T he Nashville Predators did not have a selection in the first round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft on Friday night.
However, on the second day, the Predators made nine selections at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
At the end of the draft, the Predators selected 6 forwards, 2 defensemen and 1 goaltender.
Round 2, Pick 7 (#37 overall) – Left Wing – Djurgarden (Sweden) – 5’11″ – 189 lbs.
Until a week ago, Nashville did not have a second round selection, having traded it away to Montreal near the trade deadline in exchange for defenseman Hal Gill. Last week, Nashville sent goaltender Anders Lindback and forward Kyle Wilson to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for two second round selections. Thus, Nashville’s first pick of the draft was in the second round.
With that selection, the Predators chose left wing Pontus Aberg from Djurgarden of the Elitserien. Aberg was a teammate in 2011-12 of Predators prospect Patric Cehlin and trains with current Predator Patric Hornqvist.
In 47 games at the top level of the Elitserien last season, Aberg scored 8 goals and added 7 assists. However, in the past 2 seasons he was played 47 games with Djurgarden’s junior club and has scored 17 goals and added 19 assists.
“I like to shoot the puck from everywhere on the ice and I like to use my speed, too,” Aberg described his game. “I think I’m a physical player that can take shots from everywhere. The rink is smaller (in the NHL), so I think it makes it easier to get the shot off.”
Ranked #15 by the International Scouting Service and #6 among European skaters by Central Scouting, Aberg was projected by many to go in the first round.
“If you’ve seen these mock drafts, he was always taken in the first round,” Nashville Predators general manager David Poile said. “You know how it goes. Maybe we got a little lucky to get him at our pick. I don’t quite want to say that I can’t believe he was there, but I believe he was a good pick for the position we were in.”
Aberg’s hockey hero, like many young Swedish forwards, is a former Nashville Predator.
“Peter Forsberg, of course,” Aberg said. “Now I like to watch Steven Stamkos. I like (Alex) Ovechkin. I like seeing them take shots from everywhere.”
“I think (Nashville) likes my style of play and I think they needed a shooter, so it’s a perfect choice,” Aberg added.
“He has good offensive upside,” Poile said. “He’s a guy that’s a little bit like a Steve Sullivan. Our fans certainly identify with that. He’s a guy that’s very patient with the puck, holds onto it and gets a lot of offensive opportunities. Hopefully he’ll be a guy that someday can play in the top two lines.”
Aberg admitted to having a bit of trouble playing both ways on the ice.
“I’m good in the offensive zone, but maybe (I need to work) on the defensive zone,” Aberg said. “My shot and my speed are the best qualities, I think, for me. I’m a goal scorer.”
While making the Nashville roster is generally a long shot in the first season for a second round draft choice – especially when Nashville has had exactly one draft choice ever join the team in their draft year – Aberg is optimistic.
“Hopefully, I’ll make it this year,” Aberg said. “If I don’t make it this year, I’ll go back to Sweden and have a great year there and come back next year.”
Round 2, Pick 20 (#50 overall) – Center – Kelowna (WHL) – 6’0″ – 187 lbs.
With the other selection acquired in the Anders Lindback trade, Nashville selected center Colton Sissons from Kelowna of the Ontario Hockey League.
Sissons, the captain of the Rockets and of Team Orr in the CHL Top Prospects game, was ranked #26 by the International Scouting Service and #14 among North American skaters by Central Scouting. In fact, he was the only North American skater in Central Scouting’s top 15 to not be taken in the first round, potentially due to a concussion he suffered in February.
In two seasons with Kelowna, Sissons has played in 121 games, scored 43 goals and added 39 assists.
“I’d definitely classify myself as a two-way forward,” Sissons said. “I model myself after a guy like Mike Fisher a little bit. I can produce offensively, I play a physical game and I’m reliable defensively as well.”
“I don’t know a ton about Nashville, to be honest, but I’m sure I’ll find out pretty quick,” Sissons added. “I think I’m going to fit in there quite well in the next few years.”
David Poile agreed with Sissons’ assessment of himself.
“He’s probably modeled the closest to Fisher of any player we took,” Poile said. “The best description is that he’s a Predator-type of player: hard working, two-way guy, leader, winner. I mean, we like those types of players. They find a way to get into our lineups. I don’t think he’s the most blessed in overall talent and what-have-you, but I believe in overall determination he is.”
Round 3, Pick 5 (#66 overall) – Left Wing – South Shore (EJHL) – 6’1″ – 194 lbs.
