I made this remark on Twitter over the weekend, but I think it’s worth repeating. The Nashville Predators’ 2019 NHL entry draft class could shape up to be one of David Poile’s best. His 2020 draft class? Not so much. This year, I think the organization lands somewhere in the middle.
Despite going into this past weekend with eight picks and leaving with just six new prospects, I would consider the Predators’ 2021 draft class—in the short term—a success. All in all, David Poile walked away with two bonafide NHL talents and four more prospects who’ve got realistic shots at making it to the pro level. Through my year-long scouting and reviewing game tape over the weekend, I broke down each selection below.
Fyodor Svechkov — 19th overall [Round 1]
Forward | Lada Togliatti [VHL] | Togliatti, Russia
With their first selection in this year’s entry draft, Nashville took Russian forward Fyodor Svechkov at 19th overall. Ranked 21st on my final draft board, I gave this select an A-grade due to Svechkov’s above-average intelligence on the ice, his defensive maturity, and his creativity in one-on-one battles.
This season, despite 15 games in the MHL, Svechkov graduated full-time to the VHL, Russia’s second-tier league. He skated in 38 games and scored five goals and 15 points. In the best-case scenario, I think Svechkov’s potential is that of a second-line center who’s an assist machine but also trustworthy defensively.
Offensively, Svechkov is much more of a set-up man. But what’s encouraging when looking at his shot map from last season is the lack of a crutch. In the VHL at even strength last season, Svechkov was dynamic in getting pucks towards and on the net from anywhere in the offensive zone.
Finding a player that’s already so skilled defensively and on the penalty kill at this age is rare, but that’s exactly what Nashville has in Svechkov. In this clip, notice how active he (#9, blue) is with a man down. He’s not chasing the puck, but he’s smothering opponents with coverage and disrupting play with an active stick. That lets him force a turnover and lead the rush up the ice before he finishes the shift off with a smooth primary assist.
With a head of steam in transition, Svechkov can be difficult to stop, but he won’t succeed with dazzling puck skills as he tries at the start of this clip above. One of his flaws is a lack of acceleration from a dead-stop position, and that’s on display as Togliatti regroups in the shift shown above. Svechkov’s crossover and recovery strides are clunky from that stagnant position, but he uses a strong stick to still win the loose puck. Finally, he paralyzes the defender with his puck patience before dishing another primary assist.
On defense, Svechkov impressed this season against older opponents. It’s where he can show some of his smoothest skating mechanics as he pivots and utilizes his edges. There are some inconsistencies in his stride extension and direction, but those can be worked out to improve straight-line speed. Notice above how easily he can backcheck, can transition between a defender and forward’s defensive responsibilities, and can stay in great puck support position throughout the shift.
As mentioned, with open ice, Svechkov uses strong skating strides, full extensions, and his upper body to drive with the puck wide in transition and protect against defenders’ sticks. He’s also shown he can execute creative passes and set up plays at top speed.
As a center, I love how low Svechkov gets on face-offs to leverage his body weight against his opponent’s stick. I also love how quickly he puts himself in a position to aid his team’s breakout from the defensive zone. That skill leads to play-driving responsibilities that Svechkov can capitalize on with his elite passing skills and stick manipulation tendencies as shown above.
Zachary L’Heureux — 27th overall [Round 1]
Forward | Halifax Mooseheads [QMJHL] | Montreal, Quebec
After bundling their two second-round picks to trade into the first round, Nashville selected forward Zachary L’Heureux with the 27th overall pick. Ranked 28th on my final draft board, L’Heureux is a unique prospect at the top of this draft class. I gave Nashville a B-grade for the selection due to L’Heureux’s offensive skillset and on-ice attitude (although I’m not certain I would’ve sacrificed both second-round picks to move up here).
In 2020-21, L’Heureux scored 19 goals and 39 points in 33 games for the Halifax Mooseheads. Among draft-eligible QMJHL forwards, L’Heureux led all of them in primary points per game (1.00) and was second in even-strength primary points per game (0.697).
