When Predators Assistant General Manager Paul Fenton reflects on his 10 years working for the organization, he counts the 2003 Entry Draft at the Sommet Center as one of his most memorable moments on the job. Not only for the sense of pride he felt and the atmosphere and buzz surrounding the event, but the quality of players the team was able to select during the “once in a blue moon draft.”
|Fenton and Poile at the 2007 Entry Draft in Columbus |
“Most teams are satisfied with two guys out of a given draft, but realistically, we think we have at least seven NHL players out of there,” Fenton said. “That is an incredible ratio for your scouts to turn NHL players and prospects out at. If you can do that, then your organization benefits from it tremendously. You have to give our scouts a lot of credit for what they did that year.”
Fenton, general manager David Poile, and the scouting staff used three of their first four picks that summer to stockpile the Predators defensive depth, and for the first time since, all three – Kevin Klein
, Ryan Suter
and Shea Weber
– will hit the ice donning the same sweater for an extended period of time in 2007-08.
“They give you a pretty rounded group,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “Suter gives you a puck mover who is very mobile and smart. Weber gives you that nasty mean streak with size, a good skill level, and a big shot. Klein encompasses all three – he is strong enough to handle the weight, he skates well enough to get out of trouble and join the offense, but he is in between Webs and Sutes as far as skill goes. He is a blend of both of them in some ways. You get a lot of dimensions and focus when you have those three guys.”
Following the draft, each one of the trio went their separate way, each taking a different route back into the organization after a couple more years of seasoning.
|Weber struck gold with Team Canada in 2005. |
Klein and Weber both took the conventional route for young Canadians with NHL aspirations – the Canadian Major Junior hockey leagues. Hailing from Sicamous, B.C., Weber joined the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League where above all, he learned to win. In addition to claiming gold at the 2005 World Junior Championships, the now 6-3, 213-pound blue liner helped the Rockets claim two league championships and three entries into the CHL Memorial Cup.
Klein, meanwhile, plied his trade in the Ontario Hockey League for both the St. Michael’s Majors and the Guelph Storm, winning a league championship and world junior championship silver in 2004.
“I played four years in the junior system and went from a rookie to a vet by playing in all types of situations and with different teams,” Klein said. “I was with a winning team every year – we went to the third round or farther every year I played so I got a lot of playoff experience. My final year, we actually won the OHL championship in Guelph which sets you up for pro because you go in with a winning attitude.”
Suter, being the lone American of the group, took the route his father, Bob, and uncles, John and Gary, all took – college hockey at the University of Wisconsin.
“It was good because I was playing with a lot older guys,” Suter said. “That is the thing with college, you can go when your 18 and be playing guys who are 24. That was good because I was playing with older guys and they taught me a ton, and I got a lot of ice time.”
Fenton and Poile have always preached to prospects that the road to Nashville is through its American Hockey League farm team in Milwaukee, and despite the embarrassment of riches the team had at its disposal with the threesome, they all played at least a season with the Admirals. Suter and Klein joined up there during the 2004-05 season, while Weber stayed behind in Kelowna for one more season.
“The jump from junior hockey to the AHL is a lot bigger than the jump from the American league to the NHL – you go in there as a 19 or 20-year-old and you are playing against men for the first time,” Klein said. “I spent three years in Milwaukee paying my dues, trying to become the best pro I could.”
All three ’03 picks agreed that the coaches were as instrumental as anything to their learning process. Claude Noel coached the Ads from 2003-07, and Lane Lambert is the new captain of the ship for the 2007-08 season. Each learned the ins and outs of the organization as an assistant prior to taking the head job.
|Klein paid his dues with Milwauke from 2004-07 |
“I definitely learned a lot from them,” Weber said. “The jump from juniors to pro is big and not a lot of guys can make it. For me, it was a big step to Milwaukee, but Claude Noel and (then assistant coach) Todd Richards helped me tremendously and molded my game to the pro ranks.”
Added Klein: “There is good coaching down there with Claude and now Lane – they are going to teach you to be good pros and manage your game, and everything that goes along with being a pro hockey player. So, I think that being there three years and learning from them helped me a lot.”
With the system seasoning now behind them, Klein, Weber and Suter are all on the same team first the first time in 2007-08, and are poised to bolster a talented Predators blue line that also boasts gritty stay-at-home defenders Greg Zanon and Greg de Vries, the offensive-minded Marek Zidlicky, and the well-rounded Dan Hamhuis.
For Klein, this season will be his first extended stay in “The Show,” having only appeared in five career NHL contests over the past two seasons.
“I think I play solid defense – I like to look at myself as a good penalty killer who is reliable and physical,” Klein said. “I just want to show them I can play when I get my shot.”