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The New Faces of the Franchise

by Kevin Wilson / Nashville Predators
The Predators made waves on draft weekend with more than just their new additions.

With its first-round selection in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft – acquired just five days prior in a trade with Philadelphia – the Nashville Predators selected Vancouver Giant’s defenseman Jonathan Blum, making him the first Californian ever drafted in the opening round. But, the Predators made their biggest deal of the weekend via trade, dealing starting goaltender Tomas Vokoun to the Florida Panthers in exchange for a 2008 first-round pick, in addition to second rounders in 2007 and 2008.

The trade opens the door for Red Deer, Alberta native Chris Mason to grab the full-time starting netminder position for the first time in his career.

Chris Mason will be a starting NHL goalie for the first time in his career in 2007-08.
“You work your whole life for something like this, so it is a dream come true,” Mason said. “But at the same time, I want to go out and prove to everyone that they made the right decision. I look forward to the pressure of playing every night."”

Mason has filled in admirably for Vokoun in the past, most recently posting a 24-11-4 record in 2006-07, including a 14-6-1 mark in 21 consecutive starts from Nov. 25 – Jan. 6 while Vokoun was sidelined with an injured thumb. He boasted a 2.38 goals against average and a .925 save percentage, good for second in the league.

Mason bounced around the American and International hockey leagues for the first six years of his professional career, spending time with the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, Milwaukee Admirals, and San Antonio Rampage from 1998-2003. While the long bus rides and lack of an opportunity to prove himself were frustrating at times, the fifth round pick of New Jersey in 1995 never gave up hope.

"You can never give up no matter what the circumstances,” Mason said. “In the minors, I just learned that I just have to keep working hard. I never stopped trying, because I knew if I was given the opportunity I could make the NHL."

Predators General Manager David Poile and Head Coach Barry Trotz finally gave Mason his shot in 2003, reacquiring him from Florida via the Waiver Draft to fill a void at the backup goalie spot. After playing 17 games in his first full season with Nashville in 2003-04, Mason began to surface as an elite NHL netminder late in 2005-06 when Vokoun was sidelined with a blood disorder, posting a 12-5-1 record in the regular season, in addition to starting all five playoff contests. He carried that momentum into this past season.

"We saw Chris Mason emerge as a No. 1 goaltender in 2006-07 and with full confidence in Chris and Pekka Rinne, we felt as if we could make this move,” Poile said. “In addition, this trade will help restock our organizational assets and affords our team more payroll flexibility.  We now have two first-round picks in 2008, which is projected to be a strong Entry Draft.”

As for the 2007 draft, the trade gave the Predators a total of nine picks over seven rounds at the
L-R: Predators GM David Poile, scout Rick Knickle, first-round pick Jon Blum, scout Jeff Kealty, and assistant GM Paul Fenton at the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, June 22, 2007. (Getty/Bruce Bennett)
annual event held this year June 22-23 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Nashville ended the weekend with talent from five different nations, including a franchise-high four Americans.

Blum, and offensive-minded defenseman, joins an already deep arsenal of blueliners in the Predators system, joining the likes of Kevin Klein, Teemu Laakso and Vancouver teammate Cody Franson – who vouched for Blum’s character and work ethic after rooming with him for two seasons.

“Jon is one of the smartest players we saw in the draft,” Assistant General Manager Paul Fenton said. “After trading away Ryan Parent, there was definitely room on defense, but at the same time, I don’t think you can ever be too deep at one position.”

Draft day proved to be an emotional one for the avid surfer from Long Beach, as well as the 15 family members who were there to support him.

“It was a very exciting night, especially with all my family members here,” Blum said. “To see them having a great time, after being there for me through some tough times was special.”
Blum lost his twin sister, Ashley, in a house fire three years ago, and his mother Dana was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer just months after that tragedy. Nonetheless, Blum left the waves of Southern California for the hockey hotbed of Vancouver for the 2005-06 Western Hockey League season.

The move paid off for the 6-0, 160-pounder, as he has since played in two Memorial Cups, claiming the trophy which goes to Canada’s top major junior team in 2007. En route to the title, Blum posted 8g-43a-51 points in 72 regular season contests, tops among draft-eligible d-men in the WHL.

“We feel he has a good shot at playing for the U.S. team at the World Junior Championships next year which will really help his development,” Fenton said. “We have had people tell us they think he is the best defenseman in the Canadian Hockey League based on his smarts and shut-down ability.”

Known for his hockey sense and heads-up positioning, Blum was one of just two defensemen selected by the Predators in 2007, joining German Robert Dietrich. The team used its first pick of the second round (54th overall), and its final selection of the weekend (seventh round, 204th overall) to take goalies, selecting highly touted Jeremy Smith of the Ontario Hockey League’s Plymouth Whalers and Atte Engren of Lukko in the Finnish League.

The team’s remaining five selections were used to restock the franchise’s forward contingent, and included Nick Spaling of the Kitchener Rangers (second round, 58th overall), University of Notre Dame winger Ryan Thang (third round, 81st overall), Notre Dame-bound center Ben Ryan of the Des Moines Buccaneers (fourth round, 114th overall), Chilliwack’s Mark Santorelli, brother of Nashville prospect Mike (fourth round, 119th overall), and Swedish big man Andreas Thuresson of Malmo (fifth round, 144th overall).

“This draft was portrayed as weak, but we did a lot of work with our scouts to determine the types of players we needed,” Fenton said. “We got our top six prospects as we projected them and that was the first time we have ever done that.”
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