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 PickPlayerGames PlayedCareer PointsCareer GoalsCareer AssistsHigh PointsHigh GoalsHigh Assists
7thRyan Getzlaf1053965274691913166
35thPatrice Bergeron10898693525177932 (x 2)48
37thShea Weber9905702183525623 (x 2)33
49thCorey Crawford488260 W162 L53 OTL0.918 SV%2.45 GAA26 SO
76thBrad Richardson808242106136311920
89thKyle Brodziak917296129167442223 (x 2)
92ndLee Stempniak911469203266522832
99thJoe Pavelski1030792369423794146
117thTobias Enstrom719308542545110 (x 2)44
133rdMatt Moulson650369176193693633
210thDustin Byfuglien8695251773485620 (x 2)41
213thJaroslav Halak520272 W167 L58 OTL.916 SV%2.48 GAA50 SO
268thBrian Elliott472241 W146 L47 OTL.912 SV%2.50 GAA40 SO

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 PickPlayerGames PlayedCareer PointsCareer GoalsCareer AssistsHigh PointsHigh GoalsHigh Assists
15thDavid Krejci91168620747973 (x 2)23 (x 2)53
81stAlexander Edler87340199302491138
107thRyan Callahan75738618620054 (x 2)2930
139thKris Versteeg643358149209542331 (x 2)
147thMikhail Grabovski534296125171582929
178thRoman Polak8061402611421517
193rdChris Campoli44014635111341125
209thTroy Brouwer85136318218143 (x 2)2522
243rdPekka Rinne659359 W201 L74 OTL.917 SV%2.42 GAA58 SO
258thMark Streit78643496338621649
275thJannik Hansen626256109147392223

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 PickPlayerGames PlayedCareer PointsCareer GoalsCareer AssistsHigh PointsHigh GoalsHigh Assists
18thTuukka Rask536291 W158 L64 OTL.922 SV%2.26 GAA50 SO
78thBen Bishop413222 W128 L36 OTL.921 SV%2.32 GAA33
79thKeith Yandle97657399474621253
150thMatt D'Agostini3241075255462125
176thSergei Kostitsyn35317667109502327
213thAnton Strallman81826152209399 (x 2)30
230thPatric Hornqvist770480238242533031

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 PickPlayerGames PlayedCareer PointsCareer GoalsCareer AssistsHigh PointsHigh GoalsHigh Assists
56thBrad Marchand7516462903561003964
105thViktor Stålberg4881688286432221
146thMathieu Perreault6273241301944518 (x 2)32 ( x2)
176thLeo Komarov45716262100361920
206thErik Condra37299405925917

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 PickPlayerGames PlayedCareer PointsCareer GoalsCareer AssistsHigh PointsHigh GoalsHigh Assists
23rdP.K. Subban713426105321601645 ( x2)
54thWayne Simmonds90949925124860 ( x2)3231
58thEvgenii Dadonov280202911117028 ( x2)42
81stAlec Martinez60720664142391130
114thJamie Benn814688300388894152
119thJake Muzzin57925262190421034
144thNick Bonino626282122160492227
174thPaul Byron4481858996432221
204thPaul Postma20535102514413

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.