Being a Predators fan since day 1, and an avid game attender since Season 2, I have seen plenty (and I mean plenty) of different hockey players wearing a Predators sweater. Often times in a young franchise, players are brought in, not only to play hockey, but for mid-season, trial-by-fire type of try out. Often times, guys would only last a few games. Names like Rob Zettler, Petr Sykora, Phil Crowe, and Robert Schnabel, were guys that played in a handful of games, and some never played in the NHL again. After that 5-6 year “let's get our feet wet” period and the Leipold induced Poile Fire Sale of 2007, we haven't seen a huge turnover rate among players. Guys like Martin Erat (only remaining player from the Vowel line) and David Legwand (first ever draft pick) survived all the turmoil, and have provided Nashville with veteran stablility.
Let's say your new to being a Nashville Predators fan, and some of those previously mentioned names read like the cast of TV sitcom from the 80s, how can you relate modern day Predators to Predators of the past? I'll take an in depth look at three past Predators and their current, comparable Predator player.
Does the name Darren Haydar ring a bell? Although his arrival to the Predators was not exactly the same as Ryan Ellis, Haydar was drafted in the 9th round at 248th overall while Ryan Ellis was drafted in the 1st round at the 11th slot, their “pre-Predators” days were similar. Although they play different positions, Haydar a winger and Ellis a d-man, Haydar and Ellis have both posted record points seasons in their prospective junior leagues. Haydar, standing at 5'9” 170 pounds set played junior hockey for the Junior A Ontario Provincial Hockey League on the Milton Merchants. Here Haydar set league records for goals (at 71) and points (140) in a season in a mere 51 games. Sound familiar? Ryan Ellis, the 5'10” 179 pound defenseman, in his rookie campaign in the Ontario Hockey League scored 63 points in 63 games and led the league with a +30 rating.
Both of these players would go on to shred defenses and score multitudes of points before being drafted by the Predators. Surprisingly, Haydar actually averaged a point a game in Milwaukee while Ellis scored only .62 points per game. The statistics from their time in Milwaukee are similar, and the hype they received while in Milwaukee was equal. Ellis and Haydar were both hyped as being that “offensive savior” the Predators had been to desperate to find. Disappointingly, Ellis has scored only 17 points in 60 games (all with the Predators), while Haydar only scored 8 points in 23 games (with the Predators, Thrashers and Avalanche).
Was the obvious hype that these two received too much to overcome for both of these 'little' guys? Time will tell for Ellis, but for the Predators Haydar was ultimately a failure.
Scott Walker was the ultimate Predator when he played for Nashville. His tough, grind it out, fearless, and physical play was something that Predators fans of old came to love. Not only did he exhibit all that Barry Trotz stood for on the ice, Walker was a community guy. Always pitching in in community efforts (heck, I saw him at PetsMart in Brentwood one day with his dog, and he even talked to me for a brief second).
Walker was acquired by the Predators in the 1998 expansion draft from the Vancouver Canucks, while Rich Clune was claimed off of waivers from the LA Kings. Walker in his first season with the Predators scored 40 points in 71 games while racking up 103 PIM, while midway through this shortened season Clune is at 5 points in 27 games with 53 PIM (on pace for 15 points and 160 PIM in an 82 game season). Although Clune might be considered more sandpaper than scorer, his play is similar to that of Walker's.
Walker was a fan favorite in Nashville during his time here, and it was devastating to see him traded, and while Clune did not exactly start out as a fan favorite, he quickly has gained popularity among the fans, and I have even seen some twitter chatter with fans listing him as their favorite player (if you are bored check out the #RichPlease hashtag on twitter, funny stuff here). So it will remain to be seen if Clune can play a similar style to Walker and thrive in today's NHL, but so far, he has done an excellent job playing as a Scott Walker mold.
I could not think of a more perfect comparison between two Predators players playing at different times for the Preds. Hartnell was drafted in the 1st round, 6th overall by the Predators in 2000, while Hornqvist was drafted in the 7th round, 230th overall in 2005. Both of these two play an eerily similar style of hockey; both are wingers and both are known more for their offensive contributions that their defensive contributions. Hartnell and Hornqvist both are the designated “screeners” of their lines. When they head into the offensive zone, they have one job and one job only, head to the front of the net, park there, absorb any hits, screen the goalie, and pick up any rebounds for garbage goals. With this style of play, they have both succeeded in putting up goals. In his time in Nashville, Hartnell averaged .21 goals per game (.26 for his NHL career), and coming in at a slightly higher average, Hornqvist has averaged .29 goals per game. In a Trotz system, it is rare to find guys who only contribute in the offensive zone, but these two have both found soft spots in the system.
The big question with Hornqvist is what will happen this off-season? Hornqvist is currently the Predators only “major” contributor without a contract for next year. Hartnell (and Kimmo Timonen) were shipped to Philly in exchange for a 1st round pick, so hopefully Hornqvist won't succumb to similar circumstances.
Although these were only a few Predator comparisons, there are a lot more that could be made. Josi has a similar appearance/playing style to Timonen/Hamhuis, some would argue that Jon Blum is another Cody Franson, and Scott Hannan is a poor man's Karlis Skrastins.
Can you think of any other comparables? There are plenty out there.