In the first round, the Predators will look to go with the best player available at their spot at 17th overall. After that, though, they will look to fill the Predators’ systematic needs (and also pick up players the scouting staff views in high regard) and that is what we will be diving into today.
1. Look for Pekka’s replacement.
The Nashville Predators’ biggest need going into this draft has to be to continue to look for 33-year-old Pekka Rinne’s eventual replacement. Rinne is still a great goaltender but there is no denying he is out of his prime. At times he looks every bit the goaltender he was in his 20s but he also lets in more stinkers than he used to and isn’t as consistent. Making situations slightly worse, Marek Mazanec is proving that he is likely a career backup goaltender at best; he will be gone from the organization should the Predators’ staff choose to resign Carter Hutton.
Some may argue that Juuse Saros is Pekka’s heir apparent, but until he gets a full NHL season under his belt you can’t really make that argument. To further drive that point home, Magnus Hellberg actually put up better numbers than Saros in his rookie season in North America. Where is he now? Still in the AHL. Another player to watch could be Karel Vejmelka, who put up great numbers last season for all three Czech teams he played for (even though he was disappointingly passed over by the Czech World Junior Championship team).
Basically the Predators are looking at two reasonable potential options to fill Pekka Rinne’s void for when he is no longer the number one goalie in Nashville. However, with no first-round caliber goaltenders available in this draft, David Poile will have to fill that need in later rounds.
2. Restock the defensive pipeline.
By no means are the Predators lacking in the defensive department at the NHL level. Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, and Ryan Ellis should be fixtures on their blue line for years to come. Shea Weber is getting older but, as he turns 31 in August, it would seem that he has several good years left.
Big Shea will definitely slow down but what he loses in speed he will make up for in smarts, strength, and a powerful slap shot. He is one of those players that could play on the top defensive pairing against top competition for another six or so seasons given the right partner; aka Roman Josi. Still, six years is pretty close to the amount of time it takes to draft and develop a truly competent top four defenseman these days. So, it would not be bad to continue to add right-shot defenseman to the fold. Dante Fabbro and Charlie McAvoy are two such players to watch out for in the first round.
Looking deeper into the system, the Nashville Predators’ defensive pipeline is not exactly their strong suit, especially with the departure of disgruntled Milwaukee Admiral Taylor Aronson. The only notable promising defensive prospects in the Predators’ system come in the form of Jack Dougherty and Alexandre Carrier. Dougherty is coming off a solid season in the WHL and Carrier played pretty well in the QMJHL. Both will need to further prove they are NHL-caliber players in the coming seasons as they make their respective ways into the AHL scene.
At the end of the year press conference, Poile told Robby Stanley to not be surprised if they take a defenseman with as many as both of their first two picks. That really shows you how high of a priority the organization has put on this predicament.
Poile said don’t be surprised if the #Preds take a defensemen with the first pick or two in the draft, but still want best player available.
— Robby Stanley (@RStanley247) May 18, 2016
3. Keep looking for that number two center.
The two Mikes are definitely starting to slow down. Mike Ribeiro was a big part of the Predators mid-season resurgence but disappeared in the playoffs. Mike Fisher, on the other hand, was great in the playoffs but was not at all productive during the regular season; though he was limited to third line minutes. The Predators will likely need to find a fix next summer from outside of the organization as no current or newly-drafted prospect will be ready in time. However, it would still be a good idea to continue to search for long-term options.
Vladislav Kamenev was an AHL All-Star and captained Russia to a silver at the World Juniors. The organization projects him to be a second line center but he probably won’t be ready for such a role for another two or more years, if at all.
Tommy Novak was second in assists for the University of Minnesota (though he was greatly helped by Hudson Fasching’s productivity) and he showed continual improvement throughout the season and set himself up pretty well for the future. With a full season under his belt, how Novak comes out in 2016-2017 will be really telling but he is one of those prospects who will turn out to be a top six talent once in a blue moon.
Yakov Trenin didn’t have nearly the season many had hoped for after a solid rookie campaign in North America and his drop in production raises a lot of question marks. Still, he is a solid prospect and I would put he and Novak on a similar level at this point.
Until one of these prospects turns out, Poile just needs to keep throwing darts at that position in the draft until he hits.
4. Complement Forsberg and Johansen.
The Predators finally have two highly skilled offensive players capable of putting up big numbers in Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg. With tons of size and skill, they have the ability to drive play on their own. What they need are players who can help and not hinder the offense, get to the scoring areas, be strong defensively, and go to the dirty areas.
The three buzzwords there are “smart,” “skilled,” and “honest.” Forsberg would fit well with more of a playmaking forward while Johansen could use a finisher on his side, preferably another left-handed shot with some size. There are several players fitting that description who could be available 17th overall if the scouting staff deems them worthy of the pick, bug they obviously wouldn’t be ready for such a role for another few years.