The Nashville Predators selected 9 players between the second and sixth round of the 2012 entry draft. The class is solid if unspectacular, but the Predators did fill some needs. The Predators selected 6 forwards, 2 defensemen, and a goalie.
Perhaps the player selected with the best upside is the first pick by the Predators, 37th overall, Pontas Aberg, a 5’11″, 198 lb. left wing that is a very good skater and puck handler and has a good shot. Many pundits believed that Aberg could have been a first round pick, and this selection by the Predators has the potential to eventually emerge as an impact offensive player.
Here is the evaluation of Aberg from Hockey Prospectus:
Pontus Aberg has had a nice year over in Sweden from a counting numbers perspective for an 18-year-old, logging over 10 minutes per game, which is good for a player his age in that league. He got off to a hot start, but injuries impeded him somewhat in the second half of the year. Aberg is a plus skater with very good acceleration off his first few steps and a pretty dangerous top speed. He also has a plus shot which will drive a decent portion of his offensive value and allow him to maintain an above league average shooting percentage over his career. His shot is pretty accurate with good technique on his release, his one-timers fly off his stick with remarkable speed, and Aberg has the makings of a dangerous power play triggerman. Aberg has great hands and can show some flash in that area in terms of being able to make great individual plays in creating space for himself. His true strength isn’t about being a dangerous puck controller, though, as it is playing a speed game and getting the puck to the net. At times, he can move the puck around at an average level, but he doesn’t overly impress with his vision. Aberg also needs to work on his defense, although with his on-ice work ethic, there is reason to believe the finer points of his defensive game will come along. Aberg’s physical game also likely tops out as below-average because of his size but he does work hard and has a gritty edge to his game.
With the 50th pick and their second in the second round, the Predators took 6’1″ RW Colton Sissons from the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League. Sissons appears to be a project that could be a third or fourth line forward. Again, from Hockey Prospectus:
Sissons has had a fine second WHL season, and while he’s a decent prospect, it’s hard to see him having legit offensive upside at the highest level and he seems more like a bottom-six player. He can certainly skate and shoot, though, which will generate some offense. Sissons moves at a fine level showing solid speed; he looks technically sound and projects to certainly skate with pros. However, despite being a good skater who can distribute the puck fine, it’s hard to see him creating a whole lot of offense by himself. He isn’t the most gifted puckhandler or creative player. Sissons has fine hockey sense, though, and makes a lot of decent plays but doesn’t overly impress when it comes to scoring chance creation. He is a pretty gritty player who does a lot of good work along the boards, plays a nice power game and has a pretty bulky frame that should translate to the pro game well in two years. While I haven’t really seen him shoot that much, WHL scouts I’ve talked are impressed with his finishing ability.
In the third round, with the 66th selection, the Predators selected 6′ 179 lb LW Jimmy Vesey from Harvard University. The evaluation of Vesey from Hockey Prospectus:
The son of former minor pro player Jim Vesey has scouts saying he has the same quality puck skills and hockey sense as his father, but not the replacement level skating that kept him out of the NHL. Vesey has a good possession skill base between his hands and playmaking skills. He has very desirable hockey instincts in terms of how he anticipates the play well off the puck and the way he sees lanes and plays develop when he has the puck. I’d say his puck skills are above average and may even flash a tick higher although he does showboat a bit with the puck here and there. Vesey’s skating has improved somewhat from last year when he went undrafted, although I’d say it is still slightly below average. He’s not a bad skater though, and he has a mechanically sound stride with decent power off his extensions, he just doesn’t generate a good top speed. There are some concerns from the odd scout about his physical game and work ethic, but the majority of those I’ve heard from do not seem concerned with that aspect of his game. Vesey is a potential sleeper in the draft with legitimate scoring upside.
Also in the third round, with the 89th pick, the Predators selected 5’8″ center Brendan Leipsic from the Portland Winterhawks. Leipsic has good speed and skill, which combined with a good work ethic and grit make up for his lack of size. He has the potential to be a play making forward in the mold of Cliff Ronning.
The fourth round saw the Predators select C Zach Stepan with the 112th pick. The 6′ 172 lb. center is the cousin of the New York Rangers Derek Stepan and recently finished at Shattuck St. Mary’s. Stepan is a very good skater and strong on the puck. His vision and ability to create opportunities with the puck are strengths to his game.
With the 118th pick in the fourth round, the Predators drafted defenseman Mikko Vainonen, a 6’3″ 207 lb.from the Finnish Elite League. Hockey Prospectus has this to say about Vainonen:
Vainonen is not a really gifted from an offensive standpoint as he won’t be the kind of player who makes a seeing eye pass coming out of his own end, or leads a rush up the ice, but he’s a solid, mobile defender who will deliver on some lower-tier value. Vainonen has good size at about 6’3″ and over 200 lbs, he uses his frame well and as displayed by his weight, he has a decent amount of muscle and strength for a player his age. Vainonen is also pretty mobile for a big defender, showing average to solid-average speed and four-way movements that is quite good for a player his size. He closes his gaps well, is smart with his positioning and stickwork, and overall has the build of an effective defensive defenseman. That being said, Vainonen has a little bit of touch with the puck, but it’s more being able to make basic maneuvers or the odd move as opposed to above-average skill. I also don’t see Vainonen as anything beyond a basic puck mover.
Round 6 saw the Predators draft three players: 6’4″ defenseman Simon Fernholm (164th pick) from Frolunda of the Swedish Elite League; 6’2″ RW Max Gortz (172nd pick) from Farjestad in Sweden; and 6’3″ 185 lb. goaltender Marek Mazenac from HC Plzen in the Czech League.
Hockey Prospectus again provides this evaluation on Fernholm and Gortz. On Fernholm:
A big stay-at-home defenseman. Fernholm has great reach and plays a very sound game in his own zone. Not very spectacular. Tries to make simple plays. Is mobile for his size, but could still work some on his skating. Should play more physical with the size advantage he has. (EP 2012)
A big and strong forward. Has pretty good feet and challenges his opponents. Has a good release and solid technical skills. (EP 2011)
The Predators have added some depth to the organization and some young players that can (hopefully) develop into solid contributors to the team. All of the draftees are expected to attend the Predators prospect development camp, and it will be interesting to see these young men on the ice.
The strength of the Predators organization has been the ability to develop young players in their system. With this draft, the Predators have added players that have the potential to be solid contributors in the future.
About the Author: A native Nashvillian that grew up with minor league hockey, I'm now a devoted Predators fan and NHL follower. I have had the privilege of allowing my children to grow up watching the Predators and seeing the joy on their face when they are at a game. By day, I am a partner in an independent investment management company in the Nashville area. I played collegiate football and graduated from the University of South Carolina and graduated from the LSU graduate School of Banking. So yes, there are real true southern hockey fans in these non-traditional markets.