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Optimizing Nashville’s Draft Classes, Part 3: 2008-2012

Ridiculous blue lines, superstars, and the return of Craig Smith.

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 five-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 in ‘98 and made the exact same trades and signings prior to draft day.

You can read the first article, covering 1998-2002, here.

You can read the second article, covering 2003-2007, here.

Kicking things off with a bang, the pirate captain comes to Nashville.

Revised 2008 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 Erik Karlsson 736 603 135 468 82 21 66
18th John Carlson 757 478 105 373 75 15 ( x2) 60
38th Roman Josi 632 413 109 304 65 16 49
136th Cam Atkinson 571 368 198 170 69 41 28
166th Jason Demers 658 210 45 165 34 9 29
201st Stefan Della Rovere 7 0 0 0 0 0 0
207th Anders Lindback 130 45 W 58 L 8 OTL .904 SV% 2.87 GAA 3 SO
Class Stats: 3,491 GP; 592 G; 1,480 A; 2,072 P; 45 W; 58 L; 8 OTL; 2.87 GAA; .904 SV%. Awards: 4 All Stars, 3 Norris wins. HOFers: Erik Karlsson (maybe). All stats via Hockey Reference

Ladies and gents, I present you with the most broken single-team class of defenders ever. Two Norris-winning players and one of the NHL’s most productive blueliners is quite the haul, but add in a bonafide sniper in Cam Atkinson and you get something truly special.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t give some credit to the steady play of Jason Demers, who has been a pretty reliable player for most of his career, but the real star of the show is clearly Skittles enthusiast and Nashville legend Anders Lindback, who was...rarely an above-replacement goalie at any point in his career. Whatever, he’s still lovable and we have like 15 studs in front of him, he can just chill in the ECHL and munch on candy. Stefan Della Rovere is technically in this class, but I’m still not fully convinced that he’s actually a real person.

The Notre Dame legend becomes a Predator instead of an Islander.

Revised 2009 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
11th Ryan O'Reilly 804 560 195 365 77 28 (x 2) 49 ( x2)
41st Tomas Tatar 575 347 166 181 61 29 39
42nd Reilly Smith 577 354 144 210 60 27 38
70th Craig Smith 661 330 162 168 52 25 28
72nd Mattias Ekholm 538 196 45 151 44 10 36
98th Mike Hoffman 493 359 172 187 70 36 35
102nd Anders Lee 493 301 172 129 62 40 23
110th Darcy Kuemper 215 96 W 72 L 29 OTL .918 SV% 2.46 GAA 18 SO
132nd Erik Haula 405 175 85 90 55 29 26
192nd Nic Dowd 251 63 24 39 22 ( x2) 8 16
Class Stats: 5,012 GP; 1,165 G; 1,520 A; 2,685 P; 96 W; 72 L; 29 OTL; 2.46 GAA; .918 SV%. Awards:  2 All Stars, 1 Lady Byng, 1 Selke, 1 Conn Smythe, 1 Bob Nystrom. HOFers: None. All stats via Hockey Reference

We’ve got another really good group here (shocking!) headlined by Ryan O’Reilly and a truckload of middle six/good, not great forwards. Craig Smith remains a Predator (Bryan Bastin is sobbing with joy in the background), and we get another Smith in Reilly, who’s been fantastic for the Golden Knights these past few seasons. Notre Dame legend Anders Lee joins the team and brings more goal scoring punch with him; Mike Hoffman brings this as well, but also potentially could cause issues with his teammates (specifically Erik Karlsson) down the road. Tatar is a really good player who is ideally a second line wing but can play up in the lineup if needed, and Darcy Kuemper is a nice developmental prospect who might eventually play at an elite level (let’s say around, I dunno, the 2018-2019 season). Nic Dowd played in the NHL, which is pretty neat.

The Preds never make me lament their refusal to trade for Mark Stone because he’s drafted by Nashville in the first place.

Revised 2010 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 Evgeny Kuznetsov 479 389 120 269 83 27 56
78th John Klingberg 425 291 58 233 67 13 59
126th Brendan Gallagher 547 334 173 161 54 33 23
168th Mark Stone 449 385 149 236 73 33 42 ( x2)
194th Joonas Rask 2 1 0 1 1 0 1
198th Zach Trotman 91 13 2 10 7 2 5
Class Stats:  1,993 GP; 503 G; 909 A; 1,412 P. Awards: 3 All Stars. HOFers: None. All stats via Hockey Reference

This class isn’t great, but the top end of it is quite good, featuring a trio of All-Stars and one of the best wingers and overall players in the game in Mark Stone. Evgeny Kuznetsov had been pretty meh recently in comparison to his early career, but he’s still a good point producer, and John Klingberg is a great powerplay quarterback and offensive defender. Brendan Gallagher is also sneaky good and adds to our already formidable pool of pests (Gallagher and Marchand on the same team as good buddies? Yikes). The last two players are essentially placeholders, but they played in the NHL and that’s better than the rest of their contemporaries.

