Here at Penalty Box Radio, we like to turn our readers into hockey experts. For the last week or so, we have given you some detailed scouting reports on a bevy of potential prospects should they be available when Nashville is on the clock at pick No. 30. Today, we will examine the Nashville pipeline and how the 2017 draft can help re-shape the organization.
Organizational strengths: Defense, skilled forwards
Organizational weaknesses: Depth on the wing, center depth at the pro level
Vladislav Kamenev, Yakov Trenin, Tyler Moy, Patrick Harper, Rem Pitlick, Thomas Novak, Victor Ejdsell
First call up: Vladislav Kamenev
Wild card: Victor Ejdsell
Pontus Aberg, Freddy Gaudreau, Justin Kirkland, Tyler Kelleher, Anthony Richard (note that Gaudreau and Kirkland can also slot as centers)
First call up: Anthony Richard
Wild card: Tyler Kelleher
Alex Carrier, Jack Dougherty, Sam Girard, Dante Fabbro, Frederic Allard, Trevor Murphy, Joonas Lyytinen
First call up: Alex Carrier
Wild card: Jack Dougherty
Marek Mazanec, Karel Vejmelka, Konstantin Volkov, Janne Juvonen
First call up: Marek Mazenec
Wild card: Konstantin Volkov
Setting aside any hypothetical trade scenarios, there is no question that the glaring hole in the Predators’ current prospect pool is the lack of depth on the wing. Spending five of its eight picks last year on defensemen, this should be the year Nashville goes back to drafting forward-heavy.
The only wingers who would be considered prospects are Justin Kirkland, Anthony Richard and Tyler Kelleher; who combined for all of 13 goals and 26 assists in Milwaukee last season. Kirkland and Richard both concluded their rookie seasons in Milwaukee, while Kelleher only played in six games after signing as a free agent from the University of New Hampshire. Nobody from this trio will likely see the ice at Bridgestone Arena anytime soon. The good news is Nashville should have plenty of solid prospects to choose from. Kailer Yamamoto is a dynamic, offensive force the Predators crave. He is coming off a 42-goal season in the WHL, and with the Johnny Gaudreau comparisons already being thrown around, David Poile might be doing backflips if Yamamoto is still available. Others to be considered: Kole Lind, Matthew Strome, Maxime Comtois and Isaac Ratcliffe.
I hesitate to even call both Pontus Aberg and Freddy Gaudreau prospects at this point given the performances both had in the playoffs, but with only 24 games of NHL experience combined and the purposes of this exercise, let’s say they are. Both could potentially compete for full-time roster spots with the Preds, or they could start the season with Milwaukee. Should they start opening night for the Predators, Nashville’s forward depth among prospects really takes a hit.
Nashville’s center depth is like a vanilla milkshake; it’s good, there’s nothing wrong with it, but it could be better. Vladislav Kamenev got a brief taste of the NHL last year and was called up after Milwaukee’s season ended as a “black ace” — gaining some experience of a Stanley Cup run. Kamenev is viewed by some as a potential top-two center and he is the most likely to see some playing time in Nashville at some point this season. Yakov Trenin and Tyler Moy only have a handful of games in Milwaukee and are not ready to compete in the NHL just yet. Many are questioning if Mike Fisher will return next season, leaving the Preds depth chart at center as Ryan Johansen, Calle Jarnkrok and Colton Sissons. If Nashville decides center is the way to go in Round 1, then Shane Bowers, Josh Norris, Robert Thomas, Ryan Poehling or Lias Andersson become potential targets for the blue and gold.
Without a doubt, the strength of Nashville’s pipeline is the defense. The Predators have four — maybe even five — defensive prospects that are viewed as potential top-four defensemen. Alex Carrier had an impressive 2016-17 season, so, don’t be surprised if you see him in Nashville at any point this year.
Needless to say, it is hard to picture Nashville drafting a defenseman in the first round, should things stay status quo until draft night. However, there is a scenario that turns that possibility from highly unlikely to a necessity: a potential trade. It is no secret that the Predators are known for churning out NHL-quality defensemen left and right. Any phone calls David Poile makes to opposing GMs about acquiring an offensive weapon usually yields a return of a prized defenseman.
I do not see any of the big four (Josi, Ellis, Subban, Ekholm) being traded — even for Duchene. However, any of the prospects Nashville is stashing down in Milwaukee could be fair game for landing a potential Matt Duchene-esque player. Should any of the Dante Fabbro, Sam Girard or Alex Carrier trio get dealt, Nashville could have the luxury of replacing them with another solid prospect along the lines of Nicolas Hague, Erik Brannstrom, Conor Timmins, Callan Foote or Urho Vaakanainen.
Once Poile and company address perceived team needs, they will presumably look to draft a goaltender. Nashville has drafted a goalie in 13 of the 19 drafts in team history. On average, the Preds wait until rounds four and five to pick their netminder. If they follow suit this year, some potential selections Michael DiPietro, Keith Petruzelli, Jake McGrath and Maksim Zhukov.
Overall, I expect the Preds to address the forward position with its first few picks, then look to add more defensive depth and find a goalie no one has ever heard of that will turn into Braden Holtby in 2021.