Heading into the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey Sunday, the Nashville Predators will have to sit back and watch three teams select their future stars before they will have a definite idea on who's available and most importantly, who they'll select.
The Colorado Avalanche will have the luxury of making their decision on who to pick however, unless they do decide to trade their first overall pick. Up next would be the Florida Panthers and then the Tampa Bay Lightning. Nashville will be selecting fourth overall.
Before every draft, teams will have a draft board of their own, ranking the top players they think would fit best in their organization. It may look like the International Scouting Services' final rankings, it may not–most likely not. By this time, the board is most likely finalized and is ready for draft day.
Let's take a look at what the Predators' draft board could look like.
1. Seth Jones – D (Portland, WHL)
If Seth Jones is available by the time the Predators are on the clock, it will be hard for Poile to say no to selecting him. When asked if he would draft Jones if he was available by the time their on the clock, Poile said, "Absolutey. 110%."
The Preds do need a forward, but a defenseman like this kid comes once ever so often. The NHL's Central Scouting Services ranked Jones first among North American skaters. Jones, a 6'4 Frisco, TX native, would solidify Nashville's defensive depth for years to come, but would also leave the offense still mediocre. Tough decision would have to be made, but the Preds will be hopeful he is selected before it becomes their time to choose.
Said Predators chief director of amateur scouting Jeff Kealty on NashvillePredators.com: “He’s pretty unanimously the top prospect in the draft. He’s big, he’s an excellent skater, he’s good on his edges, he can skate the puck out of trouble and move the puck up the ice. He can get involved at both ends of the ice with the skill and ability he has. He is a terrific athlete – it’s pretty well documented that his father is “Popeye” Jones, the long time NBA player. Obviously, he has a lot of athletic ability. This is a guy that we’ve watched come through the U.S. development program and now he plays in Portland. He is a terrific player, and with the upside that he has, he is only going to get better. He is the top defenseman in the draft.”
2. Nathan MacKinnon – C (Halifax, QMJHL)
Ranking atop this year's draft class is special, and that is what Nathan MacKinnon did this year on the ISS final draft rankings. The Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia native has been endorsed by NHL superstar Sidney Crosby as becoming the next big thing in hockey. MacKinnon, a center, would be the perfect fit for the Predators because a center is where their need is at currently. This year, he returned from knee surgery, but rebounded nicely posting 75 points (32g, 43a) in 44 games.
The only issue is that for the Preds to even come close to drafting MacKinnon, the three General Managers would have to be stupid not to select him. It is projected he goes first overall to the Colorado Avalanche.
Kealty told NP.com, "This guy is an explosive talent. He is probably the best skater in the draft – powerful lower body, he’s explosive and he can change the game with his skating. That ability really allows him to make things happen in open ice. He’s one of those guys that is really driven and focused to score. When you combine that drive with his skating ability he is a really dynamic player."
3. Jonathan Drouin – C, LW (Halifax, QMJHL)
Teammate of MacKinnon in Halifax, Jonathan Drouin was excellent line partner dishing out goals and scoring some himself. Last season, Drouin was named CHL Player of the Year after totaling 105 points in 49 games. Drouin's soft hands is what sets him apart from everyone else in this draft. Many compare Drouin to a Patrick Kane and Jordan Eberle type of player, which would be something Nashville has never seen before.
Kealty told NP.com, "He is an electric offensive player. He has great puck skills and creativity. He averaged over two points a game in the Quebec league this year, and now he’s doing it again in the playoffs. He is one of those guys that brings you out of your seat when you watch him play. He has not only the offensive skill to produce and make plays, but he’s got some of that flare to him that a lot of the stars in the game have."
4. Aleksander Barkov – C (Tappara, SM-liiga)
Finnish forward Aleksander Barkov is most likely the best fit under Barry Trotz because of his solid two-way play. The NHL's CSS ranked Barkov first in European skaters, but fifth in the ISS rankings. "Sasha" is only 17, but his hockey maturity is outstanding. Last year, Barkov played against grown men in the SM-liiga, where he scored 48 points in 53 games. At 6'3, Barkov unfortunately doesn't use his size effectively. However, that will likely chance in the smaller North American-sized rink. One issue scouts face with Alexander Jr. is his skating ability. It is still developing, which means he is not yet NHL-ready.
Said Kealty: "He is an excellent two-way player and very well rounded for such a young guy. He possesses the puck very well and he can contribute at both ends of the ice because of his size and his style of play. He has great vision and a great ability to make plays. He played in the Finnish Elite League at 17-years old – he doesn’t even turn 18 until September. When you consider what he’s accomplished at that level and at that age – he was a point-per-game player – when you add all that up he is a terrific prospect."
5. Valeri Nichushkin – RW (Chelyabinsk, KHL)
This 6'4, 210lb winger is going to be a star on the right team. Whether it is the Predators or not is yet to be determined, but he will be a star. Valeri Nichushkin has the ability to be a game changer with his size, speed and sense; aka "the three S's" to succeed in hockey. Many question marks come up surrounding Nichushkin because of his nationality. Last season, he played in the KHL and has said he would return if he didn't play in the NHL next season. However, Nichushkin has stated time and time again that he wants to play in the NHL. It will be up to the team he is drafted not to dissatisfy him. Another issue with Nichushkin is sometimes he becomes unfocused. That will not fly in the Preds' dressing room. His lack of focus could stem from boredom in the KHL and may want a new challenge, like in the NHL. Players he has been compared to are Rick Nash and fellow Russians Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin.
6. Elias Lindholm – C (Brynas, Elitserien)
Another great two-way forward who could fit well under Trotz is Elias Linholm. According to those who have seen him play, he gives it his all every time he touches the ice. That comes rarely for a young kid to have such an excellent attitude. During the 2013 WJC, Lindholm and Filip Forsberg were teammates on Team Sweden's silver medal winning squad. Last season, the Swede played against men, like Barkov, but in the Elitserien. Lindholm is not yet NHL ready, but after a year of development in Milwaukee, he would be.
Kealty said: "He is another very good two-way player. He has a very good sense of the game, great vision and good competitiveness. He can make plays on both ends of the ice. He is one of those players that makes guys around him better. He is a real versatile player – for him to be contributing at the level he is in the Swedish Elite League at 18-years old is very impressive."
(Photo by: Robert Beck/Sports Illustrated)