Predators General Manager David Poile returned to Nashville on Sunday and met with members of the media to recap an eventful weekend in Philadelphia. He also took time to preview the team’s plans going into free agency on Tuesday.
State of the Organization
Poile began by reiterating his belief in the foundation that he and his scouts have built in goal and on defense.
“Pekka is certainly one of the best goaltenders in the world and the fact that he’s healthy now and was the MVP of the World Championship bodes well for us going forward,” Poile said.
Poile also expressed his confidence in the Predators defensemen; a group that currently features a core of six of promising young players under the age of 29, with three-time Norris trophy finalist Shea Weber leading the helm.
“Our core of defense is young, it’s talented and should be in place for the next several years,” Poile said.
Finally, Poile touched on the stable of forwards under the age of 25 in the Predators system. With the acquisitions of Calle Jarnkrok and Filip Forsberg along with the forward-heavy drafts of recent years, there is a wealth of talent and promise in the Predators system.
“We believe we have some good young forwards,” Poile said. “This is something I’ve been focused on the last couple of years. A lot of these guys are at various stages of development. We have a lot of forwards that should be challenging for roster spots sooner than later.”
Trade for forward James Neal
While Poile was genuinely optimistic about the future of the team he did admit there was a void in scoring a year ago. With the hiring of new offensive-minded Head Coach Peter Laviolette, it was time to move forward in the process of acquiring a top-six forward.
Minutes before the Predators 11th overall selection, Poile struck a deal to send forwards Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for 26-year-old winger James Neal. Neal is a proven and consistent goal-scorer who has netted at least 21 goals in each of his six NHL seasons, and is currently tied for fifth in the league with 88 goals in the last three seasons.
“James Neal in our minds is certainly a top forward,” Poile said. “He’s a natural goal-scorer. He’s scored 88 goals in his last 179 regular season games; which is about a goal every other game. He’s strong on the power play, has a quick release and a good one-timer. He provides a dimension that we lack here. He’s 6-2, 210 pounds and is suited well to play in the Western Conference. The other good news is he’s signed, and he’s only 26 years of age.”
Laviolette also expressed his excitement about the acquisition of the gritty winger.
“We got a top-flight player, somebody who can play in a top-three position and can really contribute on the power play,” Laviolette said. “To grab a guy like that who can put the puck in the net is really beneficial to our team.”
With Laviolette set to implement his up-tempo aggressive style of play, Poile emphasized Neal’s ability to suit the future system.
“I like his hardness, I like his competiveness and I like his drive,” Poile said. “I think it takes courage to score goals. Some guys won’t score because they won’t go to the hard areas. You have to get close to the net and some guys won’t do that; James Neal will do that.”
While Poile and his staff were content to be able to acquire Neal and improve the current roster they did express gratitude for the contributions that Hornqvist and Spaling made during their careers in Nashville.
“They were both homegrown, drafted players who in their own ways made strong contributions,” Poile said. “Patric was the last guy in the draft one year (2005), and to have the career that he had here is special. He’s one of those heart-and-soul-type players who gave it everything he had every game. I know he’ll be missed, but as they say you need to give up something to get something and I think James Neal dramatically changes the dynamic of our forward roster.”
For more information on the James Neal trade refer to the following:
Quotes on Neal:
The Predators made seven selections at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, taking four forwards and three defensemen. While Poile has been able to add an arsenal of depth on offense in recent drafts, he admitted he had yet to draft a true, “game-breaker.” Poile and the rest of his staff feel like they filled that need by selecting Swiss-born sniper Kevin Fiala with the 11th overall pick.
“We haven’t been able to select a game-breaker, but this year I believe we were finally able to add that in the draft,” Poile said. “We got one of the most talented, most skilled forwards available with Fiala.”
Fiala was the fastest rising prospect entering the draft after a stellar Swedish League campaign. However, despite the fairly recent rise in Fiala’s draft stock, Predators scouts say they have had him on their radar for quite some time.
“He’s a guy that right from the Winter Meetings our guys wanted,” Poile said. “Outside of the Top Five in the draft, this was the guy we wanted. They really feel that he can be special.”
Standing 5-10 and 178 pounds, Fiala is one of the smaller players in this year’s class, but that hasn’t stopped the 17-year-old from putting up big numbers in Sweden’s top professional league.
Fiala has produced nearly a point per game while splitting time with HV-71’s junior team and Swedish league team.
