Now that the expansion draft fiasco has come and gone, it’s time for the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. The fluidity with this draft class has brought a ton of speculation from fans, media, and scouts everywhere. Many players have risen, and many more have fallen over the course of a bizarre year brought to you by the Coronavirus. All of this means that the Nashville Predators could get a player at 18 that should maybe go earlier. Of course, with the draft history that general manager David Poile has, he may select none of these players. However, it would be unwise, in my opinion, not to pick one of them if the opportunity arises.
Let’s get it out of the way; Aatu Räty’s fall from grace is nothing short of spectacular. At one point, he was considered the top player in the upcoming draft, but due to some underwhelming production, he’s slipped in rankings across the hockey world. He was putting up ridiculous numbers in the U-20 Finnish league two seasons ago. Still, since being promoted to the Liiga, where the competition is notably harder, he notched a measly six points in 35 games in 2020-21. The season before, he posted four points in 12 games. He was even cut from the Finnish World Junior Championship team roster this winter. It has not been a forgiving year for him overall. Although the point totals are definitely not what you want to see from a player that used to be considered a consensus top-three pick, there are some reasons I think he could be an excellent pickup for this Predators team.
The point totals aren’t there, but the skill is. That would be the best way to describe what Räty has done over the last two seasons. He has made some plays that require mountains of skill to pull off, but it doesn’t go into the box score because a teammate failed to convert or Räty himself failed to put the puck in the net. His skill with the puck is excellent, and his hands in tight areas look to translate well to the NHL. He has a good enough shot, but his bread and butter is rush offense and finding pockets of space in the offensive zone to exploit the defense. He’s also a solid defender, and his ability to pickpocket opponents through stick lifts is a skill that could also translate well.
However, there are reasons why he fell so far. The first one that comes to mind is his intensity level during games in the Liiga. Although he wasn’t given the greatest deployment to help his stock rise, it’s hard to ignore a lot of the mindless gliding we saw at times during games. Of course, this issue can be easily fixed. However, it is something that scouts take notice of during their evaluations. Another issue is his skating form paired with his decision-making. Because he’s an excellent rush leader, skating is one of the most important parts of his game, and his form isn’t traditional. He is effective, but development coaches might see his form and find some problems that might lead them away from selecting him.
As for his decision-making, some of the passes he makes can be completely boneheaded. The same can be said about some other decisions with the puck in the offensive zone. He makes more good choices than bad, but the bad ones can be excruciatingly hard to watch.
There is a lot to like about Räty’s game, and I would love it if the Predators picked him because I think he has top-six upside with the correct development. A head coach in Milwaukee like Karl Taylor–someone that focuses on a player’s ability to play in both ends before addressing their strengths–would be a perfect fit for honing Raty’s game as he did with Predators’ Finnish sniper Eeli Tolvanen.
Logan Stankoven is a polarizing player among scouts and draft analysts alike. Some people believe he should be a top 12-15 pick in the draft, while others can see him falling to the late-20’s. The main reason is his height. Standing at 5-foot-8 puts him at a disadvantage to other players in the draft, even if he might be more skilled. However, since the Predators have shipped off a tiny winger with explosive skating and a history of great goal-scoring, why not try to pick another one up? It’s the perfect storm.
Stankoven has played a total of 72 games for the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL and has racked up an impressive 59 points, including 36 goals. He didn’t get a lot of playing time in the WHL this season due to preparation for the under-18 tournament, in which he scored over a point per game with eight in seven games, with half of them being goals. Not only is he a player with astronomical offensive capabilities, but his defense shouldn’t go unnoticed either. He’s a scrappy winger that pressures pucks with an urgency you can’t find in every player. He’s an extremely competitive player with some quirks to his game that make him even more interesting. For example, he has a hunched back when he skates, which can throw defenders off their game. You’d think that his form hinders his acceleration, but it’s the exact opposite.
He’s an entertaining player to watch, and his shoot-first mentality is exactly what a team like the Predators could use in their forward group. He’s really creative with the puck on his stick, and his ability to drive to the net cannot go understated. There is a lot to like about him. However, no player is perfect. As much as the skating form might not hinder his ability to hit top speed, it is still a concern. Skating with a hunch in your back doesn’t bode well long-term, and it’s probably best that he finds a way to reduce it or eliminate it. His size is a different story, and it would be beneficial for him to gain some muscle mass before he hits the NHL. He’s skilled, but there are limitations that only he has to deal with because of his stature.