In the third round, Nashville selected Jimmy Vesey of the South Shore Kings from the Eastern Junior Hockey League. In 45 games with the Kings last season, Vesey scored 48 goals and tacked on 43 assists for a total of 91 points – nearly a 2-point per game production.
“I’m a big forward that likes to carry the puck,” Vesey said. “My biggest asset is my goal scoring and my hockey sense. I like to make plays in the offensive zone.”
Vesey was not included in The Hockey News’ “Hot 100″ this season and was ranked as the #77 North American skater by Central Scouting. However, Central Scouting had him rated as #164 at the midterm, which means he improved his position by 87 spots.
“In a lot of our ratings and throughout the hockey world and things that I’ve read about, he’s come up in the ratings higher and higher,” Poile said. “The guy may be a little bit of a late bloomer this year, but big, powerful, really good skater, going to college, seems to have some really good hands, seems to be a guy that’s just getting better and better.”
Vesey will be playing in the NCAA next year with Harvard, where he plans on majoring in economics. Before he gets there, though, he believes he needs to work on his “explosiveness”.
“I think my first few strides from a standstill is the biggest thing I’m working on to transfer into college and then into pro,” Vesey said.
Vesey’s father Jim Vesey played 15 NHL games – 11 for the St. Louis Blues and 4 for the Boston Bruins. The Boston Bruins are his home team and he is a self-proclaimed Bruins fan.
As for who Vesey models his game after, it’s a player that the Nashville Predators are all too familar with.
“When I was younger, I used to look up to Joe Thornton because he was with the Bruins.”
Round 3, Pick 28 (#89 overall) – Left Wing – Portland (WHL) – 5’8″ – 165 lbs.
Late in the third round, Nashville traded their 2013 third rounder to the New York Rangers in order to move up and take left wing Brendan Leipsic from the Portland Winterhawks. Leipsic, ranked at #114 among North American skaters by Central Scouting, but at #94 by The Hockey News, scored 28 goals and added 30 assists in 65 games for Portland this season.
“We had these players bunched in this area and got the first three guys we wanted and this guy was right there,” Poile said. “They got me to (make the trade).”
“What I’ve been told is that this guy is one of those guys who is really hard,” Poile said. “He’s a little bit Tootoo-ish, a little bit Brad Marchand. I’m sure the best description is probably that he’s not fun to play against. Probably the opposition doesn’t like him too much. This is the guy you love, they hate type of thing. He’s not really big in stature, but plays really, really tough.”
Round 4, Pick 21 (#112 overall) – Center – Shattuck-St. Mary’s (HS) – 5’11″ – 165 lbs.
With their first pick of the fourth round, Nashville selected yet another forward.
Center Zachary Stepan was taken from Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault, Minnesota. Shattuck-St. Mary’s is notable for producing such NHL players as Sidney Crosby, Ty Conklin, Patrick Eaves, Joe Corvo, Ryan Malone, Kyle Okposo, Zach Parise, Drew Stafford, Jonathan Toews and Zachary’s cousin Derek Stepan.
In the 2011-12 season, Stepan played 50 games with Shattuck St. Mary’s, scoring 22 goals and tacking on 43 assists. In his two seasons with the varsity team, he played in 104 games, scored 47 goals and added 82 assists for a total of 129 points.
Stepan’s numbers are impressive, but perhaps the most notable part of his selection was something he said during his postdraft media session.
“I’m a big Nashville fan, so it was really awesome to hear my name called by them,” Stepan said. “Hopefully in a couple of years or however it goes, I can really help them out.”
With a relatively new franchise in a non-traditional market, a draft selection declaring himself a Nashville fan without any enticement from the team or media is definitely a rarity – if not altogether unheard of.
“I watch a lot of hockey – NHL Network is my best friend at home,” Stepan said. “I really like the way (the Predators) play. I love watching Mike Fisher play, Pekka Rinne and all of those guys. They are a really fun team to watch play because they work so hard and have so much talent. I kind of jumped on the bandwagon.”
“I actually watched them the last few years a lot,” he added. “Of course I’m a big Rangers fan, too, watching Derek play. I’m actually just a big Mike Fisher fan. I love watching him play hockey. Now that they do so well, it’s just fun to watch. I’ve always kind of watched them, but with how well they do and how well they did in the playoffs, you just kept watching.”
Watching the Predators has given Stepan a pretty clear idea of the sort of play expected of young Predator forwards and he feels that he can fit that mold. Before joining Ohio state in the 2013-14 season, Stepan will spend a year with the Waterloo Black Hawks of the United States Hockey League as he works to improve his game to take it to the next level.
