July 32-In-32: Nashville Predators

Jeff Grybel

2023-07-17

Nashville entered this offseason looking to change their culture and what it means to be a member of the Predators. The organization had been seen as a destination for players that wanted to get out of the limelight, but still play meaningful hockey in April. The message from new General Manager Barry Trotz was clear: we want serial winners in Nashville. It’s time to change the culture.

The change started with Ryan Johansen, who was shipped off to Colorado for soon-to-be-UFA Alex Galchenyuk, whom they did not re-sign. Shortly after, Hockey Twitter erupted after it was announced they were buying out Matt Duchene and his remaining 3 years and $8 million AAV.

All eyes were now on Nashville at the 2023 NHL Draft. Trotz had made it clear they were open for business and it was no secret he was attempting to vault into the top-10 of the draft, with a rumored deal involving Yaroslav Askarov to the Habs for the 5th overall pick. Nothing materialized as all of the teams in the first round stood pat and made their selections.

Draft Recap

Round One, 15th Overall – Matthew Wood, RW

Wood is a highly intelligent scorer, skilled shooter, and deft puck-handler, to go along with his underrated playmaking. The most glaring weakness to this point is his skating, which at times looks sluggish, awkward, and rigid. He showed some flashes of improvement in that department over the course of the year, but his projection will likely hinge on improved mechanics. Despite that flaw, he led UConn in scoring as the youngest player in college hockey with 34 points in 35 games, in addition to scoring 13 points in seven games at the U-18s. His potential is sky high and he will continue his development as a sophomore in the NCAA in 2023.

Round One, 24th Overall – Tanner Molendyk, LD

Molendyk possesses rare speed and mobility for a blueliner, skills that are the foundation of his game. He defends the rush extremely well and kills plays before they even have time to develop. He was a bit unlucky producing at the other end, as his transition and offensive toolkit indicate he could have been closer to a point-per-game defenseman in the WHL this season. His developmental goals will likely include improving his small-area stickhandling and shooting mechanics, which might bump him up to the 1st power play for the Blades next season.

Round Two, 43rd Overall – Felix Nilsson, C

Nashville traded up to nab Nilsson, a two-way playmaker with a very projectable game and a favorite amongst the public scouting community. He plays with a tremendous amount of poise and vision, sending passes through tight windows and drawing defenders in before finding a teammate in open space. He played the majority of his season at the J20 level, where he was over a point-per-game, and was called up to the SHL for 20 games, although he failed to find the scoresheet in limited minutes. He could develop into a rock-solid middle-six center at the next level.

Round Two, 46th Overall – Kalan Lind, LW

Lind is the type of player that every team hates to play against but loves to have on their team. He is a fearless competitor with a high motor and a nose for the net, potting 44 points in 43 WHL games as a Red Deer Rebel. The longevity of his career will hinge on him putting on weight during his development, as he is currently listed at 6’0” and 158 lbs. He doesn’t just throw himself around with reckless abandon; he relies on positioning and playing within his team’s system, but when he sees a chance to make an impact with a big hit in open ice or on the wall, he’ll take it. He’s got the toolkit to make a case as a bottom-six forward with some upside in the middle-six if his scoring translates.

Round Three, 68th Overall – Jesse Kiiskinen, RW

In a down year for Finland internationally, Kiiskinen stood out as one of the better prospects at both the U20 level and internationally at the U-18’s. If there’s one thing he likes to do, it’s shooting the puck; he scored 21 goals in 35 games in U20 with a whopping 230 shots (6.6 per game). That rate surpassed even Connor Bedard and was second among first-time draft-eligibles (behind countryman Kasper Halttunen). He also flashes some physicality, despite standing at 6’0” and 190 lbs. He is aggressive on both the back-check and the forecheck, so he still provides value for his team when the shots aren’t making it through on a given night. He isn’t the most adept playmaker, and his skating isn’t a selling point, so he’ll need to improve at least one of those areas to translate to the NHL one day.

Round Three, 83rd Overall – Dylan MacKinnon, RD

Dylan MacKinnon (no relation to Mooseheads alum Nate MacKinnon, sadly), plays as a stay-at-home defenseman with above-average skating and physicality for his age. Once he gets the puck on his stick, however, things start to get a bit dicey. He doesn’t have the highest hockey IQ, missing breakout passes and failing to identify shooting lanes from the point. He also isn’t strong on puck retrievals from the boards and successful zone exits, which are vital parts of an NHL defenseman’s game. If he finds a way to become league-average in these areas over the next few years, he could be a 6th or 7th defenseman in the NHL.

