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Optimizing Nashville’s Draft Classes, Part 2: 2003-2007

Ryan Getzlaf being likable, Dustin Byfuglien and Shea Weber on the same pairing, some familiar faces, and one massive pest.

The Nashville Predators have had plenty of draft gaffes throughout their history, from taking Brian Finley sixth overall to selecting Miikka Salomäki ahead of Nikita Kucherov; as a fan who is continually frustrated by the organization’s struggles to produce skilled, high-scoring forwards, I know I’ve spent plenty of time thinking about those missed opportunities. Taking all of that into account, what would the Preds look like if I perfectly optimized every draft pick in franchise history?

I’ll be briefly breaking down the optimized form of every Nashville draft class from 1998 through 2017, split into 5-year increments. What do I mean by optimized? In this case, I’m simply using the picks that Nashville had in the draft that year and taking the best possible set of players possible with said picks. I’ll also be attempting to break down how taking said players would have likely changed the history of the Predators.

This experiment isn’t acting as if the optimized 1998 and 1999 drafts are happening within one timeline; instead, it’s assuming all history prior to that specific year is the same as our real-life Preds. For a brief example, if I’m talking about the optimal 1999 draft, it’s occurring in a universe where Nashville still took David Legwand second overall and made the exact same trades and signings prior to draft day.

Now that you understand the rules governing this massive what-if, let’s hop in.

Revised 2003 Draft Class

Draft Pick Player Games Played Career Points Career Goals Career Assists High Points High Goals High Assists
Draft Pick Player Games Played Career Points Career Goals Career Assists High Points High Goals High Assists
7th Ryan Getzlaf 1053 965 274 691 91 31 66
35th Patrice Bergeron 1089 869 352 517 79 32 (x 2) 48
37th Shea Weber 990 570 218 352 56 23 (x 2) 33
49th Corey Crawford 488 260 W 162 L 53 OTL 0.918 SV% 2.45 GAA 26 SO
76th Brad Richardson 808 242 106 136 31 19 20
89th Kyle Brodziak 917 296 129 167 44 22 23 (x 2)
92nd Lee Stempniak 911 469 203 266 52 28 32
99th Joe Pavelski 1030 792 369 423 79 41 46
117th Tobias Enstrom 719 308 54 254 51 10 (x 2) 44
133rd Matt Moulson 650 369 176 193 69 36 33
210th Dustin Byfuglien 869 525 177 348 56 20 (x 2) 41
213th Jaroslav Halak 520 272 W 167 L 58 OTL .916 SV% 2.48 GAA 50 SO
268th Brian Elliott 472 241 W 146 L 47 OTL .912 SV% 2.50 GAA 40 SO
Class Stats: 10,516 GP; 2,058 G; 3,347 A; 5,405 P; 773 W; 475 L; 158 OTL; 2.48 GAA; .915 SV%. Class Awards: 9 All Stars, 1 King Clancy, 4 Selke wins, 1 Mark Messier win, 5 William Jennings wins. HOFers: Ryan Getzlaf (likely), Patrice Bergeron (lock). All stats via Hockey Reference

This is where things get absolutely bonkers. The 2003 draft was one of the deepest in history, and the Preds had a lot of picks in it, so we’re instantly getting a smattering of Hall-of-Fame and All-Star talent. Nashville doesn’t really feel the impact of the 2003 draft until around 2005-2006 with the emergence of Patrice Bergeron and Ryan Getzlaf, but things start to kick into high gear with Shea Weber, Dustin Byfuglien, Lee Stempniak, Joe Pavelski and Toby Enstrom stepping into the league with immediate results around 2008.

The Predators still take Alex Radulov and Ryan Parent, as well as a goalie only they had targeted in Pekka Rinne; the drafts differ heavily after that, especially with the 2003 class rounding into form. Nashville begins to dominate the West after the retirement of Niklas Lidström, led by their towering defense and tandem of young shutdown centers; Joe Pavelski, Shea Weber and Dustin Byfuglien combine with Getzlaf and a young Matt Moulson to form the league’s deadliest power play.

