In a little more than a year’s time the Nashville Predators have gone from famine to feast in terms of depth at goaltender.
David Poile, president of hockey operations/general manager, announced the signing of goaltender Chet Pickard to a three-year entry level contract on Monday.
Pickard, 18, was the second of two first-round picks by the Predators in the Entry Draft earlier this summer in Ottawa. Pickard, a member of the Tri-City Americans, was the winner of the 2008 Del Wilson Trophy, which is presented to the Western Hockey League’s Goaltender of the Year. He was the first goaltender chosen this year in the draft.
“Pickard got the cap that you can give a goalie taken in the first round in terms of salary and a signing bonus,” Poile said. “The contract will not start until he starts playing professionally.”
Pickard, 6-foot-2, 220 pounds is one of two top goaltender prospects for the Predators still playing on the junior hockey level. Jeremy Smith was a second-round pick in the 2007 Entry Draft. He is playing this season for the Plymouth Whalers in the Ontario Hockey League.
During the prospects camp in late June, Pickard made strong and positive impression in all respects.
“We like him both on and off of the ice,” Poile said. “On the ice you like his size, physical abilities and what he has accomplished at this point in his career. He has a good chance to be Canada’s goalie in the World Juniors.
“Off the ice you have to like his outgoing personality. He always has a big smile. He carries himself every well. He has a lot of things going for him right now as an 18-year-old playing hockey.”
Dan Ellis is expected to be the No. 1 goaltender for the Predators this season. Pekka Rinne is expected to be the back-up.
Mark Dekanich, drafted in the fifth round by the Predators in the 2006 Entry Draft, is expected to play in Milwaukee this season for the Admirals in the American Hockey League. Dekanich played for Colgate.
“When you go back to a little over a year ago all we had was Tomas Vokoun and Chris Mason and a young prospect in Rinne,” Poile said. “Now we have Ellis and Rinne and our prospects are Pickard, Smith and hopefully, Dekanich.
“I never thought we would change the goaltending depth so quickly. Once we traded Vokoun last summer our quality and depth was hurt severely.”
Goaltenders often get too much praise when a team is playing well and too much criticism when a team is losing. But there is no doubt that a team without good goaltending is not going to be successful on any level of hockey.
“Good goaltending is like good pitching in baseball,” Poile said. “If you don’t have it you aren’t going to win.
“I just want to make sure we have a goaltender who gives us a chance to win every game. If we can say that then that will be a big part in our being competitive this year.”
Dekanich is somewhat the unknown quantity among the prospects.
“Dekanich is less heralded than Pickard and Smith,” Poile said. “He had a really good college career at Colgate. Now he has to get himself on the fast track to establishing himself as a good prospect this year in Milwaukee. This time next year Pickard and Smith will be ready to play in Milwaukee.
“That’s what try to do is to get some depth and some competition at a position. Whether he is a first-round draft pick or a free agent like Dan Ellis we are looking for the best goaltender.”
SULLY AN UNKNOWN: Poile has chosen to not be overly pessimistic or overly optimistic about the status of forward Steve Sullivan.
“He has been to the doctor,” Poile said. “He is working with his therapist. There has unfortunately not been a lot of change.”
Sullivan has not played in an NHL game since February of 2007. He is already back in Nashville for the season in order for his children to start school this week.
“He remains guardedly optimistic that he will be in camp and be ready for the season. It is a long shot right now.”
COACHING CLINICS: The Predators have formed a partnership with USA Hockey for the 2008-09 season to support coaching clinics as part of USA Hockey’s Coaching Education Program (CEP).
The first Predators/USA Hockey Clinic will be held Aug. 17, starting at 8 a.m., at Cool Springs Ice Center in Franklin. The featured speakers will be Predators coach Barry Trotz and David Good, Predators strength and conditioning coach. Classes are for coaches, parents and fans regardless of their knowledge level of hockey.
Registration must be made in advance. For more information, visit the “Coaches” section at www.usahockey.com .