PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 23: Pontus Aberg, 37th overall pick by the Nashville Predators, speaks to Predators General Manager David Poile during day two of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft at Consol Energy Center on June 23, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The trade winds were blowing mighty strong on draft day, as multiple deals were struck on the floor of the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. The hosts made the biggest splashes as they elected to trade Jordan Staal to Carolina for what amounted to a king's ransom. The Nashville Predators, however, chose to stand pat (with the exception of a minor trade with the Rangers for the Predators' 2013 3rd round pick.
Before diving in to the Predator’s draft picks, I thought it would be prudent to make a couple of observations from the draft. My mock draft, along with the great Bob McKenzie’s, were completely shattered by surprises. By the end of the first round, I had so many red marks that I gave up counting how many mistakes I made in my mock draft. There were certainly some surprises in the first round, including my projected second overall player falling all the way to Washington Capitals at eleven. I think the biggest surprise of the entire draft was the amount of defensemen taken before any forwards after the elite talents (Yakupov and Galchenyuk). The next seven picks were all defenseman, including a serious reach by the Penguins, who selected Derrick Pouliot, a smooth skating defenseman who wasn’t projected to go in the top 15 by most experts. It was certainly a day of surprises.
Nashville was either unable or unwilling to get back into the first round, which isn’t all that surprising considering this year’s draft class is supposed to be one of the weakest in recent memory. I thought Poile might have tried to strike a deal once Forsberg fell down, but once that pick got to the Capitals I knew that they had to select him. There were also more than a few rumors that Poile may have tried to deal Wilson to an Eastern Conference team, but that has yet to be confirmed. There was also speculation that Pittsburgh wanted Suter’s rights, but Poile refused to trade the most important UFA in Predators’ history. With no indication Suter wants to stay in Nashville or that he and Poile are close to a contract, the first of July promises to be a tense day for Predators’ fans.
So with that out of the way, let’s go ahead and analyze all of the players the Predators drafted this year, starting with their first second round pick, (37th overall) Pontus Aberg.
Aberg had a strong start to the season with Djurgården (SEL) before suffering major injuries and set backs to close the year. Djurgården eventually fell out of the top teams in the SEL and will start next year in the less competitive Allsvenskan. This is a bit of a concern, as Aberg will not be playing against the most competitive players, but Allsvenskan is known for its open style offense while the SEL is more defensively structured. This move may actually help Aberg develop more of a scoring touch along with some creativity in the offensive zone.
One thing to keep in mind with Aberg is he is under contract in Sweden until 2013-2014, meaning he won’t be in yellow and blue for a few years. Most experts agree that Aberg is going to be a long term project as he will need to not only adapt to North American sized rinks, but also work on his skating to get his speed up to NHL level (something most prospects need to do). He does however have the smarts and the shot (especially his accurate one timer) to be a second line forward.
I view Aberg as a potential Thomas Vanek at the height of his ceiling, but he will most likely be more like a Martin Erat that likes to shoot more. He is not overly big (5’11) but he is as sturdy as a brick house. He may very well be a long-term project, but he is one that will be worth waiting for. I am a bit sore, however, that Poile elected not to move up a couple of spots and nab California native Nicolas Kerdiles. Kerdiles is the kind of prospect desperately needed with size, speed, and skill. It’s unfortunate that Kerdiles went one pick before us, but in a couple of years I think Aberg could overtake Kerdiles as the better prospect.
With the 50th pick in the draft, Poile choose to get a Legwand or Fisher replacement in two-three years with Colton Sissons. Sissons is a two-way player with heart and soul. He never takes shifts off and will beat you not with his talent but with his willpower. Many scouts have compared him to Mike Fisher and think he could’ve gone higher had he not been injured.. He missed some time this year with a concussion, but seems to have gotten over that injury. I like this pick, as the Predators are pretty good at developing these kinds of guys into solid NHL players. This should be a very solid pick for Nashville in a couple of years.
Nashville elected to take another forward in the third round, Jimmy Vesy, as the 85th overall pick. Vesey is another guy who has more willpower than skill power, and projects to be a solid third line winger. He isn’t an overly fast player, but he is a smart one. There are some concerns about his ability to play at higher levels of competition (he’s only played in EJHL), so his time next year in the NCAA at Harvard is going to be critical for his development.
With the 89th overall pick, the Predators took super pest Brendan Leispic from the WHL. Leispic isn’t a very big guy, but he is as tenacious as a bulldog. Predators’ fans may have reruns of Tootoo in their heads with Leispic, as he will serve the same purpose as the hard-hitting Tootoo Train. This pick could turn out to be Tootoo’s replacement in a few years.
The Predators then drafted Zachary Stepan in the fourth round, making him the fifth straight forward the Predator’s took in the 2012 NHL Draft. Cousin to the Rangers’ Derek Stepan, Zachary has been a bit of an enigma this year as he didn’t really improve on his last season at the prestigious Shattuck St. Mary’s Prep School, but he still posted 65 points in 50 games. Stepan is not very big, only a generous 6’0 and somewhere between 166 and 170 pounds, but he has the speed and the smarts to potentially make it in the NHL. Poile and company must be excited about Stepan’s ceiling, but they also have to be proactive in his development.
The next pick made a "big" splash for Predator’s fans, as Poile finally selected a defenseman. With the 118th pick, Nashville selected the massive Finnish blueliner Mikko Vainonen, who probably has one of the most fun names in history to say out loud. Vainonen is big, standing at almost 6’3" and 220 plus pounds. Vainonen will play in SM liiga this year for IFK as a shut down defenseman with a pretty gnarly attitude. Out of all the picks, this one actually has me the most excited. He was also captain in the U18 championship Finnish team, suggesting that he has some intangibles that could be valuable on and off the ice. He is the perfect compliment for Nashville’s cabinet full of undersized defensemen.
Defenseman Simon Fernholm and Goaltender Marek Mazanec became the Predators' 6th round picks (164 and 179). Mazanec appears to be another large goaltender for Mitch Korn to work worth, and Fernholm appears to be a tall defenseman who could develop into a shutdown specialist. These two guys are certainly long term projects, but could end up being really good players for the Predators.
That about sums up this year’s draft day as the Predators did not have a seventh round pick this year. The next week will prove to be an exciting one as Nashville tries to sign their UFA’s and RFA’s prior to Free Agency starting July 1st. These are exciting but also nerve-wracking times. While the present is very uncertain, the future looks bright as the Predators restock their prospect pool with character and talent.