When Nashville Predators general manager David Poile, assistant general manager Paul Fenton and their scouting staff left Montreal’s Bell Centre following the conclusion of the June 2009 NHL Entry Draft, they felt confident that they had done well with the ten selections that they made over the course of the two-day draft.
Now just two and a half years later, four of those ten players have already played at least one game in a Predator uniform, with many of the others tracking along toward achieving the same results as their fellow 2009 draftee peers.
Since Nashville’s inaugural draft in 1998, only two draft classes (2003 and 2005) have seen four players play 50 or more games at the NHL level. The 2009 group has the potential to set a new franchise record for the number of draftees who reach and stay in the NHL.
Even when teams feel they have made good picks, it can take many years to determine whether or not any of the young players will develop into NHL talent.
“When you are preparing for the draft and you have your draft list, there are a lot of guys that kind of jump out,” Fenton said. “Our guys felt they were going to have a great draft. When that day is, you never know.”
In the last week, both Ryan Ellis and Gabriel Bourque made their NHL debuts as Predators. Ellis was the team’s top pick (11th overall), while Bourque was a fifth round selection (132nd overall).
When he was drafted, Ellis knew that he was taken by an organization that is well known for developing NHL talent, especially on the blue line.
“They have a way of doing things here,” he said. “It is usually very positive for your development. You always hope that you are on the brink of making an impact and getting called up.”
Bourque’s NHL debut Wednesday night received very positive reviews. His coach, a two-time Jack Adams Award nominee, thought Bourque earned more ice time with the effort he put forth in his 8:05 of action.
“That’s bad coaching by me,” Barry Trotz said following the game. “He played really well. I thought he was really hard on the puck. I can guarantee you this that if he continues to play like that, which I expect him to, if he does that night in and night out, he is going to play a lot more.”
Fenton, who is in charge of Nashville’s draft, said that one of his scouts pushed for Bourque’s selection.
“Give Tommy Nolan credit for it,” Fenton said. “He was up in the Quebec League time after time after time and he kept telling (chief amateur scout) Jeff Kealty that this is the guy he wanted. Sometimes when your guys keep mentioning a guy’s name over and over, you know how much passion they have for him. Tommy was the one who really identified him and stuck with him and brought him to Jeff and myself. It ends up being a great effort by him.”
Two of Nashville’s three fourth round picks started the 2011-12 season with the team. Craig Smith was taken 98th overall and defenseman Mattias Ekholm went four spots later.
“Drafts when you have multiple picks, you have more shots and generally you do better,” Poile said. “We had two in the second, two in the third, and three in the fourth. They are not all going to play, but it looks like a lot of them are.”
Three of the Predators 2009 draftees are currently playing U.S. college hockey. Zach Budish (second round, 41st overall) is at the University of Minnesota, while both Nick Oliver (fourth round, 110th overall), and Cameron Reid (seventh round, 192nd overall) play at St. Cloud State.
In the third round, the Predators selected a pair of teammates from the Ontario Hockey League’s Guelph Storm. Taylor Beck went 70th and Michael Latta went two picks later. The pair now plays for the Milwaukee Admirals, Nashville’s top minor league affiliate.
“Latta and Beck, a lot of people sort of favored Beck a little more, and now Latta is probably performing a little bit better than Beck is right now, but I think they are both going to play,” Poile said.
Nashville’s other selection in 2009 was defenseman Charles-Olivier Roussel, who was taken in the second round, 42nd overall. Roussel is currently playing his overage year with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s St. John Sea Dogs.
The draft is seen as the lifeblood of an organization like Nashville’s. The early returns for the 2009 class are positive, and as time goes on, look for many others to make an impact in Nashville.