After comparing the conversations in the Preds scouting meetings to the results Nashville posted on draft day, the Preds should be ecstatic about this year's class. The first five picks were all prospects involved in the scouts pre-draft conversations for Nashville's selection the slot before.
Pontus Aberg and Colton Sissons were part of the group the scouts were targeting for the No. 37 pick. Sissons was a prospect the scouts felt would be a great fit for the organization, a player the scouts described as someone who would instantly become a favorite among Barry Trotz & staff. His skill and intangibles made him an ideal candidate for the No. 37 pick, but when Aberg was still around at No. 37, the game-breaking offensive talent became too alluring for the Preds to turn down. Most of the pre-draft scouting scuttlebutt showed Aberg gaining significant attention by teams late in the first round, but Nashville's scouts were very happy when he was still around Day 2.
During the meetings leading into the draft, the scouts would have gladly opened the draft with either of Aberg or Sissons at No. 37, followed with Vesey and Leipsic at No. 50 and No. 66, to end up with all four was beyond a pipe dream.
Vesey was targeted at the No. 50 slot, but he was bumped when Sissons was still on the board. Leipsic was viewed as a "we don't want to miss this guy" selection at No. 66, which made it all the more alluring for David Poile to trade for the later third round pick as Leipsic remained on the board.
Much like Leipsic, Stepan was also mentioned in contention for the 66th pick, but with an eye that he might be able to slip through to the fourth round, just an even further "bonus" for the Preds 2012 class.
The end of the draft class, Vainonen, Fernholm, Gortz, and Mazanec, were each slotted in where the team ultimately picked them. Fernholm was talked about earlier in the draft, but the Preds used strategy on the floor, sensing they could get more value in a trade from the 5th round selection (Nashville flipped it to the NY Rangers for a 5th round pick next year) than for any of the 6th rounders, the staff took a gamble that Fernholm was under-scouted by other teams and was likely to slide through an extra round. In the end the Preds got the guy they wanted in Fernholm and an extra pick to play with for next year's draft.
It will be several years --- usually three-to-five years out --- before the talent selected in this year's draft class can fully be evaluated, but for at least one night the Preds scouts will be able to bask in the way their plan played out on this year's draft floor.
Check out David Poile's post-draft media session
Check out Jeff Kealty's draft recap
The Preds wrapped up their draft day with three sixth round picks, going European with all three selections. Nashville nabbed Swedish defenseman Simon Fernholm at No. 164, Swedish forward Max Gortz at No. 172, and Czech overage goaltender Marek Mazanec at No. 179.
All week the Preds scouts had targeted these three players as solid late-round values, especially Mazanec, a 20-year old netminder that Nashville scout Martin Bakula has been eying the last two draft cycles. The Preds have had success unearthing European goalies in the late rounds of the draft and Mazanec's profile and development are similar to Anders Lindback, a seventh round pick in the '08 Draft as an older, lesser scouted goalie.
Fernholm and Gortz are examples of Sweden's development model. The Swedes revamped their development process a few years ago and the results have been impressive at both the World Junior level and on NHL Draft Weekend.
The Preds traded out of the fifth round this year, sending pick No. 142 to the NY Rangers for a fifth round selection in next year's draft.
Nashville made two selections in the fourth round, just six picks apart. At No. 112 the Preds tabbed forward Zachary Stepan -- cousin of NY Rangers star Derek Stepan -- and then at No. 118 Nashville picked Finnish defenseman Mikko Vaionen, snapping a string of five straight forwards for the Preds.
Stepan plays a solid two-way game and commented that he tries to pattern his style after Preds center Mike Fisher; he was very excited for the opportunity to learn from Fisher.
Vaionen is a steady defenseman who plays a straightforward game. He makes the basic plays -- in a good way -- clearing the zone and avoiding trouble situations.
Video interviews on both players to come later today.
Brendan Leipsic is a dynamic offensive forward with tremendous speed, definitely an a plus asset in today’s NHL. His size (listed at 5’8, 165-pounds) was a major reason why he fell this far in the draft, however the Preds scouts are extremely “bullish” on his pro potential; several times his game was compared to Boston’s Brad Marchand (who himself is listed at 5’9, 183-pounds) and the Preds own Gabriel Bourque –both undersized forwards who find ways to further elevate their games during the playoffs. The scouts considered Leipsic very strongly for the No. 50 pick, but used a little table-side strategy believing that he would remain on the board for pick No. 66 … the gamble worked out and Nashville was able to get players with its first three picks today who the scouts are all very excited about.
For those concerned about his size, note that the WHL is generally considered the most physical of the three CHL leagues and Leipsic still found a way to net 28 goals and 58 points during the regular season, before adding seven goals and 15 points in 20 playoff games for the Portland Winterhawks.
When pushed by David Poile about Leipsic’s size and the Preds desires to get bigger and more physical, the scouts replies were consistent and blunt, “We don’t want to miss Leipsic.”
Rapid fire selections here for the Preds. Three picks, three forwards with big forward Jummy Vesey tabbed at the No. 66 spot.
Vesey, a Boston-area kid, will play college hockey at Harvard next year. The Preds Boston-area connections should spawn some future team chemistry as Vesey plays on a Wednesday night summer league team with Preds 2011 draftee Garrett Noonan, a star defenseman for Boston University. Vesey was a big time scorer in Juniors and with his size (6'1, 180 pounds) should set up well for the college game.
Vesey's father, Jim, also has NHL bloodlines as a 1984 draftee of the St. Louis Blues and appeared in 15 NHL games with St. Louis and Boston.
Sissions is an “honest” two-way player, very much a “Preds-type” of player in the mold of a Mike Fisher. During scouting meetings earlier this week, one Preds scout flatly said there would be several high-fives in the team suite after the draft if Sissions fell to Nashville in the second round.
Sissons got off to a great start in 2011-12, scoring 20 goals in Kelowna’s first 35 games and earning captain honors for Team Orr at the Top Prospects Game, but his production was slowed by a concussion after the Prospects Game. Still, his leadership (wore the “C” for Kelowna last season), work ethic, and overall hockey awareness project well at the pro level.
Quick Facts: Was a teammate of 2011 No. 1 overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with the Vancouver Northwest Giants in 2008-09 … Is a self-proclaimed “fantastic cook” … was ranked as the No. 14 North American skater in Central Scouting’s final rankings
The Preds were very excited to see Pontus Aberg still available at the No. 37 pick. Aberg has the ability to become a big time scorer in the NHL. He puts up points at a solid clip against his own age group and held his own in the Swedish Elite League with eight goals and 15 points in 47 games for Djurgarden. At 5’11, 194-pounds, he has a frame reminiscent of Patric Hornqvist and Tomas Holmstrom, but may have more raw offensive skill than either of those two fellow Swedes.
While the Preds have several quality young forwards working their way through the organizational system, Aberg may have as much or more offensive upside than any of them.
The Preds appear poised to have a busy day of drafting on Day 2 of the 2012 Entry Draft, entering the day with nine selections, starting with the No. 37 pick and No. 50 pick, both in the second round.
Nashville's scouts were excited during meetings this morning with how the draft board sets up for the No. 37 selection, and were optimistic for the No. 50 pick as well.
Drafting should start back up in just a few minutes here, so we shouldn't have to wait too much longer to find out how things play out.