Meet the Nashville Predators–2013 Draft Class Well-Rounded

Jun 30, 2013; Newark, NJ, USA; Seth Jones poses for a photo with team officials after being introduced as the number four overall pick to the Nashville Predators during the 2013 NHL Draft at the Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

If you’ve been paying attention to Gone Puck Wild lately, and shame on you if you haven’t, then you know school has begun as Wild fans brush up on their knowledge of the new teams within Minnesota’s division. This week, that new team just so happens to have a score to settle with Minnesota–that’s right–we’re talking about the Nashville Predators. Going through Sunday, we’ll break down Nashville’s major additions and subtractions, strengths and weaknesses, prospect pool, 2013 draft class and team outlook.

Yesterday, we took a look at Nashville’s top-10 prospects, topped, obviously, by 2013 No. 4 overall pick and future franchise defenseman Seth Jones. Today, we take a look at the rest of the Preds’ draft class selected this past June.

Of all our new Central Division rivals we’ve covered so far, there’s no question Nashville has the most diverse 2013 draft class. While they did lack a second round pick, the Predators did have two fourths, two fifths, two sixths and two sevenths, in addition to the fourth overall pick and a high third round selection. With their 10 selections, the Preds would draft three defensemen, two goalies, two centers and three wingers. Among those picks were four Canadians, three Finns, two Americans and a Swede. What’s amazing, and really a testament to the ability of Nashville’s scouting department, is the quality and depth of this draft class.

After losing franchise blue liner Ryan Suter in free agency last season, Nashville GM David Poile was whistling a different tune when he strolled up to the podium to announce the selection of top draft eligible player Seth Jones. Poile knew what he was getting at 4th overall–a big, mobile blue liner with good blood lines, great defensive instincts and a booming shot from the point.

Jones is a guy that has the ability to single-handedly take a defensive corps on his back and lead them to victory. He’s a kid that has the potential to be the next Chris Pronger, Zdeno Chara or even Nicklas Lidstrom (but we all know Wild blue liner Jonas Brodin has dibs on Lidstrom). What’s more, in a matter of just a few seasons, Jones has the potential to surpass Shea Weber as No. 1 defenseman in Nashville. Seth is going to have an amazing career filled with Norris nominations and Stanley Cup runs, and the Predators are more than happy to be along for the ride.

Minus a second round pick, Nashville made an interesting selection with their next pick. Jones, and third rounder Jonathan-Ismael Diaby, had the largest wingspans of any other player at the draft combine, meaning it’s easier for them to use the poke check to disrupt forwards driving towards the net. Diaby, a less talented doppelganger of Jones, is a hulking 6’4″ 220-pounds, and will play a key shutdown role on Nashville’s blue line in the not too distant future.

Here’s what the Predators’ website had to say:

Nashville used its second selection in the 2013 Entry Draft (64th overall) to select defenseman Jonathan-Ismael Diaby from the Victoriaville Tigres of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The 6-4, 220-pound blueliner posted four goals with 22 assists and a +12 rating in 67 games during his second full season with Victoriaville. The Blainville, Que., native added an assist during nine 2013 President’s Cup playoff games. After being ranked 45th among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting’s midterm rankings, Diaby’s strong defensive play in the second-half of the season saw him finish as the 37th ranked skater. The Predators selected back-to-back defensemen with fathers who have played professional sports, as Diaby’s father played professional soccer player in Africa.

“He’s a big body, plays hard, can skate, can move the puck, but he’s going to be a ‘stay at home’ type guy,” Predators North American amateur scout Tom Nolan said. “He’s tough, he’ll fight, play physical.  He kind of does it all for a stay at home defenseman.  He plays a lot more on special teams in junior.  We see him as a shutdown-type of defenseman that’s big and takes up a lot of ice and is hard to play against.”

The top forward taken by Nashville was Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL) pivot, and captain, Felix Girard. In a league known for offense, Girard was a little above a point-per-game player last season, notching 23 goals and 38 assists for 61 points in 58 games. Not too flashy, but a guy that can play a good, all-around game, making checks, blocking shots and can put the biscuit in the basket. Perhaps the most impressive accomplishment for Girard, and what may have especially attracted Nashville’s attention, was winning the Guy Carbonneau Trophy as the “Q”‘s Best Defensive Forward. His selection at 95th overall may have been a steal by the Preds.