“His skill offsets and any concerns that someone would have about his size,” Poile said. “Patrick Kane, Steve Sullivan and Paul Kariya have all had success in the NHL and used their size to their advantage. Those guys were game changers and difference makers, and we believe that Fiala could be that for us.”
In the second round, the Predators selected Russian forward Vladislav Kamanev. This is the first time the team has selected a Russian player since 2004. The 18-year-old Kamenev is 6-2, 203 pounds and is described as a two-way versatile, forward with a strong physical presence.
“Kamanev brings skill and size to our organization and fits the profile of where we need to go,” Poile said.
With their second pick in the second round (51st overall) the Predators drafted American-born defenseman Jack Dougherty. The Cottage Grove, Minnesota, native played with the Under-18 U.S National Team Development Program in 2013-14 and will attend the University of Wisconsin in the fall. Dougherty stands 6-1, 190 pounds and is a terrific skating defenseman that adds defensive depth to the Predators system.
“We’ve had a bit of luck with defensemen from the University of Wisconsin,” Poile said in reference to former Predator defenseman Ryan Suter. “He’s ranked 25th by The Hockey News, so it was a good value pick at 51.”
The Predators rounded out the draft by picking two more forwards and two more defenseman in rounds three through seven with Kelowna Rockets forward Justin Kirkland (62nd overall), Swedish forward Viktor Arvidsson (112th overall), Finnish defenseman Joonas Lyytinen (132nd overall) and Edmonton Oil Kings defenseman Aaron Irving (162nd overall).
“We’re an equal-opportunity employer,” Poile said jokingly in reference to the diversity of the Predators draft class. “We drafted two Canadians, one from Switzerland, the United States and Russia.”
Most players are expected to be at the Predators Development Camp which begins on Sunday, July 6 and concludes on Saturday, July 12 with an open house and scrimmage at Bridgestone Arena.
For more information on the Predators draft class follow these links:
Predators Draft Press Release
Kevin Fiala Prospect Profile
Vladislav Kamanev and Jack Dougherty Bio
Justin Kirkland Bio
Victor Arvidsson Bio
Joonas Lyytinen Bio
Aaron Irving Bio
Poile addressed the issue of the proposed trade that would have made Senators forward Jason Spezza a Predator.
“It is my responsibility as the GM here with the Predators to improve our team through any and all means,” Poile said. “The draft, free agency and trades are all options to do this and it’s my job to explore all these of options. This time it was made public that this player might be available and obviously he’s a top-six forward and I wouldn’t be doing the right thing for our franchise if I didn’t investigate. So we had some preliminary discussions with Ottawa knowing that he had a limited no-trade contract. Once it was determined that it was his wish not to play in Nashville, discussions ended and we moved on. Simply we want players that want to be here.”
Poile also made it clear that he has never had problems in the past with players not wanting to play in Nashville. He pointed to big-name free agents such as Paul Kariya, J.P Dumount and Jason Arnott who have all signed free agent contracts to become Predators in the past.
With the NHL’s free agency period beginning Tuesday Poile took time to address the status on the team’s restricted free agents, as well as the team’s mindset moving forward into Tuesday.
The Predators organizationally have made qualifying offers to restricted free agents Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, Simon Moser, Taylor Beck, Anthony Bitetto, Scott Valentine and Joonas Jarvinen. They have not made offers to Michael Del Zotto, Joonas Rask and Charles-Olivier Roussel.
Poile has also been busy gauging what the open market will look like come Tuesday during the league’s open interview period which started Wednesday, June 25.
“We’ve been busy making some calls and having discussions with agents and players and we’ll be prepared for Tuesday,” Poile said. “It’s impossible to predict how this day will unfold, but we will be ready for it.
Poile has made it public that he is still in the market for a top center, ideally one to play alongside Neal.
“My vision at some point is that we will get a top center,” Poile said. “The thing about it is these types of players don’t grow on trees.”
With the unusually small free agency class this summer it may be even more difficult to land one of these sought after players.
“Most other teams have all talked to the same players,” Poile said. “They are going to have a lot to choose from if they want to move and their demands are going to be pretty high.”
Despite what may turn into a bidding war for some players, Poile isn’t counting himself or the Predators out of the race for any of the top free agents.
“I think we all know who the higher end guys are, and I guarantee we’ve done what we can up to this point in talking to them,” Poile said. “We can’t guarantee there is a fit for them, but we’re going to try.”
For more information on the Predators free agency:
Predators Free Agency Preview
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