The NHL Draft order is not set yet, but the Nashville Predators are more than likely to draft around the 18th selection. After a season filled with ups and downs, including a coaching change in early January, the team will be able to add a top-tier talent to their 23rd-ranked system, according to The Hockey Writers‘ Mid-Season Farm System Rankings. They have one of the best defensive cores in the league with Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm, but struggled offensively once again this season, even after signing center Matt Duchene last offseason.
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They lack depth at the blue line in their prospect pool, especially with Dante Fabbro graduating to the NHL, but this could be an excellent chance to add to their forward depth. They currently have two forwards ranked inside The Hockey Writers Top 100 Prospects with 2019 first-round pick in Philip Tomasino ranked 36th and 2017 first-round pick Eeli Tolvanen ranked 40th.
Even though they may want to add to their blue line with this pick, they may choose to go for the best player available, especially if Jake Sanderson is gone. At the 18th selection, that will very likely be a forward. When the Predators pick again early in the second round, there will be a plethora of defenseman available so they can address the blue line. Therefore, here are the five best forwards that the Predators should target in the first round (in alphabetical order).
Jarvis may be what the Predators are looking for, especially with John Hynes now at the helm. He has installed a faster-paced offensive system that is more predicated on creative, open ice, north-to-south movement rather than Peter Laviolette’s east-to-west possession style of play. In March 2020, NHL.com draft analyst Mike G Morreale had glowing remarks about Jarvis’ ability:
Speedy, creative winger who thrives off of the rush. Was downright dominant in the final 40 games of the WHL season. Converts at a high-level thanks to his IQ and willingness to get greasy. Will transition extremely well.
The Portland Winterhawks right-winger had a solid start to the season in the Western Hockey League (WHL) before the cancellation of the season, but was absolutely dominant in the final 26 games with 63 points. He clearly possesses the skating ability, with that quick change of direction tendency that makes it hard to defend. He needs to add to his frame over the next few years, but he is a sniper on the wing that has drawn comparisons to Brendan Gallagher.
NHL Central Scouting Final Rank: 13
The Hockey Writers Top 400 prospects for May: 19
Elite Prospects Rankings: 27
Lapierre is one of my favorite players in the draft. He may have the highest upside of any first-round talent and is the classic high-risk/high-reward player, but teams may be weary of him after he suffered three concussions over the course of the last year. After looking like a legitimate top-12 draft prospect after winning the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) Rookie of the Year in 2018, his draft stock took a hit due to injury concerns. The Predators could take advantage of his fallen stock and land a player they potentially had no shot at selecting this time last year.
The 6’0”, 180-pound, left-handed center is a fast, smooth skater with great feel for the puck and the ice around him. He has the vision and play-making creativity that top-line centers possess, and even though he may have a pass first mindset, Lapierre has the ability to be a 25-plus goal scorer in the league. The Predators need more high-ceiling prospects in their system and he may be the steal of the first round if he drops this low.
NHL Central Scouting Final Ranking: 10
The Hockey Writers Top 400 prospect for May: 20
Elite Prospects Rankings: 14
This past season started off phenomenally when he was the focal point of the Drummondville Voltigeurs before being traded to the Chicoutimi Saguenéens. After being dealt, his production fell off with 18 points in 16 games, compared to 42 points in 26 games with Drummondville. He was also silenced in the World Junior Championship in December of 2019 with zero points.
Regardless, the right-winger is a strong skater, who battles for the puck as he is an excellent forechecker. His quick hands leave defenders confused as he can dazzle around them to get off his quick release. Mercer may not have as high of a ceiling as Jarvis or teammate Lapierre, but he certainly has top-six winger upside that could benefit the Predators in all situations.
NHL Central Scouting Final Ranking: 28
The Hockey Writers Top 400 prospect for May: 14
Elite Prospects Rankings: 28
The left-winger from the Hamilton Bulldogs is just 17 years old and hasn’t even played a full season in North America. To start the season, he opted to play for the HC Litvinov in the top men’s Czech League. While in Europe, he was often hard to get a great feel for because of his team’s style of play. The analytics website scouching.ca commented about Mysak in its November 2019 NHL Draft preview:
Mysak is younger (than Rodion Amirov), but I think gets undervalued due to his team. Litvinov is not a great modern team, often valuing dumping and chasing pucks and appear to be a team plagued by innate panic. Mysak falls into those habits, but the talent is blatantly there for him to be something much more. He’s an effective member of the team, but I think he could be a very useful offensive piece. He’s just hard to get a read on when he gets so few good looks.
Coming to North America, he still needs time to develop and adapt to a more physical style of play, but has shown off his goal-scoring prowess with the Bulldogs, scoring 15 goals and 25 points in 22 games. The young winger is an unorthodox skater, but his offensive game has the potential to be dangerous.
He has the eye for scoring as his quick release and wrist shot are top-tier, while using his vision to create high-danger scoring chances for his teammates. He will definitely need more time in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) to improve parts of his game and adjust to North American play, but Mysak has the potential to be a snipe-shooting winger in a top-six role.
NHL Central Scouting Final Ranking: 15
The Hockey Writers Top 400 prospect for May: 17
Elite Prospects Rankings: 24
The Predators have truly been in a never-ending search for top-six centers as they have traded for Ryan Johansen, Kyle Turris, and brought in Duchene. Johansen has not progressed as expected, Turris is merely a third-line center at this point in his career, and Duchene failed to live up to expectations in his first season with the team. Even after drafting Philip Tomasino last year, the one position you can never have enough of in the NHL is center. Connor Zary may be exactly what the team needs. In April of 2020, Cam Robinson of Dobber Prospects lauded Zary’s abilities:
A puck-possession pivot who clicked well above a point-per-game this season. Great speed, deft puck skills, and equally dangerous with the shot and pass. An elder statesman.
He has the craftiness of a top-line center with good vision, while being a net-front presence, with and without the puck, and plays a 200-foot game that is reminiscent of Bo Horvat. He dominated the WHL this past season with 38 goals and 86 points with the Kamloops Blazers. Zary has been mocked all over the board in the first round, but certainly could fall to the Predators.
Deep Draft Class Gives Predators Options
With the uncertainty of when the draft will take place, and teams having less time to fully evaluated players, the higher likelihood that a player with recent injuries such as Lapierre or Mercer falls to them at 18. This is a very deep draft class, with first-round talent that will be going in the second round. Therefore, the Predators have several different options going into draft day.
The first option would be to trade up. Having two second-round picks, they have the ammunition to move up a few spots to snag a player they fall in love with. The second option would be to stay put and draft the best player available, regardless of position. Lastly, they could choose to move down in the draft, and acquire more picks to boost their bottom-10 farm system.
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This is an incredibly deep draft and likely none of the players available at 18 would be ready within the next three-plus years. This would give them the time to groom and develop some high-quality talent that would be available between the late first and third rounds. Whichever direction they decide to go, they are well-positioned in the draft.