There’s no question the selection of Finnish goaltender Juuse Saros four picks later at 99th was a steal. Ranked the top European goaltender in the draft, Nashville had to be inwardly jumping for joy having taken arguably the top player in the draft at 4th overall, and now one of the best goalies. The biggest question surrounding Saros is his size–at 5’11″ 176-pounds, he doesn’t quite fit the mold of your typical Nashville Predators hulking monstrosity in goal. However, if you look at his Elite Prospects profile, his list of awards is like one of those cartoon scrolls that, once it drops, goes on and on and–need I say more?

Here’s what the big club had to say on his selection:

Nashville moved between the pipes with its fourth selection (99th overall) selecting Finnish netminder Juuse Saros. Saros was rated as the top European goaltender by NHL Central Scouting after leading HPK to the 2012-13 Jr. A SM-Liiga Championship – the first in club history. The 5-10, 185-pound goalie was named the League’s top goaltender after posting a 24-13 record with four shutouts, a 1.86 goals-against average and .933 save percentage in 43 games during the regular season. In the 2012-13 postseason, the 18-year-old posted a 9-2 record with a 2.09 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. Internationally, he lead Finland a bronze medal at the 2013 World Under-18 Championships, while being named the tournament’s top goaltender.

“He’s an outstanding goalie,” Preds European Scout Janne Kekalainen said. “He had an excellent season. The only thing he lacks is size. I really believe if he was a few inches taller, like all of these modern goalies are, he would be a top-15 pick in the draft.  He has great goalie skills.  His attitude/mentality is excellent.  His coach absolutely raved about his work ethic and how he is as a mental athlete.  He’s one of the best he ever coached, and he’s coached a lot.  He’s 5-11.5 in height, but he’s 7-0 in mentality for me. It compensates.”

So, it appears they’re pretty high on this kid.

Here’s what they had to say about the rest of their impressive draft class:

With the 125th pick, the Predators returned to the Jr. A SM-Liiga with the selection of winger Saku Maenalanen from Karpat – the same junior system that produced goaltender Pekka Rinne (selected 258th overall in the 2004 Entry Draft).  In 45 games in 2012-13, the 6-3, 176-pound forward tallied 58 points (23g-35a) with a +19 rating, and was named to the league’s All-Star Team.  His 35 helpers in 2012-13 led the league in the category.  Maenalenen added seven points (5g-2a) in five playoff games for Karpat.  The Kemi, Finland native also saw time in three games at the 2013 World Juniors.

“He’s got great speed,” Kekalainen said. “He’s very offensive, the second leading scorer in the Finnish Junior League.  Skating is definitely his asset.  He can score and make plays.  His line was the most productive in the whole league.  He’s got a good work ethic.  One attractive feature about him is he’s very raw. He’s six-three, but weighs 180 right now.  He’s going to get a lot stronger, faster, and more effective when he gains 20 pounds over the next few years.  If we want to draft big guys, we have to draft big guys.  He’s raw, so he can develop a lot.  His coaches had some great things to say about him.  I believe he can develop into a top-nine forward at the end of the day.”

Nashville continued to stock-up on defenseman with their sixth pick (140th overall), selecting Teemu Kivihalme from Burnsville High School in Minnesota. During his junior season, Kivihalme posted 30 points (9g-21a) in 25 games. In 77 games for Burnsville, he was nearly a point-per-game player with 73 points (20g-53a) throughout his career. Following his high school season, the 6-0, 160-pound blueliner played four games with the Fargo Force of the United States Hockey League in 2012-13, posting one assist. He will return to Fargo for the 2013-14 season, before continuing on to play collegiate hockey at Colorado College.

“I see him more as a two-way defenseman, and I hope that’s what he can be,” Predators North American Amateur Scout David Westby said.  “He has decent size, skates really well and has terrific hockey sense.  He’s a son of a coach.  He knows how to play the game.  He makes good puck decisions, first passes, skating out of trouble if needed, and can carry or jump into the play.  He can run the power play.  He has a good shot from the point.  He defends very well.  His gaps are good.  He eliminates and takes away space.  We think he has a big upside.  We’re excited about him. “

The Predators returned to the offensive side with the selection of center Emil Pettersson (155th overall) from Timra of the Swedish Junior League. In 44 games in 2012-13, Pettersson was a point-per-game player, posting 13 goals and 31 assists with Timra’s junior squad. The 80th-ranked European skater will return to Timra for the 2013-14 season.

