Over the years, the Predators have been shy about drafting Russians or goaltenders. This year is definitely an outlier as Nashville’s top three picks were all Russian born prospects and half their first four selections were goalies. “There’s certainly no pre-set rules when drafting for our team” said GM Tremblay, “it just happens this year the better talent identified when it was our time to pick were those players”.
The Predators only had one pick in the first two rounds. While they tried to acquire an extra pick, they weren’t willing to give too much to move up or add: “This draft wasn’t as strong as 2013 or 2015, so we figured it would be best to stay put and keep assets for roster players or picks in the future”.
With their first selection at #22, the Predators went with Nikita Scherbak, “a large frame scoring winger”. It was Scherbak’s first year in North America and he led a poor Saskatoon Blades team in team with 78 in 65 games, while the 2nd best on the team only achieved 43 points. He projects as a future first liner.
The next selection was at the end of the third round, at #88. Once again, Nashville went for a Russian player selecting Maxim Letunov. A skilled player, Letunov had a 4 inch growth spurt between 2013 and 2014. A quick skater with excellent puck skills, he needs to add muscle to his frame. He is a few years away and should benefit from Boston College strength and conditioning program.
In the fourth round, the Predators had three selections. With the first two selections, they went for goaltenders, selecting Igor Shesterkin and Logan Halladay. Previous to these selections, the team only held the rights to three goaltenders, including their two pro goalies. Both Shesterkin and Halladay are athletic type of goaltenders that need to refine their technique. Nashville liked their competitiveness and the fact they were literally walls to their respective teams in 2014. With their last selection of the fourth round, the Predators opted for Alex Schoenborn. Playing for the Portland Winterhawks, from which graduated Derrick Pouliot and Ty Rattie the past two years, Schoenborn is a determined winger that never quits. Offensively, he plays a simple game and likes to put himself in front of the net. He could play a role in a couple of years as a physical third line player that can chip in.
The next pick for the Predators was at #148, the end of round five. Nashville opted for a big, nasty, mean defenseman in Nick Wolff. The man-child isn’t absent skills though; his straight line speed is good for his size and he can move the puck well. He still needs to improve his lateral mobility as he can get burnt by agile forwards. He should have plenty of time to improve his foot speed as he will join the University of Minny-Duluth in September 2015.
In the remaining rounds, Nashville had two picks in the sixth round, two picks in the seventh and then one pick in the eighth round. When, to the surprise of GM Tremblay, some players rated by its scouts as fifth rounders were still available in the last round, the Predators made a minor move to add two eight rounders.
In the sixth round, the Predators selected two more forwards. First, they opted for Max Willman, a re-entry that plays a flashy game. A high motor player with tremendous puck skills, he was playing against lower competition (midget) which kept his stock down. He will join Brown University this fall where he needs to work his defensive play. With the second pick of the sixth, the Predators went for a homerun with the selection of Andrew Mangiapane. This small sparkplug was a walk-on to the OHL only to score 24 even strength goals as a rookie. As a matter of fact, as a rookie, he outscored better ranked prospect Nick Magyar. If he was bigger, he would have been talked about a potential second round selection.
The next pick by the Predators raised some eyebrows around the draft table. With the 11th pick of the seventh round, Nashville selected Dexter Dancs, a prospect that didn’t make many draft lists, if any. Another re-entry, Dancs has filled up his frame and with it has grown his confidence in his abilities. Headed to the University of Michigan this fall, Dancs is a power winger that uses his speed to forecheck hard and good hands around the net. Then with the other pick of the seventh round, the Predators went again with size picking Tyler Bird. A power forward in the making, Bird played at high school level where he dominated. He should join Brown University in the fall of 2015 where he will put his big frame to use.
In the last round of the draft, the Predators used their two acquired picks to select players they felt should have gone sooner and their already owned pick on re-selecting Logan Nelson. The two players they felt were still on the board yet deserved to be picked are Dylan Gambrell and Dryden Hunt. Gambrell plays a strong two-way game fueled by his excellent speed. He will play another year in the USHL before heading to Denver University in 2015. Dryden Hunt is a gritty, speedy forward that can contribute offensively. He was slow to start the year, registering only 3 points in his first 18 games coming back from nearly lost year of hockey (only 2 games played in 2012-13. He had 37 points in his last 44 games when the rust came off.
Overall this was a draft with more question marks than the previous drafts for the Predators. Other than Scherbak, all players selected are a few years plus a lot of work away from a job at the top level. The selection of many prospects heading to the NCAA or Russia should help with the congestion on the Predators roster related to the cap to contracts.
Out of all the selections, the Predators have good confidence that Scherbak, Letunov, Halladay and Wolff will be drafted next weekend. While Nashville is high on the skills of Shesterkin, the Russian factor may leave him undrafted this year. As to Willman, Mangiapane, Dancs, Bird, Gambrell and Hunt, the Predators believe they’re all worth of NHL selections. However, they’ve all got strikes against them. Both Dancs and Willman are re-entry that played in tier II leagues, Mangiapane is of small stature and was a walk-on in the OHL, Bird played at the high school level, Hunt missed a season in 2012-13 due to injury. A total of ten drafted Predators next weekend would be considered a good haul.