The Cream of the Crop
There are a handful of prospects who stand out from the pack in what is widely regarded as a very deep and talented draft class (click the name for a profile on each prospect):
Nathan MacKinnon: considered a can't-miss #1 center, he'll be gone long before #4.
Jonathan Drouin: an offensive dynamo who will also go very, very early.
Seth Jones: the studliest of studly defensemen.
Aleksander Barkov: sired by Russians, raised in Finland, already a top scorer in the SM-Liiga.
Elias Lindholm: a sweet Swede who projects as a top-line center.
Valeri Nichushkin: super-sexy potential, but there are doubts about his commitment to the NHL.
The Preds Won't Really Draft a Defenseman at #4, Will They?
The great fear of many Predators fans is that David Poile & crew will squander the chance to pick the kind of franchise forward Nashville has traditionally lacked, and instead select a player in Seth Jones who fits the one area on the depth chart that actually is in great shape, the right side of the defense.
The thing is, Poile has been unusually frank in stating that Jones is the top player available, and if he fell to the #4 spot, he would take the blueliner "110%". Colorado is publicly leaning towards McKinnon for the first overall pick, and Tampa Bay just bought out their longtime captain Vincent Lecavalier, leading to speculation that they'll take a center like Barkov at #3. Florida, with the second pick, already has Erik Gudbranson on the right side, the 3rd overall pick from 2010 - might that motivate them to select Drouin?
While it's not at all a certainty, there is indeed a chance that Jones drops to #4. So what happens then?
Option #1, Trade Down: You can bet that some teams would make serious offers to entice Nashville to give up the chance for Jones in exchange for moving down in the first round. Calgary, for example, was reported to have offered their three first round picks (#6, #22 and #28) to Colorado for the #1 overall, presumably in order to acquire the big blueliner. If the Predators could move down to #6, they could still get a top-notch forward along with some additional value as well.
Option #2, Draft Jones & Make a Trade: If Jones is available and the Predators picked him, you could have a logjam on the right side of the defense. One possibility would be to trade someone like Kevin Klein or Ryan Ellis to open up a spot for Jones, while obtaining assets (players, picks, prospects) to shore up other areas. One downside to this scenario is that the Preds would rely upon Jones being able to handle NHL play right away.
Option #3, Draft Jones & Stand Pat: This one would drive many fans nuts, but it would allow the Predators to have Jones start the season with Milwaukee and assess his readiness for the NHL before making further moves. On the downside, there's probably no better time of year to make trades than during the Draft weekend, so by the time the Predators were ready to make changes, it could be more difficult to find a trading partner to work with.
Most Likely Predators Picks
If I had to guess, I'd say the Predators take either Barkov or Lindholm at #4, either one of which would help address the biggest hole in the organization, a long-term center for either of the top two lines. Mike Fisher & David Legwand are passable options in those roles, but in 2-4 years? Probably not so much. Nichushkin may set the fanboys on fire with his highlight-reel potential, but
Nashville Draft Picks By Round
1st Round - 4th
3rd Round - 64th (from the Anders Lindback trade)
4th Round - 99th (from Buffalo as part of the Paul Gaustad trade)
4th Round - 112th
5th Round - 125th (via trade from the Rangers)
5th Round - 140th
6th Round - 155th
6th Round - 171st (from San Jose in exchange for Scott Hannan)
7th Round - 185th
Nashville's original 2nd & 3rd round picks were traded away (that second was part of the Andrei Kostitsyn trade). In these later rounds, don't be surprised at all to see the Predators stock up on defensemen. The prospect pipeline has been mined quite a bit in recent years, and it's time to restock the cupboard.
Stay tuned on Draft Day, as it all starts Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Central on NBC Sports. We'll provide updates on each Predators pick, as well as other major news items as they develop...