VOL. 42 | NO. 28 | Friday, July 13, 2018
Preds paying high price for ‘win-now’ mindset
By John Glennon
Nashville Predators Frederic Allard, shown during the Future Stars game held recently at Bridgestone Arena, had a tough start in Milwaukee this year and was temporarily sent down to Norfolk. -- Photo By Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire Via Ap Images
By the time the Predators made their first selection of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft last month, 110 prospects had already been chosen by rival teams.
Nashville had previously traded away its picks in the draft’s first three rounds, with two of the deals adding experienced players to the Preds’ talented core last season.
This year’s draft was an extreme example of the challenge the Predators – and other top NHL teams – face when chasing a Stanley Cup.
Pursuit of the big prize in the present is understandable, especially with a team that’s been as strong as the Predators in recent years. The Preds won the Presidents’ Trophy for the best regular-season record in 2018, reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2017 and were one of just three teams – along with Washington and Pittsburgh – to advance to the second round of the playoffs for a third consecutive season.
But the price paid to add quality players over the years is stiff.
The Predators have traded their first-round selection in four of the past eight years, and have also moved two top prospects – defensemen Seth Jones and Samuel Girard – from the last six drafts. Nashville’s four-player draft last month was the smallest in franchise history, the result of trading the team’s first-, second- and third-round picks.
All those moves mean the Preds are relying more on middle- and late-round picks – as well as free-agent signings – to make a difference in the minors and eventually work their way to the NHL level.
“That’s where we’re at right now,” Predators director of player development Scott Nichol says. “The Preds are doing fantastic. We’re here to build a Stanley Cup champion team and we’re close. We had a great year last year.
“But it’s just kind of the evolution of how things go in the minors. Sometimes you’re really loaded with prospects and sometimes you’re not. You just have to deal with it. You develop the guys that are going to get an opportunity – guys that might not have had an opportunity before.”
The Predators have cashed in on their share of picks outside the first round during the franchise’s history, including three very successful late-round selections – forward Martin Erat (seventh round, 1999), goalie Pekka Rinne (eighth round, 2004) and forward Patric Hornqvist (seventh round, 2005).
More recent impact players chosen in the middle rounds include forwards Craig Smith (fourth round, 2009) and Viktor Arvidsson (fourth round, 2014), defenseman Mattias Ekholm (fourth round, 2009) and goalie Juuse Saros (fourth round, 2013).
Moving forward, it’s especially important the Preds have hit on some picks outside the first round over the last few seasons, something that will only be revealed in the years to come.
“That’s preparation, building your list and really keying in on those picks in the mid rounds,” Preds assistant general manager Jeff Kealty said during this year’s draft. “A lot of times the way the draft will work is that the first round, the second round, it’s a lot of the same names (on all teams’ lists). They just go in different order depending on which way they get picked.
“Then from there the draft really starts to spread out. There will be some different names, some different players that really go off the board. It gets to a certain point in the draft and it’s really who you like and who you had a gut feeling for.”
In last week’s edition of the Nashville Ledger, we took a look at what lies ahead for the Predators’ most recent first-round picks – forward Eeli Tolvanen and defenseman Dante Fabbro.
But with the Preds more than ever needing to find contributions from deeper in the draft, here’s a look at some recent non-first-round selections that could make a difference down the line:
D Frederic Allard
3rd round pick, 2016
Allard’s first professional season got off to a bumpy start as he was scratched for a number of games in Milwaukee of the American Hockey League and also reassigned to Norfolk of the East Coast Hockey League for a few contests.
But the 6-foot-1, 183-pound Allard never lost faith and eventually put together a solid rookie season, totaling 24 points (eight goals, 16 assists) in 55 games for Milwaukee. Six of Allard’s eight goals came in his final 22 games.
“I think I learned how to go through adversity,” Allard says. “I think my first couple of months I was up and down, went to the East Coast for three or four games. I was a healthy scratch a couple times, and it was a hard time. But after Christmas, I got through it.”
Nichol says Allard’s skills are those of a modern NHL blueliner.