The Predators put it all together in 2010 behind a fully-realized starter in Pekka Rinne and the league’s best record. Nashville runs over the fledgeling Chicago Blackhawks dynasty in the first round en route to facing a cupcake opponent from the East (thanks to Jaroslav Halák’s outstanding performance against the Washington Capitals), resulting in a Stanley Cup in year 12. The Preds win another three championships with the core they’ve assembled before eventually succumbing to the constraints of the salary cap.

Revised 2004 Draft Class

Draft Pick Player Games Played Career Points Career Goals Career Assists High Points High Goals High Assists
Draft Pick Player Games Played Career Points Career Goals Career Assists High Points High Goals High Assists
15th David Krejci 911 686 207 479 73 (x 2) 23 (x 2) 53
81st Alexander Edler 873 401 99 302 49 11 38
107th Ryan Callahan 757 386 186 200 54 (x 2) 29 30
139th Kris Versteeg 643 358 149 209 54 23 31 (x 2)
147th Mikhail Grabovski 534 296 125 171 58 29 29
178th Roman Polak 806 140 26 114 21 5 17
193rd Chris Campoli 440 146 35 111 34 11 25
209th Troy Brouwer 851 363 182 181 43 (x 2) 25 22
243rd Pekka Rinne 659 359 W 201 L 74 OTL .917 SV% 2.42 GAA 58 SO
258th Mark Streit 786 434 96 338 62 16 49
275th Jannik Hansen 626 256 109 147 39 22 23
Class Stats: 7,886 GP; 1,214 G; 2,252 A; 3,466 P; 359 W; 201 L; 74 OTL; 2.42 GAA; .917 SV%. Class Awards: 3 All Stars, 1 Vezina. HOFers: Pekka Rinne (unlikely). All stats via Hockey Reference

This is the first draft class that wouldn’t clearly boost Nashville to undisputed Cup contender status; it’s simply a very solid boost to an already good run of Preds teams. Nashville gets a bit further in the playoffs in the late 2000s thanks to the additions of David Krejci and Alex Edler, but the team’s lack of star power prevents them from getting past the second round until a bit later.

Still, in 2012 Nashville wins the Western conference in the regular season and advances to the WCF against a tough Los Angeles Kings team. Sadly, Nashville is defeated and never really reaches that peak again after losing some of their key depth players while trying to maneuver under the cap. The Predators remain a contender, but their reliance on depth over stars is never truly corrected, and the team fails to swing for big trades due to their comfy, secure core of Krejci, Edler, Weber, Rinne and Streit.

Revised 2005 Draft Class

Draft Pick Player Games Played Career Points Career Goals Career Assists High Points High Goals High Assists
Draft Pick Player Games Played Career Points Career Goals Career Assists High Points High Goals High Assists
18th Tuukka Rask 536 291 W 158 L 64 OTL .922 SV% 2.26 GAA 50 SO
78th Ben Bishop 413 222 W 128 L 36 OTL .921 SV% 2.32 GAA 33
79th Keith Yandle 976 573 99 474 62 12 53
150th Matt D'Agostini 324 107 52 55 46 21 25
176th Sergei Kostitsyn 353 176 67 109 50 23 27
213th Anton Strallman 818 261 52 209 39 9 (x 2) 30
230th Patric Hornqvist 770 480 238 242 53 30 31
Class Stats: 4,190 GP; 508 G; 1,089 A; 1,597 P; 513 W; 286 L; 100 OTL; 2.29 GAA; .922 SV%. Awards: 3 All Stars, 1 Vezina, 1 William Jennings. HOFers: Tuukka Rask (maybe). All stats via Hockey Reference

For the second class in a row, the Predators probably don’t get any players who truly make them clear Cup winners. Nashville likely makes at least one Western Conference Finals or Stanley Cup Final appearance, but with no true offensive superstars they cannot overcome the reigning powers of the upcoming decade (the Kings, Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins).

