Nashville Predators general manager David Poile sounded a familiar refrain last week when asked about his approach to the 2009 NHL draft.
“In any sport, you’re always looking to take the best (available) player,” he said. “I know that’s a cliché’, but it holds true.”
The fact is, however, that in recent years the Predators’ drafts have taken on a clear rhythm, at least in terms of the first choices.
Beginning with the selection of Scott Hartnell in 2000 (sixth overall) Nashville has alternated annually between forwards and defensemen with its top pick. That streak reached nine years in 2008 when Colin Wilson was taken seventh overall. He followed defenseman Jonathan Blum, the Predators’ No. 1 pick in 2007.
If form holds, therefore, their first choice when the draft begins Friday in Montreal will be a defenseman, even though the most common perception of the organization is that it needs point-producing forwards.
“What would we like to get in our first pick? We’d probably like to get a very good offensive player, but don’t be surprised or mad if we draft a defenseman with our first pick because you’re still drafting for assets and you’re still drafting for the best player,” Poile said. “Sometimes that’s just the way it comes out. I tell the scouts, ‘Just give me assets. It’s my job to make it work.’”
If any one position is a focus, that usually becomes a priority beginning with the second round.
In 2003, for example, Nashville drafted four defensemen in the second and third rounds. That draft has now produced the bulk of the franchise’s NHL defense corps.
Two years later, the Predators had only five overall choices. Beginning with Blake Geoffrion in the second round (56th overall), four of those five picks were used on forwards.
With two picks in the second and third rounds and three in the fourth, Poile and his scouting staff have the opportunity to focus on one particular position in this year’s draft, if they choose.
“Last year we were elated with the first round,” Poile said. “I’m not sure (this year’s) is as good and as deep as last year’s (first round), but having said that, I think and feel like the second and third rounds might be even better than last year’s. The fact that we have two picks in each of those two rounds, I think, bodes well for us getting some good players in this draft.”
At the very least, they’ll take the best available player … at least that’s what they’re saying.
“In our situation, we’re drafting 18-year-olds and, by and large, none of these kids are ready to play,” Poile said. “You find that three or four years later is when they make an impact. You have to be careful because what you need or want today is not necessarily what you need four years from now.
“I don’t think you go too far wrong with drafting the best player.”
A year-by-year look at the Nashville Predators’ top draft picks:
YEAR PLAYER POSITION ROUND (PICK)
1998 David Legwand Center First (2)
1999 Brian Finley Goalie First (6)
2000 Scott Hartnell Right wing First (6)
2001 Dan Hamhuis Defense First (12)
2002 Scottie Upshall Right wing First (6)
2003 Ryan Suter Defense First (7)
2004 Alexander Radulov Right wing First (15)
2005 Ryan Parent Defense First (18)
2006 Blake Geoffrion Left wing Second (56)
2007 Jonathan Blum Defense First (23)
2008 Colin Wilson Center First (7)