The Preds right an all-time wrong and take Nikita Kucherov instead of Miikka Salomäki.

Revised 2011 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
38th John Gibson 287 139 W 103 L 33 OTL .918 SV% 2.53 GAA 19 SO
52nd Nikita Kucherov 515 547 221 326 128 41 87
94th Johnny Gaudreau 464 445 151 294 99 36 63
112th Andrew Shaw 530 243 114 129 47 20 28
142nd Josh Manson 385 97 21 76 37 7 30
170th Ryan Dzingel 332 167 74 93 56 26 30
202nd Ondrej Palat 496 328 110 218 63 23 47
Class Stats: 3,009 GP; 691 G; 1,136 A; 1,827 P; 139 W; 103 L; 33 OTL; 2.53 GAA; .918 SV%. Awards: 3 All Stars, 1 William Jennings, 1 Art Ross, 1 Ted Lindsay, 1 Hart, 1 Lady Byng. HOFers: Nikita Kucherov (too early to tell, but maybe). All stats via Hockey Reference

This is probably the best overall class in the modern era that I’ve assembled simply from an average quality standpoint, but it also packs some major star power. Nikita Kucherov is a sensational player and probably the best winger in the game when you’re looking at the past three years; Johnny Gaudreau is right up there as a transition driver and elite distributor of the puck. Josh Manson, Ryan Dzingel and Andrew Shaw are by no means special, but they’re all very good in depth roles given helpful linemates and can play up and down the lineup, albeit with less success in the top six.

John Gibson is fantastic when he’s not playing behind a god-awful team that uses up all of his magic fairy dust in the first few weeks of the year (see Price, Carey) and Ondrej Palat was one of the best seventh-round picks of the decade with his solid production and play-driving ability early in his career. Overall, this class is pretty close to flawless, although I do wish there was one more late-round steal to put it over the top.

The Ghost Bear arrives in the Music City and continues the town’s tradition of elite blue-liners.

Revised 2012 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
37th Chris Tierney 436 189 61 128 48 17 39
50th Shayne Gostisbehere 340 199 51 148 65 17 52
66th Colton Parayko 386 159 39 120 35 ( x2) 10 ( x2) 31
89th Jaccob Slavin 377 151 29 122 36 8 ( x2) 29
112th Connor Hellebyuck 270 148 W 85 L 22 OTL .917 SV% 2.64 GAA 20 SO
118th Alex Kerfoot 222 113 43 70 43 19 27
164th Vinnie Hinostroza 246 100 34 66 39 16 23
172nd Matt Benning 248 61 15 46 21 6 15
179th Nikita Gusev 66 44 13 31 44 13 31
Class Stats: 2,205 GP; 246 G; 611 A; 857 P; 148 W; 85 L; 22 OTL; 2.64 GAA; .917 SV%. Awards: 2 All Stars, 1 Vezina. HOFers: None. All stats via Hockey Reference

This is a pretty weak group by the standard of this article, but we still have a few names of note here. The peak years of Shayne Gostisbehere and Colton Parayko were truly great, but the two have been shadows of themselves recently, especially Gostisbehere. Alex Kerfoot has been a very good middle-six forward his entire career, so he’s a nice piece to add to this class. Chris Tierney had a good year of production with a terrible Senators team—largely because he was playing entirely too many minutes—but he’s still a guy who can contribute in a bottom-six role. Vinnie Hinostroza and Matt Benning continue the trend of guys who can excel in reduced roles, and Nikita Gusev showed flashes of being a solid middle six player who would fit well on the third line of a great team.

The big duo consists of Jaccob Slavin and Connor Hellebyuck, who are respectively the best defensive defender and the best goalie in the league at the moment. Slavin has been quietly great for years, and Hellebyuck just had one of the best seasons by a goalie in the analytics era, so I feel like that’s a pretty good haul.

All images are courtesy of the man formerly known as @NSHHousecats (now @Forkingsports) on Twitter.