008 Entry Draft, but based on the early returns, the work done in Ottawa was decidedly positive. And that's not just the Nashville scouts talking, NHL's Central Scouting and other teams' scouting staffs were buzzing over the haul brought in by the Preds this past weekend.
Nashville walked away from Scotia Bank Place in Ottawa with perhaps the most coveted power-forward in the draft (Colin Wilson
), the most coveted goaltender in the draft (Chet Pickard
), and one of the best European trained prospects (Roman Josi
). And that’s just the team's first three picks.
In the middle and later stages of draft, the Preds worked their draft board. They traded out of fourth round slots to get value rather than reach on prospects who they felt might not be fully worthy of selection that high.
In the fifth through seventh rounds the Preds added a pair of forwards, a defenseman and a goaltender, to finish the draft with strong positional balance: three forwards, two defensemen, and two goaltenders in seven selections.
The fifth and sixth round picks were North American kids both planning on playing US College hockey this winter, a gritty forward with strong leadership potential in Taylor Stefishen (has the skills to be a future captain or alternate captain in Milwaukee and later Nashville) and a shutdown defenseman in Jeff Foss.
In the seventh round, the Preds went the European route, selecting forward Jani Lajunen
and goaltender Anders Lindback
. Lajunen, a Finnish trained player, was picked at the prodding of Scandinavian scout Janne Kekalainen, the same scout who unearthed Pekka Rinne
and pushed for the signings of then-unheralded Ville Koistinen and Antti Pihlstrom
– all three of whom saw action with the big club in ‘07-08. Lindback was a goaltender the Predators had targeted as a mid-to-late round project. When the draft board was being more seriously defined a month ago, the European scouts were so adamant about his skills that they were pressing for Lindback to be included in the third to fourth round range. However, once Pickard became a reality in the first round, David Poile used his GM’s discretion to plummet the remaining goaltenders on the team’s draft board – not wanting to flood the pipeline too heavily with Rinne still waiting to play his first full NHL season, Mark Dekanich preparing for his pro debut (in Milwaukee), and probable 2009 World Junior Championship starters in Pickard for Team Canada and Jeremy Smith
(a second round pick last year) for Team USA. When Lindback was still available in the seventh round, his value was just too great to pass up.
“We see a lot of similarities with him and Pekka Rinne
,” Predators European Scout Lucas Bergman said of Lindback. “He has unbelievable size at 6’6. He’s tremendously athletic. He hasn’t had much exposure. He missed some time this year with illness, but basically it’s very similar situation to Rinne when we drafted him (with the 258th pick in 2004). We’ve really done our research on Lindback and think his upside is phenomenal. Next year he’s going to be playing in the Elite League with Markstrom, the kid who was the first pick in the second round of this year’s draft (by the Florida Panthers), so that will be a really good situation for him; a good chance for him to get a lot of playing time in a very competitive situation.”
Other teams took note of the Predators success at the draft. Several scouts made a point to seek out the team’s draft table to congratulate the club on its selections; several others were more discreet but made a point during informal conversations with members of the team’s scouting staff to express their professional jealousy of the Preds results this weekend.
Even NHL’s Central Scouting staff was impressed with Preds haul. Which makes sense since by the rankings the Preds ended up with the service’s No. 6 rated European skater (Josi) and No. 10 rated North American skater (Wilson). In an interview with NashvillePredators.com leading in to the draft, Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire stated that Wilson was one of the fastest rising players on the board when the NCAA season ended.
“There’s a Boston University kid, Colin Wilson
whose stock kept rising and rising, but had to abruptly stop when the NCAA season ended and Boston University stopped just short of making the NCAA Tournament,” McGuire told NashvillePredators.com in an interview before the draft. “We’ve got Colin Wilson
ranked No. 10, but momentum was moving him higher, so he may very well be picked before then.”
Stefishen was rated No. 84 among Central Scouting’s North American skaters, making him a good “value” pick at No. 136, and likely slid that far in the draft in large part due to concerns about his size (listed at 5’11, 170 pounds). However the Preds scouts noted that Stefishen has already close to an inch and added 10-15 pounds to his frame since those measurements, which should be integral because of preference to play a physical, grating style. Foss was an older draft eligible, after going undrafted last year in his first year of eligibility, and thus was not on the service’s radar screen as much as the first year draft eligibles, but settled in at the NCAA level as RPI’s shutdown defenseman this past season during as a freshman – an impressive responsibility for a true freshman playing against many guys three, four, and even five years older than him. The Finnish forward, Lajunen, was another older prospect who settled into a more pronounced role as his season played out and is projected by his club in Finland to play a prominent role on their scoring lines next season.
Plus, Central Scouting was high on both of the goaltenders selected by the team. Pickard was the No. 2 ranked North American goaltender, but those rankings were filed before his lights-out run in the WHL playoffs, which likely would have vaulted him back into the No. 1 slot (which he held down during the midterm rankings). Lindback was the No. 3 rated European goaltender, despite missing time this season due to illness.
Not only did the weekend directly improve the team’s prospect pipeline, but the extra picks – a 2009 third rounder, two ’09 fourth rounders, and the ’09 fifth rounder (from the Darcy Hordichuk trade) – give the Preds a bevy of selection in next year’s draft, which is projected to be just as (or potentially even more) talent rich than the heralded 2008 class. Or those picks could be valuable assets at the team's disposal during the 2008-09 campaign … keeping in mind that often times a third or fourth round pick can carry significant value around the Trade Deadline. And with a deep war chest of selections, it may open options next February without sacrificing the team’s commitment to the draft pipeline.
The returns from this weekend may not be seen in Nashville next year, but if things progress how many scouts – both inside and outside the organization – project, the effects of the weekend’s haul may positively impact the franchise well into the future.