In draft, Predators look for second coming of Weber-Suter

Monday, July 8, 2013 at 12:17am

Most would consider the combination of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter as a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

The Nashville Predators have decided to test whether it can happen say once every decade.

A draft that figured to provide the high-end forward the Predators rarely, if ever, had instead turned out to be a second attempt at the history they made 10 years earlier. Nashville made headlines last Sunday when it chose defenseman Seth Jones with the No. 4 overall pick. Then it took a stab at the unlikely when they tabbed Jonathan-Ismael Diaby with their next selection (64th overall).

If it works out, the franchise’s reputation for solid defensive play and an emphasis on blue line stars will remain unscathed for the foreseeable future.

“We think that [Diaby] will be a guy that develops into a pairing that can play with Seth Jones down the road,” assistant general manager Paul Fenton said. “Our guys really liked [Diaby] for his physical presence, for his size. … The kid gets a lot of room. He fights. He is extremely physical.”

Jones and Diaby are not carbon copies of Suter and Weber but there are enough legitimate comparisons with the players and the circumstances to pique the interest of those who believe in Nashville’s defense-first approach to the game.

The similarities between Jones and Suter are obvious. Both were the first defenseman taken in their respective years and each has a professional sports pedigree. Jones’ father was an NBA player for 11 seasons. Suter’s father was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team and his uncle played nearly two decades in the NHL.

The Predators selected Suter seventh overall in 2003 after a lot of debate. He was one of three defensemen considered among that year’s top 10 prospects. The other two, Braydon Coburn and Dion Phaneuf, ultimately went eighth and ninth, respectively.

On the other hand, Nashville’s personnel staff considered Jones, rated first overall by them and many others, a no-brainer when he was still available after three picks.

“If you think about the characteristics that the both of them have — the way that they both control the entire ice surface, the way they can change games both offensively and defensively,” Fenton said. “To look at it that we now have a 6-foot-4 guy that has the mobility of a running back, whose agility is terrific … this is a franchise-type player that you dream about and we were able to get him.”

Then they got Diaby to potentially play alongside him one day.

A 6-foot-4, 220-pounder (he’s a little bigger and heavier than Jones), out of the Quebec Hockey League, he calls to mind Weber, whose most celebrated traits when he was drafted were his size and power. Diaby is the kind of player who takes care of things in his own end, which seems to be a good fit for the smooth-skating and offensively gifted Jones.

“Diaby is a gigantic specimen in himself,” Fenton said. “When we interviewed him back in May he informed us that he was already 250 pounds. This kid is an absolute skyscraper that plays with a mean sense to his game.

“To have two guys with that stature and to be able to take that that early in the draft, we were just thrilled to take it.”

With Suter and Weber, size ultimately was not the determining factor in the manner in which they meshed. The more daunting Weber also turned into the more accomplished offensive player while Suter built a reputation for sound positional play and a more conservative approach on offense.

Diaby was the Predators’ second overall choice this year and the second of just three defensemen selected.

“The first pick could be our best pick ever,” general manager David Poile said. “… From four to 64, that’s where everything happened in [2003] and we missed that [this time], which is unfortunate. As elated as we were at four we weren’t too happy waiting around to 64. There was a huge void there for us.

“We’re always reasonably happy after a draft with what we got. We got the highest-end player you could get, but time will tell for the rest of the guys.”

And for the second attempt at a first-rate defensive pairing.