With the first pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, the Nashville Predators are proud to select... Jake Sanderson, from the United States National Team Development Program! [“The Star Spangled Banner” plays as David Poile beams on stage with a very, very confused 17-year-old]
In all seriousness, how wild is it that a team that could have made the postseason before everything went awry could get the first overall pick? Now we get the fun, kinda painful speculation on what would happen if the Predators get the first overall selection for the first time in franchise history.
According to Dom Luszczyszyn, who is using a projection that combines the odds for the play-in round with the draft odds, Nashville currently sits at a 5.0% chance to land the pick. While that’s third-worst among all teams, if yesterday told us anything it’s that we can throw probabilities out the window when speculating about this stuff, because 2020 is a weird year and we’ve just gotta roll with it.
On The Ice
If the franchise were to add Alexis Lafrenière with the first overall pick, he’d instantly be the highest rated young player to ever join the team. That’s not insignificant for a franchise whose highest-scoring single season was produced by an aging free agent in the early 2000s (we love Paul Kariya here, but it’s time for that record to be broken). Lafrenière projects as at worst a second-line forward on day one, and for a contending team with a lack of high end forward skill and upside, the cheap, productive scoring that a young superstar like Lafrenière could provide is invaluable.
In addition to the obvious positives of adding an incredible talent to the team, this would lessen the blow of losing one of Craig Smith or Mikael Granlund in free agency. Personally, I feel like this would set the team up to lose Granlund and keep Smith, given Lafrenière’s natural, immediate fit into Granlund’s role as a playmaking winger who can be a second- or first-liner. This could open up a few million in cap space to let the team add a quality set of bottom-pair defenders (let’s say Dylan DeMelo and a trade for Brett Kulak, if we’re being optimistic) to fill the biggest hole on the roster.
Lastly, Lafrenière probably does absolute wonders for a power play that’s been devoid of creativity or explosive playmaking. Straight away, you could argue that the young phenom would have the best hands on the roster and the best pure offensive skillset, only rivaled by Filip Forsberg and Roman Josi (Matt Duchene is kinda in the conversation too, I guess). Adding a talent like Lafrenière would add a nice jolt to the unit and could boost the team back up to league-average production or better, which would be a nice departure from the norm.
Off The Ice
It’s no secret that many Predators fans (myself included) were pretty disheartened by the team’s performance on the ice and the front office’s decisions off of it, going back to as early as late last year. I remain unsold on John Hynes and “top-four defender” Dante Fabbro, and I’m upset the team didn't sell Nick Bonino at peak value along with other pieces that could have netted sizable returns at the deadline. This was clearly a squad that wasn’t going to be able to hang in the playoffs, barring some incredible postseason luck or a magical run, which I wasn’t expecting.
Lafrenière changes the complexion of this season and the franchise’s future forever. It isn’t just a tiny bump in a positive direction; it’s a seismic shift towards making this team a terrifying threat to anyone it runs into. More than that, Lafrenière brings with him the promise of exciting, high-scoring offensive hockey, something that hasn’t been seen in Nashville in a long, long time.
I guarantee jerseys would be flying off the shelves, and the Predators would get a huge amount of local and national media attention relative to what the were garnering before the stoppage. It just brings new life into a team that, frankly, felt pretty uninspired up until this point. I’ll say this much: Lafrenière coming to Nashville would be the most excited the team made me feel since the Winnipeg series in 2018. It’s that big of a deal, y’all.
How Good Is He?
Above we have Byron Bader’s projections for Lafrenière according to his model, compared to those for last year’s first overall pick, Jack Hughes. At the high end, we’re looking at a Steven Stamkos type of player, with ample skating, scoring, and playmaking ability. At the worst? Nail Yakupov. Yikes.
I personally don’t see how Lafrenière could end up as bad as Yakupov, but in any case that’s a scary name to see associated with a purported “generational talent,” AKA what we call every first-overall pick in every draft. Mike Ricci acts as a median, as he was a pretty-serviceable to great player in the prime of his career, short-lived as it was. Any way you slice it, Lafrenière would be the best forward talent Nashville had ever taken, being miles more touted than, let’s say, David Legwand.
Lafrenière being added would reinvigorate a sleeping fanbase, bolster a talented but underachieving lineup while bringing unique elements, and potentially bring a new face of the franchise to Nashville. Pretty great stuff, and a nice change from the usual awful absurdity of 2020 until the friggin Penguins or Blackhawks get that pick and we have to live with that pain. Here’s hoping for the best timeline where Lafrenière is wearing gold and blue next season.