PITTSBURGH, Pa. (June 23, 2012) – The Nashville Predators made nine selections on Day Two of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft at the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pa., taking six forwards, two defensemen and a goaltender. Sweden, the United States and Finland were once again on the Predators draft radar – the franchise has now selected at least one Swede in seven consecutive drafts, at least two U.S.-born players in each of the last seven drafts, and a Finn in nine of the last 10.
“We took a variety of different players and different styles from scorers, to power guys, to a guy we have talked about for three years, in addition to a couple big defensemen,” Predators Assistant General Manager Paul Fenton said. “We were trying to fill in the slots that we have more-or-less lost the last couple of years making trades with our draft picks. To be able to pick up nine players and fill the cupboard back up, we feel really good about things.”
The Predators used their first selection (37th overall) of Day Two to select, Pontus Aberg from Djurgarden of the Swedish Elite League (Elitserien). After being slowed by injuries in 2011-12, the Stockholm, Sweden native finished the season rated sixth among European skaters on Central Scouting’s final list. Aberg posted 15 points (8g-7a) in 47 games with Djurgarden this past season, earning an Elitserien Rookie of the Year Nomination. The 5-11, 189-pound forward also saw time with Djurgarden’s junior club in 2011-12, amassing six points (4g-2a) in six games. Aberg becomes the Pred in the system to hone his skills with Djurgarden – current Predator Patric Hornqvist and prospect Patrick Cehlin both played with the club.
“He plays a two-way game, but looking at him he is probably more offensive than anything,” Predators European Scout Lucas Bergman said of Aberg. “He has one-on-one ability, he can challenge the defense, he gets pucks off of his stick quick and all of those things are very attractive.”
The Predators stayed on the offensive side with their second pick (50th overall), selecting Colton Sissons of the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets, the same junior club that produced Predators Captain Shea Weber (selected 49th overall in the 2003 NHL Draft).
The Rockets captain and 14th-rated North American skater notched 41 points (26g-15a) for the second consecutive season in 2011-12. Sissons’ 26 goals – including a team-high 13 power-play tallies – ranked second on the team. The dynamic, hard-working forward – who models his game after current Predator Mike Fisher – posted two points (1g-1a) in four WHL playoff games after being injured during the 2012 CHL Top Prospects Game.
“Colton Sissons is a hard-playing forward, who played both center and winger with Kelowna,” Predators North American amateur scout Glen Sanders said. “He is a bit of a grinder, he can score goals and we liked the fact that he plays a lot like Mike Fisher. They made him the captain of the Kelowna Rockets at 17 years old; that was a big step and it shows the character that he plays with.”
Nashville selected U.S.-born Jimmy Vesey with its first pick of the third round (66th overall). The Reading, Mass., native played in his first season with South Shore of Eastern Junior Hockey League in 2011-12. He finished the season as the EJHL’s Most Valuable Player and earned Offensive Player of the Year honors after leading the League in points (91) and goals (48). The 6-1, 194-pound winger led his team to the EJHL’s semifinals, posting eight points (5g-3a) in six playoff games. Vesey’s performance late in the season saw him move from the 164th-rated player at the mid-term to the 77th ranked player on Central Scouting’s final rankings. He is expected to return to Boston to play for Harvard University in 2012-13.
“He has great hands, a great shot and his skating has really improved,” Predators North American amateur scout Tom Nolan said. “We see him as an offensive contributor – a top-six forward. He is going to Harvard where he is going to get a lot of playing time. We really see him as a goal scorer and offensive producer.”
The Predators traded their 2013 third-round pick to the New York Rangers to acquire a second third-round selection, and grabbed Brendan Leipsic of the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks with the 89th overall pick. The winger was unranked on NHL Central Scouting’s mid-term rankings, but a strong 2011-12 campaign saw him move into the final rankings (114th). In his second full season with the Winterhawks, Leipsic nearly doubled his point total (28g-30a-58pts) from the season prior. The 18-year-old center ranked among the WHL’s Top 15 players in the 2012 playoffs after notching 15 points (7g-8a) in 20 postseason games as the Hawks fell to the Edmonton Oil Kings in the WHL finals. Leipsic played alongside fellow Predators prospect Cam Reid in Portland during the 2011-12 season.
“We are very excited about getting Brendan,” Sanders said. “He is another hard-working kid. He’s not on the big side – he’s only about 5-9 and will play at about 5-10, but he is very much like Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins. He just plays, he’s in your face and he is just one of those guys you hate to play against but you love to have on your hockey team.”
