As the fanbase continues coming to grips with the retirement of Pekka Rinne and the major changes made in trades and expansion, the Nashville Predators front office prepared diligently for the entry draft and free agency. Given the transitional state of the roster, many options were on the table for how to make use of the coming days. Would GM David Poile stick to the plan and create opportunities for the ascending youth or would he once again not be able to help himself and bring in veteran players to fill the open spots in the lineup? Would the three early picks be used to continue building the pipeline or monetized for more established players? Let’s take a look back at how those questions were answered and what remains for the Predators off-season.
NHL Entry Draft
While the 2021 draft did not appear to have the magnitude of rare talent that 2020 had or 2022 looks to have, there were still many intriguing prospects. The Predators had a lot of early flexibility holding the 19th overall pick plus two 2nd round picks. With that first selection, the Predators chose Russian center Fyodor Svechkov. Svechkov has already shown a solid 200’ game that will translate well to the NHL. While many scouts tout his defensive play and mental maturity for his young age, his offensive ability is often undersold. Svechkov has very good skill with the puck and gets to the right areas to make plays. He may not be a 40 goal scorer but he projects as a 2nd line center in the mold of Mikko Koivu or Phillip Danault. Svechkov will play in the KHL alongside fellow prospect Yaroslav Askarov for the next couple of seasons before looking at coming to North America.
Late in the first round, Poile put on his trading hat and moved both 2nd round picks to Carolina for the ability to draft QMJHL forward Zachary L’Heureux. L’Heureux is a big, physical scoring forward who can play both center and wing but is also one of the most polarizing prospects. Pre-draft rankings on L’Heureux ranged from the high teens to the 40s which align with the story that his talent and potential is obvious but his red flags are enough to push him behind other players. In the behind the scenes video released by the Predators, the scouting staff had L’Heureux at number 15 on their board so it’s clear they view him very highly. He possesses strong hands and a very good shot while playing with a nasty streak which is also the red flag. L’Heureux has four suspensions on his rap sheet for various on-ice antics including flipping off opposing fans. The moderating factor is that the incidents appear to be acts of immaturity more than deep-seeded flaws in character. If the Predators player development staff can focus L’Heureux’s energies into contributions then the potential exists for the Predators to have picked up a Matthew Tkachuk type player at the end of the first round.
The rest of the draft saw the Predators pick up solid value with three defensemen and a forward with their remaining picks. Defensemen Anton Olsson and Ryan Ufko particularly stand out for having NHL skill sets but all four players have the potential to contribute at the NHL level. If the Predators can hit on a couple of them there could be real value in this draft class.
The questions around the Predators free agency strategy were more about whether Mikael Granlund and Erik Haula would be re-signed than if Poile would chase any bigger names. The start of the day was confusing as reports came out that Granlund would not be re-signed then only a few minutes later the news came that he had indeed signed a 4 year, $20M extension. On the surface it would appear that a bit of gamesmanship by Granlund’s camp pushed the contract where he wanted it to be. For the Predators, Granlund was one of coach John Hynes’ most trusted forwards so making sure he stayed was important. I look at the contract as the max I would have been willing to give so it’s an acceptable deal but a bit of an overpay.
With Granlund locked up the next order of business was to get a veteran backup goalie for Juuse Saros. The Predators ultimately chose to bring in David Rittich who has been a part-time starter with the Flames and most recently the Maple Leafs. Rittich has earned the moniker “Big Save Dave” for some great performances in pressure-filled games but has been a mercurial goalie throughout his career. When he’s good, he’s very difficult to beat but that level has been followed by some incredibly poor performances as well. Overall, Rittich is a solid veteran goalie at a low cost who will fill in just fine as a backup.
The other significant side of Predators free agency is the number of restricted free agents needing to be signed. Saros and Fabbro both elected for salary arbitration and as of August 16th, both have avoided their hearings by signing extensions. Saros signed a matching 4 year, $20M contract as Granlund and Fabbro signed a 2-year extension worth $4.8M. Eeli Tolvanen remains qualified and unsigned though there isn’t any reason to think a deal won’t get done. The Predators have extended a number of other important RFA’s expected to contribute at the NHL level including Tanner Jeannot, Mathieu Olivier and Rem Pitlick among others.
In summary, the current totality of the Predators off-season is as follows:
Out – Pekka Rinne, Ryan Ellis, Viktor Arvidsson, Calle Jarnkrok, Erik Haula, Brad Richardson, Erik Gudbranson
In – Cody Glass, Phillippe Myers, David Rittich
Re-Signed – Mikael Granlund, Juuse Saros, Dante Fabbro, Tanner Jeannot, Mathieu Olivier, Rem Pitlick, Ben Harpur
Pending – Eeli Tolvanen
While we now have some of the answers to the questions posed in the introduction, there is still a feeling that the roster makeover is incomplete. The expectations for Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene are still beyond their contributions. The question of whether Mattias Ekholm and/or Filip Forsberg will sign extensions looms large in terms of roster strategy. The Predators today look like a team in the middle of a transition. They’re not a contender but the level of talent puts their ceiling higher than what might be seen in the results. So the question remains if GM David Poile has another trick up his sleeve to further reshape the roster or if this current state is what will see the ice come training camp in September. The 2021 off-season has been an important first step in embracing the next wave of talent but the timing and commitment to the plan remains to be seen.
Contract information courtesy of CapFriendly