Round Four, 111th Overall – Joey Willis, C

While Willis doesn’t light up the scoresheet every night (44 points in 68 games) for the Saginaw Spirit, his game is defined by his positioning and off-puck play. He can always find soft parts of the ice and play around the deficiencies in his game. He loves give-and-gos and most of his offense comes off the rush. Defensively, he does whatever he can to force turnovers and push play back up the ice, usually by anticipating a pass and being in the right place to pick it off. He’s the type of player that endears himself to coaches and has a shot to make the NHL one day.

Round Four, 121st Overall – Juha Jatkola, G

The third time’s the charm for 6’1” goaltender Juha Jatkola, who was finally taken by the Predators as a triple overager out of Liiga. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in aggressive positioning and agility within his crease. What made the difference this year is he was less reliant on his athleticism to bail him out of poor positioning and he let in fewer weak goals than he had previously. If there’s any team with a good eye for Finnish goaltenders late in a draft, it’s certainly Nashville.

Round Five, 143rd Overall – Sutter Muzzatti, C

Muzzatti entered this year’s draft as a double-overager out of the NCAA. He showed limited offensive upside as a freshman with 22 points in 35 games for RPI, but his size is tantalizing as a 6’5” centerman. He will need to drastically improve his skating, pacing, and shooting to eventually jump to the AHL and have a shot at an NHL roster one day.

Round Six, 175th Overall – Austin Roest, RW/C

Roest was passed over in his first year as a draft-eligible, which makes sense as a 5’10” forward who scored only 32 points in 59 games for Everett. What a difference a year makes. In his second season, he elevated his scoring to 32 goals and 46 assists for 78 points in 60 games and was heavily relied upon to play big minutes. He isn’t the flashiest player and still has more to develop in his game, but his hockey sense, willingness to play inside, and good skating give him a good chance as a late-round flier.

Round Seven, 218th Overall – Aiden Fink, RW

Fink was a great value for the Predators at 218th overall. Scouting for talent in leagues like the AJHL can be difficult; was a player’s production due to their skills or the quality of competition? You see 97 points in 54 games and think a player has a great shot at making the NHL, but that’s not always the case. Despite this factor, many public scouts had him as a late third/early fourth round pick. He naturally fell due to his size at 5’9” and 152 lbs, but has many of the tools you want in a smaller player. He’s an adept playmaker, has a great release, has a variety of shots, he’s tenacious and has a high motor. He’s a good, but not great skater, and he leaves himself open to getting hit too often, which doesn’t bode well for a skater of his stature. He’ll be attending Penn State in the fall where the next step of his development begins.

THE OFFSEASON

Incoming

C – Ryan O’Reilly (UFA)

C – Jasper Weatherby (UFA)

LW – Gustav Nyquist (UFA)

LW – Denis Gurianov (UFA)

RD – Luke Schenn (UFA)

G – Troy Grosenick (UFA)

Outgoing

C – Matt Duchene (Buyout)

C – Ryan Johansen (Trade)

LW – Rasmus Asplund (Unqualified)

LW – John Leonard (Unqualified)

RD – Cal Foote (Unqualified)

Re-Signed

C – Cody Glass (RFA)

RW – Anthony Angello (RFA)

RD – Alexandre Carrier (RFA)

RD – Jake Livingstone (RFA)

With the additions of Ryan O’Reilly, Gustav Nyquist, and Luke Schenn, it’s clear that the priority in free agency was adding character to the locker room and changing the culture in Nashville. With players like Josi, Forsberg, and Saros still in tow, the team is poised to be competitive while giving their young core of Glass, Tomasino, and Evangelista quality minutes in the NHL. While I wouldn’t say the Predators are a sure-fire playoff team in 2023/24, they should still be playing meaningful hockey down the stretch in March and April.

Development Camp

Nashville Predators development camp took place July 1st – July 6th. While prospects currently on the Milwaukee Admirals were not in attendance, almost all of the prospects selected in the 2023 NHL Draft were in attendance, as well as some of their notable prospects still scattered in various junior leagues and overseas, including Fedor Svechkov, Reid Schaefer, Ryan Ufko, Luke Prokop, and Zachary L’Heureux. Some notable performances came from 2023 1st round picks Matthew Wood and Tanner Molendyk, including the game-winner off the stick of Wood in the Future Stars Game on the final day of camp.

Next month’s 32-in-32 will focus on the Predators’ prospect pool, so be on the lookout for that article! Thanks for reading and follow me on Twitter @JeffGrybel

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