The Nashville Predators have been meaning to restock their prospect cupboard for several years now. This past weekend at the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, they took huge steps towards doing that.

The Preds had eight draft picks entering the draft weekend, though they ended up trading away two of those in order to move up. They finished the weekend with six new prospects in their system, including three forwards and three defensemen:

  • #19: Fedor Svechkov (F)
  • #27: Zachary L’Heureux (F)
  • #72: Anton Olsson (D)
  • #117: Ryan Ufko (D)
  • #124: Jack Matier (D)
  • #179: Simon Knak (F)

While none of these guys are immediate “start from day one” guys, they all have promising attributes and career paths that should lead to successful NHL careers.

It’s impossible to say what these players will become in the NHL, and equally as impossible to say how the Predators will develop them. But based on scouting reports of at least two of their draft picks, it’s clear what the Predators are attempting to add to their roster.

Preds draft defensive forward with top pick

Their top selection was forward Fedor Svechkov, a Russian center who checks in at 6 feet tall and around 185 pounds. Most scouting reports describe Svechkov as a “defensive minded” center who is tough on the puck, has great vision and passing skills, and enough offensive skill to track as a 2nd line center in the future.

Svechkov was potentially a top 10 pick by some prospect ranking services, so the Preds were somewhat lucky to land him at #19. Here’s what Eric Dunay at On The Forecheck had to say about the Preds’ top selection:

“Svechkov is a really excellent first-round pick for this franchise. There were some other players available that have higher offensive ceilings, but Nashville is gaining a near-guaranteed second-line center who’s already excelling on defense and has some of the best passing skills in this draft class.”

The Predators just lost a great defensive player in Calle Jarnkrok, and they’ve routinely looked out of sorts in the defensive zone, especially among their forward corps. Svechkov should help correct some of that if he develops as expected.

Zachary L’Heureux will be a name Preds fans remember

But the Preds weren’t done there. They traded their two 2nd round picks (#40 and #51) to move back into the 1st round to draft forward Zachary L’Heureux at #27.

Folks, this is a name you are going to hear in the future.

Zachary L’Heureux (pronounced “La-Roo”) is just shy of 6 feet tall and weighs in at around 196 pounds, but he plays much bigger than that. He’s a competitive, physical forward with a knack for getting under the skin of his opponents.

L’Heureux had several suspensions this past season in the QMJHL, mostly for fighting, but also for some unsportsmanlike behavior. For example, he once spit towards an opponent (he has since apologized) and once he flipped the middle finger to the crowd. While he does need to reign in some of that emotion if he’s going to have a long NHL career, you have to like the “never back down” attitude of a guy who will need to prove himself worthy of NHL minutes soon.

Proving himself shouldn’t be hard for L’Heureux. He is not just a “goon on skates”… he has real skill with the puck. He had 39 points in 33 games for Halifax last year. He has said he models his game after Mathew Tkachuk in Calgary: a player that will go toe-to-toe with anyone but also put the puck in the net with regularity.

This quote from Zachary L’Heureux stands out to me:

That’s the kind of competitive edge and confidence that the Preds need. Wanting to be tough to play against isn’t enough… you actually have to be tough to play against.

It sounds like L’Heureux is a guy that can do that.

I should also point out that trading up into the 1st round is not something the Preds have done often. The fact that they sent two 2nd rounders to move up to get L’Heureux says a lot about how much they value what he brings.

Defense, size round out the rest of the Preds’ draft

Most players drafted after the 2nd or 3rd round are NHL long shots. The odds of any of these guys panning out are slim, but not impossible. Remember that Viktor Arvidsson was a 4th round pick back in 2014.

Here’s a quick rundown of the rest of the Preds’ draft:

  • Anton Olsson is a big (though not huge) Swedish defenseman and almost entirely a one-sided one. His offensive upside is non-existent. From Dunay’s article mentioned earlier: “At the pro level, Olsson will provide nearly all of his value in the defensive zone.”
  • Ryan Ufko is “potential blueline gem” that many scouts had listed as a top-60 pick. The Preds getting him at 117 seems like a great value pick.
  • Jack Matier is probably the least likely of the Preds’ picks to hit, but he does have size: 6’4″ and 205 pounds. This just adds to the trend of what the Preds are looking for this offseason.
  • Simon Knak is a Swiss forward with some offensive upside. He finished 2nd in points on the Portland Winterhawks this past season, collecting 29 points in 24 games, but likely a bottom six projection.

Overall, I think you have to say the Nashville Predators crushed this NHL Draft. Most draft experts have given the Preds high marks on their haul this weekend, and I would agree. They had a clear vision for what they wanted to add to their ranks: size, physicality, competitiveness, and defensive-minded players who have the confidence to win battles when it counts.

— Featured image via Mile High Hockey —