Based on his size (5’11”) and his strengths, it’s no surprise L’Heureux focused his offensive production and shot generation at even strength in the high-danger area around the net. He’s a pest who can drive hard to the net with speed or find open seams to bury back door goals.
L’Heureux’s reputation may be anchored by his on-ice attitude (and four suspensions last season), but his NHL potential is anchored by the multiple facets of offensive he provides each night. Take the shift shown above: L’Heureux (#66, white) attacks the front of the net hoping to lead his teammate’s pass; as Halifax regroups, he leads the zone entry and dishes a slippery pass to the slot. You’ll notice L’Heureux doesn’t attack the puck on the forecheck but plays a ‘zone’ game through the middle of the ice. He wins the race to a loose puck while reading his linemate’s movements, leading him to connect on a primary assist with just a simple puck touch.
On this shift, again, L’Heureux is attacking all around the net, swatting at pucks and forcing defenders to keep their feet moving. Once he recovers the puck, he makes a smart, simple play off the end boards before expanding the opposing defenders’ coverage and driving to the net for a beautiful tip-in goal.
L’Heureux doesn’t have elite speed, and on too many shifts this season, he showed inconsistencies (or laziness) in his skating mechanics. His knee bend falters as he quickly shifts into a glide, and his dead-stop acceleration isn’t enough to compensate for that. But I think the foundation is there for him to improve his feet, and he’ll have to when playing at higher levels with a higher pace. He can already paralyze defenders and force them into mistakes without the best motor and has proven, as he shows above, he can execute his slick puck-handling skills at top speed while attacking opponents head-on.
L’Heureux’s finishing talent is also a strong feature of his game. He reads breakouts while and can manipulate his positioning easily to slide between F1, F2, and F3 positions when his team is on the attack. When he isn’t frustrating defenders in close range, he can fall into forgotten ice and make his own open space to create goals, as shown above.
Anton Olsson — 72nd overall [Round 3]
Defender | Malmö Redhawks [SHL] | Helsingborg, Sweden
Later on day two, Nashville sent their third-round pick and fifth-round pick to Carolina for pick 72 and took defender Anton Olsson. Ranked 51st on my final draft board, Olsson is a 6’0” Swedish defender from Malmö organization. I gave Nashville a B-grade for this pick due to Olsson’s skating ability and defensive maturity, despite there being higher-ceiling players still available.
Olsson won’t be confused for an offensive threat often, as he managed just four assists in 39 games with the Redhawks this season. But it’s impressive enough that Olsson earned that much ice time—just over 11 minutes per night—at 18 years old. Only two other draft-eligible defenders suited up for more than ten SHL games this season: Simon Edvinsson and Martin Schreiber.
Olsson (#56, red) is an excellent skater for someone of his size and stature. In the clip above, you’ll notice he reads breakouts well and smoothly transitions into controlled crossover steps and powerful C-cuts while keeping his chest and head up at the play. He pivots forward quickly to close his gap to the puck-carrier and maintains an active stick. His pivot timing and accelerating speed can improve, but throughout the shift, he maintains a good focus on his opponent’s frame without chasing the puck or staring at it.
Olsson was trusted with valuable penalty-killing minutes against men this season, and the clip above shows a great foundation for his defensive awareness: active stick, head on a swivel, and crossover steps to mirror his opponents and threaten passing and shooting lanes.
His skating and lateral mobility help Olsson succeed in puck retrievals. From a dead-stop position, Olsson displays strong crossover steps to win the race to a loose puck (shown above) and can quickly pull the puck up the wall and into his full skating stride, using his legs as a natural puck protector. He’s got room to improve his neutral and offensive zone game, but that should come with further responsibility.
In this clip, Olsson shows how flexible his skating skills allow him to be. He monitors plays well from a conservative defensive position and can move flawlessly between forward skating, turns on his 10-and-2 edges, and backward skating. From that foundation, he can manipulate his body quickly for outlet passes from his defensive zone, as shown above.
All statistics are courtesy of eliteprospects.com, shl.se, pick224.com, and InStat Hockey.