Originally posted on Fox Sports Tennessee  |  Last updated 6/25/13
On Tuesday, Predators general manager David Poile compared this year's draft-talent pool to the crop of prospects from the 2003 NHL Draft, held in Nashville. From that group, the Predators culled two eventual all-stars and, at one point, fielded a lineup with all six defensemen from that single event. If Nashville can collect a similar bounty this year, it would assure the franchise's success for years to come. For now, the highest priority remains the No. 4 pick the organizations highest since its first year in the league (David Legwand, 1998, 2nd overall). While the Colorado Avalanche, holders of the top pick, have made public comments that could be construed as coy, saying they would not pick defenseman Seth Jones (the son of former NBA forward Popeye Jones), who is widely considered the best player in the draft, Poile made no such equivocation. While the Predators have admitted an organizational unbalance in favor of drafting and developing defenseman, Poile said Jones would simply be too good to pass on if he falls to No. 4. "I think he's the best player in the draft," Poile said, guaranteeing Jones' selection if he falls to Nashville. Even if Colorado reportedly drafts Nathan MacKinnon, there seems little chance of Jones falling to Nashville. Florida, picking second, and Tampa Bay, third, would certainly seem to claim him first. Poile, in turn, finds in unlikely that Nashville would attempt to move up in the draft, via trade. With franchise defenseman (and captain) Shea Weber in tow, and having just signed blueliner Roman Josi to a seven-year deal, the Predators will most likely choose a scoring forward first. "These top players are so good," Poile said. If we say were going to take the best player available and it gets real close between a forward and a defenseman, you might change your mind. All these top players bring something. Thats how good they are." MacKinnon, the most valuable player of the Memorial Cup, Canadas junior hockey championship tournament, is ranked the No. 2 North American skater (non-goalie) after Jones by NHL Central Scouting. Jonathan Drouin, Jones' teammate with the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Jonathan Drouin and the Canadian Hockey League player of the year, is ranked third. It may be impossible to read the minds of the Predators' front office and divine their draft board, but they have declared a need to get bigger at forward. MacKinnon is 6-foot, 182 pounds and Drouin is 5-10. Two ethnically Russian players who are ranked first and second by Central Scouting among European skaters, Aleksander Barkov and Valeri Nichushkin, are 6-2 and 6-3, respectively. "Can they play next year? Poile asked rhetorically of the top propsects. There are a lot of people in the hockey industry who think they can all play, but I want to make sure theyre physically and mentally mature enough." Barkov, whose parents are Russian, was born in Finland and plays there. He might fit the Predators mold in that his father coaches in the KHL and Barkov is said to play a two-way game. The sons of coaches tend to be smarter, more students of the game, making them coachable a key characteristic for the Predators. Barkov also is a center, a position where Nashville is getting older. Legwand and Mike Fisher, their top two centers, will both turn 33 when the season starts. Nichushkin is more in the mold of a rugged, scoring winger. For some, the bad experience the Predators had with another Russian wing, Alex Radulov lingers. The Predators drafted Radulov in the first round in 2004 and he blossomed into a 20-goal scorer but he skipped out on his contract to play in Russia. When Nashville finally lured him back late in the 2011-12 season, Radulov broke curfew during the playoffs and got himself suspended, essentially ending his relationship with the franchise. Poile said the Radulov experience does not necessarily make the Predators gun shy when it comes to drafting another Russian forward. "I think thats a little unfair to lump them all together, he said. I think (Nichushkin) made it very clear that he wants to play in the NHL." The second round is the only one in which the Predators do not have a pick. With the start of free agency set for July 5 this year, the Predators do not have many holes to fill on their roster but they do have a few situations to clarify with a few of their own players. Poile said on Tuesday that wing Sergei Kostitsyn, who led the team in goals and points in 2010-11, was discussing a deal to play in Russias KHL. Kostitsyn would need permission from the Predators to play in the KHL, which it sounds like the Predators are considering granting to him. Kostitsyn was one of a number of Predators who underachieved in the team's worst season in years, as he finished with only three goals. Master of the polite understatement, Poile said Kostitsyn's exit interview was not perfect." "Three goals is not acceptable," he said. Poile said the Predators are trying to affect a culture change, making clear to players that last year wasnt acceptable and we can be better." "We're not going to win anything if a player on your first line scores three goals, he said. Part of that culture change includes the evaluation of wing Matt Halischuk, who has been an effective player for the Predators in the past, scoring an overtime playoff goal, among other achievements. The Predators have yet to make a qualifying offer to Halischuk, which would make him an unrestricted free agent. The same is true with defenseman Jon Blum, a former first-round pick. As for another restricted free agent, center Nick Spaling, Poile said the team remains in negotiations. Spaling, usually a checking line player, ranked fourth on the team last season with nine goals nearly double his highest goals-per-game ratio of his career.
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