By JIM DIAMOND
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Nashville Predators find themselves in the unfamiliar position of having an early selection in the NHL draft.
The lockout-shortened season was uncharacteristic for the Predators who had qualified for the playoffs in seven of their previous eight seasons. But Nashville went 16-23-9 this season, putting the Predators at the bottom of the Central Division and 14th in the Western Conference. That disappointing season has Nashville holding the fourth overall selection Sunday.
That’s the highest Nashville has selected since the franchise’s first draft in 1998 as an expansion franchise when the Predators took David Legwand second overall.
Due to trades made to help push for the playoffs, Nashville has not made a first round selection since 2010. But in a deal made with the Washington Capitals at April’s trade deadline, longtime Predator forward Martin Erat was sent to the Capitals in exchange for Filip Forsberg, who Washington selected with the 11th overall pick last June.
For a team whose philosophy has been largely dependent on drafting and developing its own players, the Predators see this draft as a big step toward returning to being a perennial postseason qualifier.
“We want these players for a career,” general manager David Poile said. “If our first round pick plays here next year and Filip Forsberg does, that’s awesome. If it takes a year or two, we are going to do the right thing for the franchise and specifically for these players.”
A glaring weakness this season was the Predators’ inability to score goals, so it is likely Poile will be looking for a forward who can help in that area. Not knowing who the three teams in front of him will take, the only general manager in franchise history is prepared for any of the possible twists the draft may take in the picks before Nashville’s.
Poile usually keeps his cards close to the vest. When it comes to the player rated by Central Scouting as this year’s top-rated North American skater, he indicated that Portland Winterhawks defenseman Seth Jones will fall no further No. 4 should he be available when Nashville selects.
“Absolutely, 100%, 110%,” Poile said when asked if he would take Jones. “I think he is the best player in the draft. That is my, our organization’s opinion as to what he is going to become.”
Poile is leaving open the possibility of making a trade involving the fourth pick, but moving up or down is fairly remote. The four players the Predators have identified as their top targets can all be a great fit for Nashville.
“In this case, all these top players bring something to the table,” Poile said. “They could all be star players. That’s how good they are. That’s how pumped up we are and everybody else is on this draft.”
Nashville has 10 picks in the seven-round draft with at least one selection in all but the second round.