Last June, as day two of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft was coming to a close, Nashville’s 179th overall pick was held up due to a hiccup with the league’s central registry. After that was resolved, the Predators selected winger Isak Walther; it was just the second time in the organization’s history they had drafted a player from the U18 junior level of Swedish hockey.
The first time was three years earlier when the team nabbed defender Hardy Haman Aktell.
This may not seem like it means much, but it speaks to the importance and intrigue in mapping out Nashville’s entire draft history. For an organization with such little turnover in hockey operations, this is a unique chance to identify biases, debunk myths or confirm hypotheses.
Over the course of the NHL’s hiatus, I will be providing short vignettes into Nashville’s draft history. Some conclusions may be surprising and some may be boring in simply ruling out commonly-held myths about the organization. Regardless, these are intended to be short pieces with a few notes on each data set.
Here is a key for you to easily reference what level of play each league is across the world.
|AAA||AHL||AHL||Allsvenskan||VHL, RUS-2||Mestis||Chance Liga||1. liga||DEL-2||NLB|
|U20 Tier I||CHL||CHL, USHL||SuperElit||MHL||Jr. A SM-liiga||Czech U20||Slovakia U20||DNL Div. I||U20-Elit|
|U20 Tier II||OJHL, MJHL, BCHL, AJHL||NAHL, NCDC||J20 Elit||--||--||--||--||--||--|
|U20 Tier III||Junior B||EHL (EJHL), NA3HL, USPHL||J20 Div. 1||--||--||--||--||--||--|
First, let’s establish what the prevailing narrative is when it comes to which countries Nashville drafts from. For my purposes here, I’ve identified three:
- Nashville does not typically draft Russians.
- Nashville drafts Swedes and Finns more than the average team.
- Nashville drafts heavily from the United States.
Now, let’s see what the data tells us. Below is all 5,000+ NHL draft picks from 1998 to 2019 compared to all 186 Nashville selections broken down by birthplace.
So what are the main takeaways here? A few come to mind:
- Nashville does not select Canadians as frequently, but that doesn’t transfer to an increase in American selections.
- Despite a well-known pause in drafting from Russia, Nashville has still drafted from there more than average and more than from Finland.
- Of the smaller countries, it may be surprising that Slovakia is where most Nashville selections have come from.
The above map details the exact number of players drafted from each county as well as the last year Nashville selected a player from that nation. This provides some curious context but doesn’t necessarily confirm any significant biases.
When we analyze Nashville’s draft history from a league perspective, things tend to narrow. Prospects born in non-traditional markets often move to countries with rigorous junior leagues for development and exposure. As a result of organizations expanding the depths of their scouting, I wanted to see if Nashville caters to specific leagues and how often they’re going after less scoured development levels.
Here are some common hypotheses about Nashville’s preferences:
- Nashville took a significant pause in drafting from Russian leagues after Alexander Radulov.
- The organization has, at times, overloaded on NCAA or college-bound prospects from the United States.
- Nashville has capitalized on drafting younger prospects from Sweden and Finland’s top professional leagues.
- Nashville has not utilized Canadian Major Junior leagues, like the OHL, as much as other organizations.
(Note: Feel free to explore the data above. In cases of split seasons (e.g. a player appeared in the SuperElit and SHL in their draft season), preference was given to whichever league they played more games in.)
In looking through each country above, what do we notice? Here are my takeaways:
- Nashville did, in fact, not draft from Russia from 2005 to 2013 and, since resuming, has not taken prospects that earned ice time in the VHL or KHL as draft-eligible players (i.e. prospects often taken in the first two rounds).
- Nashville has yet to take advantage of growing development leagues in smaller countries like Switzerland or Germany.
- Nashville has begun integrating deeper development pools in Sweden (i.e. the U18 level)
- The organization has conformed with much of the league in going after the USHL and NAHL more frequently. I was surprised at how many enrolled college prospects they have drafted.
- Nashville has a steady history of selecting BCHL talent; those Junior A leagues are only growing stronger in developing prospects (e.g. Alexander Campbell). There is no clear pattern to which Major Junior league Nashville likes best, but they’ve selected the most from the WHL and at times infrequently from the OHL.
Nothing provided here may be necessarily earth-shattering, but I want to start good record-keeping of Nashville’s draft trends as the selection process becomes a more articulate science. Feel free to suggest any myths or hypotheses I might have missed or any ideas from trends you would like analyzed.