It would be fascinating to see this guy play with Philip Tomasino and Tolvanen. Tomasino brings the skating and playmaking skill; Tolvanen brings the shot; Stankoven is a solid mix of both and somebody that can bring a defensive game as well. He isn’t afraid to get to the net or shoot from a distance, and with years of maturity in the minor leagues, he could be a threat in no time. Even if the Predators don’t pick him, he will someday be a great player in the NHL.
Fyodor Svechkov is another player that I’ve seen up and down draft boards across the internet. Some love his skillset and have him in the top 12. Others have him slightly lower towards the 20th pick, which is right in the Predators’ range. Svechkov has some of the best instincts in the entire draft, and he’s highly touted for his two-way play. He could be noted as a primarily defensive forward, but his offensive tools are extremely strong.
Svechkov’s point totals won’t jump off the screen at you. He scored at a point per game in the MHL with 15 points in 15 games, but in the VHL, he wasn’t even at half a point per game. However, he did participate in the U-18 tournament with the Russian team and scored over a point per game with 10 points in seven games. His body of work when looking at his box score numbers can be a bit puzzling. Nonetheless, after watching film on this young player, he has loads of talent that could push him into a consistent NHL role with any team that drafts him. His hockey sense is among the best in the class, and his ability to create with the puck is among the best as well. Pair that with his incredible defensive abilities, and you have the making of a great two-way forward in the lineup. He doesn’t cheat his matchups, and his knack for scanning his surroundings before making a defensive play is a great habit.
There are some concerns with Svechkov that pertain to his skating, particularly his edges and turning. He has a good first step, and his wide stance assists his top speed and gliding, but his turning is far too slow, and his radius is too wide most of the time. Another negative is his shot. KHL and AHL coaches can obviously refine it, but it’s something that many scouts have expressed concern about over the last few months and since the big U-18 tournament. His eagerness to shoot the puck or move it off of his stick without scanning for options has also been a concern that people have brought up. Obviously, a player with the mind that Svechkov possesses should be keeping the puck on his stick as much as possible. If he shoots a second or two earlier than he should, it’s not a good sign.
As much as his shot and skating might hinder his offense, I still see some excellent upside. I love what Svechkov brings to the game with his mind and defensive ability. Considering the Predators just lost a winger that was included in the Selke conversation by many, Svechkov wouldn’t be a bad replacement on the wing. There is some stuff that Svechkov can work on clearly. Although, the upside and potential are there. If he can refine his skating and work on his shot, he could become a legitimate two-way threat in the NHL. Many view him as a safe pick because he does have a mind that not many players possess, and I’d agree with that assessment. If the Predators can grab him at 18, I would be ecstatic.
Which Player Would I Like to See the Predators Choose?
Full disclosure–I love all three of these players for numerous reasons. They all bring unique traits to the game and contribute to the Predators roster in various ways. If all of these players were available and David Poile had to choose one of them, I’d like to see them choose Logan Stankoven.
I’ve been high on Stankoven since I wrote about him in a Predators News & Rumors piece in late June. I absolutely love his scrappiness and willing attitude to get in the dirty areas at his size. Not only that, but he has an offensive prowess that the Predators desperately need. Any time this team–one with minimal offensive contributions from its forwards–can acquire a young player with scoring instincts, they should do it without hesitation. We all know that generating offense is their weakness, so combatting it with young, energetic players with a shoot-first mentality like Stankoven is perfect.
He’s an incredibly fun player to watch on a nightly basis, and the Predators have had their fair share of “short kings” in recent years. It might take a few years to see him in the NHL, but playing the waiting game could very well be worth it for a player of his caliber.
Jeff is a consistent source for Red Wings and Wild content at The Hockey Writers. He was formerly a member of the Predators writing team, and he enjoys watching all sorts of hockey, from juniors to the pros. Jeff enjoys playing for his high school and local teams in Nashville as well. He’s a big proponent of hockey analytics, and you’ll often see him using lots of statistics and data to back up his main talking points. You can find his work here or check out his contributions on his Substack, Last Word on Hockey, On the Forecheck, and Puck Empire. Lastly, you can listen to him on the Youth Movement Podcast presented by On the Forecheck or the Triple Shift Podcast. For any inquiries about interviews or questions about statistics, analytics, or just general hockey opinions, you can message his Twitter, @jjmid04.