When you’re drafting at the end of the first round, you may get one of the top players in the draft but the chances that pick proves to be a franchise-changing player are pretty slim. Take the guys the hockey world would consider “franchise players” of the last 20 years: Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alexander Ovechkin, Brent Burns, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Auston Matthews, Steven Stamkos, Tyler Seguin, Erik Karlsson and John Tavares. With the exception of Karlsson (#15 overall in 2008) and Burns (#20, 2003), every one of them was taken in the top three picks in their respective draft years.
The Nashville Predators went to the Stanley Cup Final this past season, losing to the aforementioned Crosby and Malkin and their Pittsburgh Penguins team in six games. With that tremendous success comes a late pick in every round. Last Friday night, nearly three hours after the Draft started, they finally got to make a selection.
Jeff Kealty took to the stage and said, with the 30th pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, “the Nashville Predators select, from the Sioux City Musketeers, Eeli Tolvanen.”
“He’s a player we’ve had in our top 10 all year long,” General Manager David Poile said during our coverage live from the draft floor. “In our minds, we got very fortunate, being the 30th pick. I’ve looked at a lot of other lists that have come out and nobody ever had him lower than 20th.”
Poile is basically correct. Of the 10 publications we use every draft year, the lowest Tolvanen was ranked was by recrutes.ca who had him at #24. The two highest? Future Considerations had him as their 11th best prospect and Dan Friedman of Sports Illustrated had him as his fourth best.
Doing a little bit of a deeper dive, prospect expert Corey Pronman of ESPN called Tolvanen the “steal of the first round.” McKeen’s Hockey had him ranked as the fourth best shot in the entire draft class (and the 10th most skilled). Additionally, ISS had him as the second best shot available this past weekend and had him going as high as 13th to the Winnipeg Jets in their published mock.
In short, the Predators got serious value with their first choice.
“We were very surprised that he was there,” Kealty, Nashville’s Chief Amateur Scout, told us on the broadcast. “We did not anticipate that happening, quite honestly. It just goes to show you never know what’s going to happen in any given draft. We were very surprised but very happy as well.”
In Ryan Wagman’s Preds draft wrap-up for McKeen’s, he said “Tolvanen should be a fit with this organization, seeing as how his game bears more than a passing resemblance to Viktor Arvidsson, but much more physical.” He went onto say “I cannot fathom why Tolvanen lasted as long as he did. In the right system with a decent puck distributing center, he should be a 25 goal scorer.”
But Tolvanen wasn’t the only value pick for Nashville. It appears as if the other players chosen were as well. Let’s just focus on one publication for the sake of ease, shall we? Five of the six Preds picks were ranked in TheScout.ca’s top 150, and all above where they were actually chosen.
Below is a list of TheScout.ca’s pre-draft ranking of each player and the difference between where they were ranked and where they were taken.
taken #30 overall – Eeli Tolvanen (ranked #19) +11
taken #61 overall – Grant Mismash (ranked #42) +19
taken #92 overall – David Farrance (ranked #60) +32
taken #154 overall – Tomas Vomacka (NR)
taken #176 overall – Pavel Koltygin (ranked #114) +62
taken #216 overall – Jacob Paquette (ranked# 116) +100
And that’s just one publication.
“From a value standpoint, we really did well,” Kealty said. “Going into the draft, if you told us that these were the players we were going to get with our picks, I think we would’ve been very happy. That’s an indication of what we feel the value was. And, if you feel like you got good value it usually means you got your guys.”
“We’ll remember this day and say how lucky we were,” Poile told us. “Five years from now, we’ll look back at this draft [as a whole] and there will be an NHL player in every round. Why can’t we get that perfect draft? We’ve never had that perfect draft – nobody has – but why can’t we do that?”
The Predators have taken part in 20 NHL Drafts in their franchise history. While there have been some incredibly shrewd picks (two-time Stanley Cup champion Patric Hornqvist taken 230th in 2005, three-time Vezina Trophy finalist Pekka Rinne taken in the eighth round – a round that doesn’t exist anymore – in 2004, etc.), Nashville has never seen all of their picks from any given year skate in an NHL game at least once.
The most they’ve seen eventually graduate to an NHL roster was eight in 1999 but they had 15 picks that summer and, of those, only Adam Hall, Andrew Hutchinson and Martin Erat played more than 11 games during their careers. While the 2003 draft is generally considered the biggest success when it comes to talent (Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Kevin Klein and Alex Sulzer were all taken by the Preds that year), 2009 is in the conversation. That year six of their 10 picks became NHL players and boast names like Stanley Cup Final defensive cornerstones Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm, three-time 20-goal scorer Craig Smith, Gabriel Bourque who’s played 248 NHL games so far and Michael Latta who (along with Erat) brought the Preds budding superstar Filip Forsberg via trade.
Time will tell whether Nashville’s 2017 class will rival those years but that’s the entire point of an NHL Draft. It’s for the future.
“There’s nobody coming out of this draft that’s going to play for our team right away,” Poile said. “But we’ve filled up the cupboard.”
And, after all, that is the goal.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jeremy K. Gover