“He’s a traditional centerman,” Preds European Scout Lucas Bergman said. “His strength is definitely skating and puck skills.  He’s a puck distributer most of all.  He plays in all situations.  He kills penalties, runs the powerplay.  He’s always been the smallest guy on the block.  He’s probably grown 12 inches in the past three years, so obviously there’s some rawness to him..”

With its second sixth-round pick (171st overall), Nashville selected winger Tommy Veilleux from the Victoriaville Tigres of the QMJHL – the second player selected from Victoriaville.  The 6-0, 187-pound winger posted 28 points (11g-17a) in his second season with the Tigres, and added three points (1g-2a) in eight President’s Cup Playoff games.  Veilleux also hails from the same city (Levis, Quebec) as third-round pick Felix Girard.  Veilleux is expected to return to Victoriaville for the 2013-14 season.

“He’s kind of an Andrew Shaw-type player,” Nolan said. “I think he has a little more offense to come as he develops here.  He plays 100 percent all the time.  He can skate.  He’s a thick kid.  He hits like Shaw, but a bigger body, so we’re looking for that gritty, speed, hard-to-play-against-type guy.  He’s another guy we hope come playoff time he’ll be a third or fourth-line type guy that is hard to play against.”

With their first pick in the seventh round (185th overall), the Predators selected forward Wade Murphy from Penticton of the British Columbia Hockey League.  The 5-10, 174-pound forward earned a BCHL First Team All-Star Team selection after tallying 70 points (23g-47a) in 50 games in 2012-13.  A season prior, Murphy posted 91 points (36g-55a) in 60 games split between Victoria and Penticton.  The Victoria, B.C., native will suit up for the University of North Dakota in 2013-14.

“He’s a 5-11 guy,” Preds North American Amateur Scout Glen Sanders said. “He’s very skilled and plays a lot like Tyler Bozak in Toronto. He has the skills to score goals. He’s competitive on the puck.  We liked his hockey sense and he’s going to a good program in North Dakota for the next couple of years, so we think highly of him down the road.  His year was very good. They had a very good hockey team in Penticton Vees. They went all the way last year and won the BCHL Championship in tier-2 hockey. This year they came back and didn’t quite make it all the way, but he was very successful and scored some big goals. We liked the whole package.”

Nashville rounded out the 2013 NHL Entry Draft with its selection of goaltender Janne Juvonen (203rd overall).  Juvonen becomes the second netminder and third selection from Finland’s Jr. A SM-Liiga chosen by the Predators.  During the 2012-13 season, the 6-1, 183-pound goalie posted a 2.97 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage in 11 games for Lahti’s Jr. A squad, and 3.51 goals-against average and a .884 save percentage in four games with Lahti’s SM-Liiga team in 2012-13. The Kiihtelvsvaara, Finland native played five games for his home country during the 2013 World Juniors, posting a 2.47 goals-against average and a 923 save percentage. Juvonen also shares a birthday (10/3/94) with Nashville’s first-round pick Seth Jones.

“He was kind of hard to scout this year,” Kekalainen said. “He was kind of in-between in many situations. He’s a young kid. He was the third or fourth goalie for his men’s league team.  He was too good to play in juniors, but was behind on the national teams.   He didn’t get to play a lot.  Every time I saw him play, he was excellent.  He has a very strong mindset in the net and on the ice.  He’s calm, doesn’t get rattled about anything.  He’s been in some high-pressure situations and shown great ability to stay calm and excel in tough spots.  He’ll get a great chance to play next year and even be a number one goalie on his men’s league team in Finland.   I see a lot of talent and ability in him.  He needs to become better in practice and there’s still a lot of developing to do, but the talent is there and he needs to mature a little bit.  Then, he can be a terrific goalie.”

If you’ve made it this far, congrats–you’ve just killed some time until the puck officially drops on the 2013-14 season. And–I hate to break it to you–you have a serious problem with your addiction to hockey. In all seriousness, this is a group of prospects I can’t to watch as they develop and burst onto the NHL scene.

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