“He’s got a great quality to him,” Nichol adds. “He works hard, he’s got good skill. He’s kind of the new defender where he does a little bit of everything, kills penalties, plays power play, moves the puck – kind of one of our Nashville Predators defensemen.”
5th round, 2016
We took a longer look at Harper in last week’s edition, as he looks to return from an illness that cost him half of his sophomore season at Boston University.
Harper stands just 5-foot-7 and weighs only 150 pounds, but his skills, skating and smarts have helped him total 58 points (21 goals, 37 points) in 58 games for the Terriers. He says he expects more from himself going into his junior year.
“I think I have a lot more in the tank than that,” Harper adds. “Not even points-wise. One thing I really pride myself on is being able to create. I just think the ability to create a lot of chances, just have the puck a lot, play with it, be reliable without it, those types of things … I think I have another level to get to, for sure.”
The 6-foot-2, 207-pound Jeannot wasn’t drafted during his years playing junior hockey for Moose Jaw of the Western Hockey League, so he faces longer odds. But after the 21-year-old Jeannot produced 40 goals and 40 assists on a very talented team last season, the Predators figured he was worth taking a chance on – so they signed him as a free agent last April.
Jeannot will likely begin next season at Milwaukee.
“He’s hungry because he was never drafted, so we’re really excited to start his pro career,” Nichol points out. “He’s going to have some growing pains because it’s the American Hockey League, but he’s a big kid, he works hard and has good detail in his game. He’ll create space for the more skilled guys and he’s good on the wall, protects the puck.”
Jeannot, who topped 80 penalty minutes in each of his past two seasons, says he patterns his game after aggressive forwards like Toronto’s Zach Hyman and Washington’s Tom Wilson.
“I know I have good size and pretty good speed,” Jeannot adds. “It’s just my edges I’d like to work on a little bit – puck-handling and stuff like that. So, I’ll keep working on things like that, get better on board play, being good in my own end and defensive strategies.”
F Jachym Kondelik
4th round, 2018
The Predators didn’t make a selection until the fourth-round last month, but the team’s first pick was an intriguing one – a 6-6, 227-German native who is headed to the University of Connecticut in the fall.
“That’s kind of the way you want to build your team, with talent but also size down the middle,” Kealty says. “He’s a very good two-way player, a real character kid, does a lot of the detail things.
“He’s good on face-offs, takes pride in his own zone, but can produce offensively as well. He’s 6-6, plus developing all the time physically, and when he is fully grown, he’s going to be a real handful to play against.”
F Grant Mismash
2nd round, 2017
The 6-foot, 190-pound forward got off to a good start as a freshman at the University of North Dakota, totaling 22 points (nine goals, 13 assists) in 38 games.
In addition to his offensive skills, Nichol likes Mismash’s physical style of play.
“He’s a gritty, Scottie Hartnell type of player we don’t have in our system,” Nichol explains. “He’s got good skill, got a great release and he’s not scared to get to the dirty areas and cause a little havoc. He’s got a little meanness, a little cheapness in him. I like him. He’s just got to keep his speed up and his pace.”
Mismash described his freshman year as a learning experience, in terms of dealing with both school and the challenge of competing against older players. He looks forward to improving his punishing play as a sophomore.
“I’ve always been a physical player and have usually been able to impose my physical side,” Mismash says. “But I feel like as a freshman, it was obviously harder, playing against guys that were 24 years old, so I’d say going into my sophomore year that’s what I’ll be trying to push for, getting back to that habit of being a very physical player and doing those kind of things.”
G Miroslav Svoboda
7th round, (by Edmonton) in 2015
One of four Czech Republic goalies in the Preds’ system, the 6-3, 176-pound Svoboda had a strong year in the Czech Republic Extraliga last season.
He posted a 33-14 record, along with a 2.10 goals against average and .925 save percentage.
Good NHL goalies don’t always have great pedigrees, as the Predators know all too well.
Rinne was an eighth-round selection in 2004, Tomas Vokoun was a ninth-round selection of the Montreal Canadiens in 1994 and Chris Mason was a fifth-round pick in 1995.
Reach John Glennon at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.