Predators general manager David Poile
Members of the Nashville Predators hockey operations staff, led by general manager David Poile, will be departing Nashville on Wednesday for Vancouver, the site of Saturday's 2006 NHL Entry Draft. Though it's the ninth draft in Predators franchise history, Poile finds himself without an opening-round pick for the first time. He has no third-round selection either.
"Honestly it's a little more difficult missing a first and a third pick," Poile said Tuesday. "It leaves some big holes that we're not used to having. But you never know during the course of the next few days here, up in Vancouver what we might be able to come up with, either making some trades of players or maybe trading future draft picks."
Poile sent Nashville's 2006 first-round pick to Washington in March as part of the trade deadline deal that acquired defenseman Brendan Witt. Player transactions could very well play a prominent role on Saturday as well, according to Poile, thanks to the restrictive nature of the league's salary cap. "I always say when 30 general managers get together it usually could be good things in terms of trade talks," he said.
The draft is the one event at which all the members of the hockey operations department--from the GM and the assistant GM to the pro and amateur scouts--bring together their knowledge and observations from "war room" meetings and scouting trips. The recent decision by former assistant GM Ray Shero to take over the GM role in Pittsburgh, plus a subsequent restructing in the Nashville hockey ops department that promoted Paul Fenton to assistant GM and added director of player personnel Michael Santos, has had an impact on this year's preparation.
"It's been a busy time, because I think when you have new people, you're spending a lot more time going over responsibilities and duties--with Mike Santos and myself going over the contracts and him not knowing our players as well and getting my feelings as to where we are with the players, and working with Paul Fenton, who's got the amateur draft coming up this week but is also working with myself and [scouts] Nick Beverley and Dan MacKinnon on the pro side as we look toward trades or free agents," Poile said. "I think everybody's platter is [more full], and it's just a matter of us all working together. The first time the three of us (Poile, Fenton and Santos) are going to be together in person will be in Vancouver.
"So it's a fun time, it's an exciting time and I think when you have people with new responsibilities you have a different level of energy. We certainly have different input and ideas. So hopefully it will work good for us."
As for the quality of this year's draft pool, Poile is lukewarm. He joked that the perception of this year's offerings--a collection that was deemed mediocre earlier in the year--seems to improve as anticipation of the event grows. "By the time I get to Vancouver and meet with our coaches, this will be one of the greatest drafts ever," he said, laughing.
Then Poile gave his honest assessment: "I think it's an average draft. I think there are five or six top-end players, and I think you can and we certainly hope to get lucky during the middle of the draft. But I don't think this is as good or as deep a draft as others. I think next year's draft is a bit better based on the initial forecast."
One thing that will make the 2006 draft different from previous ones is a rule in the recently implemented collective bargaining agreement that forces teams to sign European prospects within two years or lose their rights. Under the previous CBA, a club could hold on to a European draftee until age 31 before signing him.
"The Europeans now are treated the exact same as [Canadian junior players]," Poile said. "There's no more defected status. You have to make a decision in two years on Europeans. If anything, it probably favors the Europeans. They now have more options because they have elite leagues to play in and they could run the clock on you, if you will, in terms of not signing and going back in the draft, and then eventually become a free agent. Whereas a North American junior doesn't have that type of flexibility. That, and the fact that when you sign your players from Europe and if they don't play on your [NHL] team, there's a penalty fee for basically signing a minor-league player versus an NHL player."
Many experts are projecting that a significantly fewer number of Europeans will be taken on Saturday as a result. "I think that definitely effects the type of player that you take in Europe," Poile added. "So I think you probably need to know a little bit more about his background and his willingness to come over to North America and sign. That will certainly be a factor with us."
Another change under the new CBA is a consolidation of the draft from a two-day, nine-round event to a one-day, seven-round affair.
"I hated getting up early on that second day," Poile said with a laugh. "I think everybody [likes the new, compact schedule]. I mean, you're there. You're all organized. Whether it's a couple extra hours just to go through it in one day, I think that's the way we all prefer it."
As soon as the draft concludes, the hockey operations staff will return to Nashville for rookie conditioning camp, which opens June 26 and will host 15 to 20 young prospects including notable 2005 draftees Ryan Parent and Cody Franson. Assistant GM Fenton will manage the seven-day event designed to give developing players a taste of conditioning and professionalism at the NHL level.
At the same time, Poile will be reviewing the status of Predators players with expiring contracts and surveying the free agent market that opens to GM shoppers on July 1. "These next two or three weeks are going to be really important to how we build and set up our hockey club for next year," Poile said.