August has been an exciting month so far, whether it’s the Calgary Flames locking up Jonathan Huberdeau and signing Nazem Kadri to a seven-year, $49 million deal or the Boston Bruins bringing back the gang by signing two pivotal pieces of their center depth to one-year contracts. Amidst the Montreal Canadiens acquiring Sean Monahan and a conditional first-round pick in 2025, the Nashville Predators announced some big news of their own — they will host both the 2022-23 NHL Awards and the 2023 NHL Entry Draft.
Since their inaugural season in 1998, the Predators have hosted the NHL Entry Draft just once, back in 2003. Two decades later, the city of Nashville will fill Bridgestone Arena with draft tables and a stage meant for welcoming the future of the NHL. The draft returned to its original format of selecting players in front of a live crowd in 2022, after a two-year stint of virtual drafts, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
From 2020, the first virtual draft in the history of the league, to today, the Predators have accumulated a surplus of forwards with potential and some hidden gems that could make their way to the team’s blue line in the future. 20 years ago, Nashville’s first draft opened the door to a powerhouse blue line, and it all happened in front of their fans.
Ryan Suter Selected 7th Overall
The 2003 Draft may go down as one of the best classes of all time, and Nashville made waves by selecting Ryan Suter seventh overall. He was the first defenseman selected, ahead of Braydon Coburn and Dion Phaneuf, who directly followed Suter. At 6-foot-1 and a pinch under 200 pounds, he was poised to be an important future contributor to the Predators’ defensive core.
It took Suter just two seasons to crack the NHL, spending one year with the University of Wisconsin and another with the American Hockey League’s Milwaukee Admirals. He finished 15th in Calder Trophy voting for rookie of the year, and his impact propelled the team to make the playoffs in five of the seven seasons he wore the Predators’ jersey. Despite becoming a household name and winning an Olympic silver medal in 2010, Suter parted ways with the team after spending his final three seasons as an alternate captain and representing the team at the 2011-12 NHL All-Star Game.
Kevin Klein Selected 37th Overall
Two picks after the team selected Konstantin Glazachev, a Russian winger who never made it to the NHL, Nashville grabbed another defenseman. Kevin Klein had size and strength and was considered a dependable blueliner capable of playing on the penalty kill. It was evident in what direction management was heading; they wanted their team to be big and tough to play against. Klein was a bruising defenseman capable of putting up offensive numbers, as evidenced by his 44 points in 67 games with the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors of the Ontario Hockey League during the 2002-03 season.
It took Klein a few years to find his footing in the NHL, combining for 18 games in his first three seasons with the Predators. He became a fixture in the lineup in the 2008-09 season, serving the team for six seasons before being dealt to the New York Rangers for defenseman Michael Del Zotto in 2014. Nashville now regrets that decision after Klein put up back-to-back 26-point seasons with the Rangers, helping his new club make the playoffs in all five seasons he was there.
Two of the Predators’ three early selections in 2003 made the NHL and helped the club become a serious contender, but it wasn’t until pick 49 that the team landed one of the best players to ever wear Nashville colors.
Shea Weber Selected 49th Overall
Management may have missed out on future Hall-of-Fame forward Patrice Bergeron, who Boston selected four picks earlier, but the Predators landed another defenseman who is sure to see his number retired one day. Shea Weber was a 6-foot-4, 230-pound blueliner who hit like a truck and was feared most for his booming slap shot. Clocking in at speeds of over 100 miles per hour, his bomb of a shot was not only heavy but accurate, and the opposition had two options — block it and face potential injury or get out of the way.
A six-time All-Star, three-time Norris Trophy finalist, and two-time Olympic gold medalist, Weber’s track record of success is one Stanley Cup shy of perfection. He spent 11 seasons with the Predators, scoring 15 goals or more in eight of those campaigns and serving as the team’s captain in his final six seasons. After shattering bones with his blast of a shot, hearts were broken all over Nashville when he was dealt to the Montreal Canadiens for P.K. Subban, ending his long tenure with the team. The man mountain was a dominant force in Montreal, aiding them to a Stanley Cup Final berth in 2021.
His career may be over due to a myriad of injuries suffered over a 16-year career, but Weber’s name will often be referenced in discussions about the best players ever to play for the Predators. 20 years after Nashville first hosted that storied draft, fans are still talking about Weber’s time with the team, and fans can only hope that the next draft held in their town will see similar results.
Covering the Nashville Predators. I work for a company called SPORTLOGiQ and have loved the game of Hockey for over three decades. I’m obsessed with advanced analytics and pair that with my love for the eye test – i.e. watching the games (I DO that too!)