Zachary Stepan became the fifth straight forward to hear his name called by the Predators when they selected him 112th overall (fourth round). The cousin of New York Rangers forward Derek Stepan played his 2011-12 season with Shattuck St. Mary's, posting 65 points (22g-43a) in 50 games for the Sabres. The Hastings, Minn., native is expected to play with the Waterloo Blackhawks of the United States Hockey League next season before heading to Ohio State University.
“If you watch Zach play, he plays like a Predator,” Predators North American amateur scout David Westby said. “He knows how to play the game, he’s got great hockey sense, he competes and he has a great work ethic. He really plays our style. He knows how to play the game and he competes. He takes hits to make plays, but at the same time he can pass it and he can shoot it. We were thrilled that he was available.”
After a run on forwards, Nashville looked to bolster the blue line as they selected Finnish-born defenseman Mikko Vainonen with their second pick of the fourth-round (118th) and took Swedish defenseman Simon Fernholm with their first of three sixth-round picks (164th).
Vainonen played at nearly every level in the HIFK system in 2011-12, spending most of the season as the assistant captain of the HIFK junior squad (Jr. A SM-Liiga), notching 18 points (7g-11a) as one of the youngest players on the team. The 6-3, 205-pound blueliner added an assist in 10 playoff games as HIFK Jr. went on to win the SM-Liiga Jr. Championship. As a 17-year-old, Vainonen also saw time with HIFK (SM-Liiga) and HIFK’s under-18 (SM-sarja) club in 2011-12. His performance in 2011-12 saw him finish as the 11th-ranked European skater on NHL Central Scouting’s final list.
“He is a big defensive-defenseman,” Predators European scout Janne Kekalainen said. “He plays hard and he is able to make a good first pass to launch attacks. He keeps things simple and his game is very effective. He is a big kid who still needs to develop as an athlete to become a professional player.”
Fernholm is a big, stay-at-home defenseman who played 47 games for Huddinge of the Swedish junior league in 2011-12, posting 15 points (3g-12a). The Stockholm, Sweden native also saw time on the Swedish U-18 World Championship team in 2012, posting three points (3a) in seven games for his country. Fernholm is expected to move to Frolunda of the Swedish Elite League for the 2012-13 season.
“His hockey IQ and hockey sense are very high,” Predators European scout Lucas Bergman said. “He is extremely poised under pressure and he has a really good first pass. He was signed by Frolunda of the Swedish Elite League. They will have him as an eighth defenseman in the Elite League next year, so that will be good for him.”
The Predators selected their sixth forward of the 2012 draft when they took Max Gortz’s with the 172nd pick. Though he was the final forward selected by Nashville, Gortz is the largest of the Predators 2012 forward class at 6-2. Gortz spent the majority of his 2011-12 season with Farjestad Jr. (Sweden Jr.), tallying 35 points (17g-18a) in 28 games. The 19-year-old forward played 18 games with Farjestad’s Elite League club (Elitserien) this past season, posting five points (2g-3a) in those contests. The Hoor, Sweden native suited up in four games for his country at the 2012 5-Nations Tournament, posting three points (3a) in those games.
“Gortz is a big-bodied winger, who has good puck protection down low,” European scout Lucas Bergman said. “He plays a two-way game but most of all he is a big body that is hard to contain and he likes to shoot the puck. He is well orientated away from the puck. He played center growing up with more emphasis on defensive play. He moved out to the wing this season and he started to push offensively with that big body. He is very good down low and that is going to be his game.”
Nashville rounded out the day by selecting goaltender Marek Mazanec with the 179th selection. Mazanec played his 2011-12 season with HC Plzen of the Czech Elite League (Extraliga), posting a 2.96 goals-against average and .900 save percentage in 19 games with the club. The 6-4 netminder backstopped Plzen in five playoff games in 2011-12, recording a 2.15 goals-against average and .919 save percentage.
“Marek is a very talented and skilled goalie” Nashville’s European scout Martin Bakula said. “We have been watching him for the last three years in the Czech Elite League. He has the size we like in our goalies, he is very talented and he is very skilled in every way. There is a very good chance he will be Plzen’s number one goalie next year, He is very excited about coming to Nashville – I see it as a fresh start for him. He has been with Plzen his whole career, so this is a fresh start and he is very excited.”
For more quotes and comments from the Predators Hockey Operations staff regarding players chosen in this weekend’s draft, visit Predators Draft Central at nashvillepredators.com.
The Nashville Predators’ top prospects, including several of this year’s picks, are expected to participate in the club’s 2012 Development Camp, officially opening on Tuesday, June 26 at Centennial Sportsplex.