It is the Nashville Predators’ lifeblood … or so we are often told. It is the most important tool the local NHL franchise has when it comes to building its competitive foundation. Among players on the current roster, the captain, the goalie, the team’s all-time leading scorer and others came from the annual selection process called the draft.
Even with that already deep connection, rarely has the draft been more important to the Predators than it is this year. They hold the fourth overall selection, and a little more than a week from now they expect to get a franchise-changer when they make that pick.
That being said, though, there has been no shortage of reminders in recent days that the draft offers no guarantees. That players who are overlooked when they are 18 can become useful or even productive years later. That the search for talent continues even after the final name is called each June.
Just consider the business matters Nashville has resolved in its run-up to this year’s draft. Within the past two weeks it re-signed forward Kevin Henderson and defensemen Victor Bartley and Joe Piskula to new contracts.
None of the three were ever drafted. By any team.
At this moment all of them offer some combination of depth and potential for the Predators following time spent with other franchises.
Two already have appeared in games for Nashville. They might never be stars, but the current Stanley Cup finals, with guys like Chicago’s Bryan Bickell and Boston’s Daniel Paille, are proof positive of the value of role players in the sport.
Bartley, in particular, is an interesting case. When he got his first NHL opportunity this season, he immediately looked like he belonged. He ultimately played half the season (24 games) with Nashville and gave everyone reason to wonder whether former first-round pick Jonathon Blum has any future with the franchise.
Blum and Bartley played against each other for four years in the Western Hockey League.
Scouts saw enough of the former that he was the 23rd overall pick in 2007, and fewer than two years after the conclusion of his junior hockey career he made his NHL debut. The latter spent time in the East Coast Hockey League, the American Hockey League and in Sweden before he finally settled with one franchise, Nashville, and got a legitimate chance.
Did the Predators make a mistake when they took Blum? It is easy to conclude as much right now, but at the time the feeling was that he was a player who would be a star in the NHL. He might still be — eventually, and most likely with another franchise.
Were Nashville and every other team wrong when it did not select Bartley? Increasingly, that looks to be the case.
The point is that in a little more than a week, media, fans and even casual observers will focus on the Predators’ first pick and draw immediate conclusions about all the things that player will do for the franchise.
No one will talk about the guys who don’t get chosen. No one will make a mental note to keep an eye on this guy or that guy because three or four years from now they might really start to show some promise.
The fact is, though, those guys are out there.
For all the talk about the draft, what it has done and what it must continue to do for the Predators, the truth is that no one can say with absolute certainty how things will turn out for any of 2013’s 18-year-old hopefuls.
Sure, those who get picked likely will get opportunities earlier and more often, but the others will get their turn too — possibly even with a team that places immense value on the draft.