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.

Revised 2008 Draft Class

Draft PickPlayerGames PlayedCareer PointsCareer GoalsCareer AssistsHigh PointsHigh GoalsHigh Assists
7thErik Karlsson736603135468822166
18thJohn Carlson7574781053737515 ( x2)60
38thRoman Josi632413109304651649
136thCam Atkinson571368198170694128
166thJason Demers6582104516534929
201stStefan Della Rovere7000000
207thAnders Lindback13045 W58 L8 OTL.904 SV%2.87 GAA3 SO

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.

Revised 2009 Draft Class

Draft PickPlayerGames PlayedCareer PointsCareer GoalsCareer AssistsHigh PointsHigh GoalsHigh Assists
11thRyan O'Reilly8045601953657728 (x 2)49 ( x2)
41stTomas Tatar575347166181612939
42ndReilly Smith577354144210602738
70thCraig Smith661330162168522528
72ndMattias Ekholm53819645151441036
98thMike Hoffman493359172187703635
102ndAnders Lee493301172129624023
110thDarcy Kuemper21596 W72 L29 OTL.918 SV%2.46 GAA18 SO
132ndErik Haula4051758590552926
192ndNic Dowd25163243922 ( x2)816

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.

Revised 2010 Draft Class

Draft PickPlayerGames PlayedCareer PointsCareer GoalsCareer AssistsHigh PointsHigh GoalsHigh Assists
18thEvgeny Kuznetsov479389120269832756
78thJohn Klingberg42529158233671359
126thBrendan Gallagher547334173161543323
168thMark Stone449385149236733342 ( x2)
194thJoonas Rask2101101
198thZach Trotman9113210725

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.

Revised 2011 Draft Class

Draft PickPlayerGames PlayedCareer PointsCareer GoalsCareer AssistsHigh PointsHigh GoalsHigh Assists
38thJohn Gibson287139 W103 L33 OTL.918 SV%2.53 GAA19 SO
52ndNikita Kucherov5155472213261284187
94thJohnny Gaudreau464445151294993663
112thAndrew Shaw530243114129472028
142ndJosh Manson38597217637730
170thRyan Dzingel3321677493562630
202ndOndrej Palat496328110218632347

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.

Revised 2012 Draft Class

Draft PickPlayerGames PlayedCareer PointsCareer GoalsCareer AssistsHigh PointsHigh GoalsHigh Assists
37thChris Tierney43618961128481739
50thShayne Gostisbehere34019951148651752
66thColton Parayko3861593912035 ( x2)10 ( x2)31
89thJaccob Slavin37715129122368 ( x2)29
112thConnor Hellebyuck270148 W85 L22 OTL.917 SV%2.64 GAA20 SO
118thAlex Kerfoot2221134370431927
164thVinnie Hinostroza2461003466391623
172ndMatt Benning24861154621615
179thNikita Gusev66441331441331

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.