Still, we get a few fun things; the Predators are well known for having the best defensive development program in the league with the likes of Keith Yandle and Anton Strålman patrolling the back end with Weber, Ryan Suter and company; Rinne and Tuukka Rask have a fantastic relationship and form a strong Finnish goalie tandem (although neither of them reach their true peak without full starting opportunities). Despite all of this, the Preds are never really dominant or all that fun to watch, instead playing an extreme version of the Barry Trotz hockey we saw in reality.

Revised 2006 Draft Class

Draft Pick Player Games Played Career Points Career Goals Career Assists High Points High Goals High Assists
Draft Pick Player Games Played Career Points Career Goals Career Assists High Points High Goals High Assists
56th Brad Marchand 751 646 290 356 100 39 64
105th Viktor Stålberg 488 168 82 86 43 22 21
146th Mathieu Perreault 627 324 130 194 45 18 (x 2) 32 ( x2)
176th Leo Komarov 457 162 62 100 36 19 20
206th Erik Condra 372 99 40 59 25 9 17
Class Stats: 2,695 GP; 604 G; 1,400 P. Awards: 1 All Star. HOFers: None. All stats via Hockey Reference

Headlining the 2006 class is, of course, Viktor Stålberg, AKA the greatest Swedish Predator of all time (this is a fact, nobody disputes this). In all seriousness, while this is almost inarguably the worst class so far, the Preds still add a few players who would likely become franchise favorites.

Nobody really makes a splash until 2010, but Brad Marchand fits like a glove in Barry Trotz’s heavy forechecking scheme, shot blocking like a champ and generally being an annoying little rat alongside Martin Erat and company. Nashville makes it past the Arizona Coyotes in 2012 as a result, but the Preds never really stand a chance against LA and struggle to replicate their playoff run in following seasons.

The 2017 postseason finally produces some tangible playoff success as Marchand, Perreault and the absolutely ridiculous defensive trio of Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis take Nashville deep again, but the Preds fail to defeat the Anaheim Ducks without ever having added Ryan Johansen or P.K. Subban.

Revised 2007 Draft Class

Draft Pick Player Games Played Career Points Career Goals Career Assists High Points High Goals High Assists
Draft Pick Player Games Played Career Points Career Goals Career Assists High Points High Goals High Assists
23rd P.K. Subban 713 426 105 321 60 16 45 ( x2)
54th Wayne Simmonds 909 499 251 248 60 ( x2) 32 31
58th Evgenii Dadonov 280 202 91 111 70 28 ( x2) 42
81st Alec Martinez 607 206 64 142 39 11 30
114th Jamie Benn 814 688 300 388 89 41 52
119th Jake Muzzin 579 252 62 190 42 10 34
144th Nick Bonino 626 282 122 160 49 22 27
174th Paul Byron 448 185 89 96 43 22 21
204th Paul Postma 205 35 10 25 14 4 13
Class Stats:  5,181 GP; 1,094 G; 1,681 A; 2,775 P. Awards: 3 All Stars, 1 Norris, 1 Art Ross, 1 Mark Messier. HOFers: None. All stats via Hockey Reference

Alright, we’re back to clear Stanley Cup-or-bust territory here. Jamie Benn, Wayne Simmonds, Shea Weber and Patric Hörnqvist all on the same powerplay is just unfair. Jake Muzzin and P.K. Subban augment what’s already one of the best defenses in the NHL to mythical status, especially in 2014 (Muzzin and Subban were both elite in that year, and they’d be playing with Ellis, Ekholm, Josi and Weber).

Nashville wins a Stanley Cup by 2015 and probably wins two in the 2010s; Benn takes over the captaincy with the departure of Weber to the Montreal Canadiens in a trade for young star Alex Galchenyuk (yuck); and Wayne Simmonds jerseys dominate Bridgestone Arena for decades after he retires.

Any thoughts on the article? Leave ‘em below. Hope y’all enjoyed.

Photo Credits to @NSHHousecats on Twitter.