“He’s got some good size and good skating,” David Poile said. “Hopefully he’s got a little bit of an offensive upside. He’s going to Waterloo next year then he’s going to school, so he’s got lots of time to develop. I think later in the draft, that type of a growth projection is good for players like that.”
“I feel like I can fit in as a power forward and work hard like the rest of them do,” Stepan said. “I think I’ll fit in perfectly for that and hopefully work my way up into a scoring role or a playmaking role or wherever the coach wants me to play.”
“I work hard,” Stepan added. “My work ethic is there and very consistent. I think the game really well and have good vision of the ice. I’m a good playmaker – I can move the puck and get into open areas. If I’m put in a scoring position, I can score because I’ve got a good shot. It just depends on where the coach wants me to go.”
When it comes to the player – outside of his cousin – that Stepan tries most to emulate, he has found one in a fellow Shattuck-St. Mary’s alum.
“I really consider myself a Zach Parise guy,” Stepan said. “I like to model my play after Zach Parise because he looks like he’s working his butt off out there all the time, but he can also score big goals and make big plays, so I like the way he plays. And he’s a former Shattuck guy, too.”
As for the city of Nashville? Stepan is equally as excited to check it out.
“I know it’s a big country city,” Stepan said. “I have some friends down there that go to Shattuck. I’m a huge country fan, so I’m really excited to go down to that city and see how it is. A lot of people say that everyone is really nice down there. I’m really excited for the Southern hospitality.”
Round 4, Pick 27 (#118 overall) – Defenseman – HIFK Jr. (Finland) – 6’2″ – 222 lbs.
Shortly after Stepan’s selection, Nashville was on the board again. For the first time in the 2012 Draft, the Predators shifted away from the forwards and selected a blue-liner – Mikko Vainonen of HIFK’s junior team in Finland.
Vainonen is already a sturdy 222 lbs as an 18-year-old draft pick. He self-describes himself as a stay-at-home defenseman.
“I like to play a simple game and give easy passes to the forwards, stay in position, play hard on the puck,” Vainonen said.
“He’s a big defenseman, not unlike the kid you’re going to see pretty soon that we just signed – (Joonas) Jarvinen,” Poile said. “I like the size. (Assistant General Manager) Paul (Fenton) and (Chief Amateur Scout) Jeff (Kealty) liken him to (Mattias) Ekholm, but the big factor is the size. He’s a very smooth skater.”
As for his shortcomings, Vainonen pinpoints that he needs to work on his speed and power in order to make it into the league.
“I need more power in my legs and to get faster,” Vainonen said. “I need to improve my skating and my slapshot.”
Vainonen needs that power and speed if he wants to emulate his favorite player.
“I like Chris Pronger,” Vainonen said. “I like the way he plays his game.”
Round 6, Pick 13 (#164 overall) – Defenseman – Huddinge Jr. (Sweden) – 6’4″ – 187 lbs.
Nashville had three sixth round selections – the final three selections of the team’s draft.
With the 13th pick of the round, the Predators selected their second defenseman of the draft, taking Sweden’s Simon Fernholm. Fernholm spent the 2011-12 season with Huddinge’s junior club, but will be joining Frolunda for the 2012-13 season.
Outside of development camp, however, David Poile cautions not to expect too much out of the young defenseman.
“He’s got size and he’s a really good skater,”. Poile said. “These guys are going to take some time to develop.”
Round 6, Pick 21 (#172 overall) – Right Wing – Farjestad Jr. (Sweden) – 6’2″ – 196 lbs.
With the next pick of the sixth round, Nashville took yet another Swede – Max Gortz of Farjestad.
In 28 games with Farjestad’s junior club in 2011-12, Gortz scored 17 goals and added 18 assists for 35 points. He also played 18 games of major league hockey with Farjestad’s senior club, scoring 2 goals with 3 assists.
“He’s a very hard player,” Poile said. “He’s a Predator-type of guy, very hard working. He’s got some good skills. The thing the scouts said the most is that this guy is a hard player to play against.”
Round 6, Pick 28 (#179 overall) – Goaltender – Plezen (Czech) – 6’4″ – 187 lbs.
With the Predators’ final pick of the Draft, they went down a familiar route.
With the 28th pick of the round, Nashville selected goaltender Marek Mazanec from Plzen of the Czech League. While Mazanec is a relative unknown, he possesses a quality that the Predators highly value in goaltenders – size. At 6’4″, Mazanec takes up a very large portion of the goal.
“He’s got some pretty good size – I hope that doesn’t come as a surprise to you,” Poile said. “We’re all hoping the same thing – that we got the guy in the (sixth) round that nobody else got.”