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Ranking the Preds’ all-time draft classes

When it comes to small-market teams like Nashville, good drafting is paramount. Led by GM David Poile, the Predators have done a great job over the years of pinpointing talent in the early and later rounds, and then developing those prospects into NHLers.

With the draft coming up this week, here is a ranking of how each of the Predators’ past draft classes have/will put their stamp on the team. Is there any doubt as to which draft class should be at the top?

(You can view the Predators’ complete draft history here.)

1. 2003
Notable picks: Ryan Suter (1st round), Kevin Klein and Shea Weber (2nd), Alexander Sulzer (3rd)

The 2003 draft, held in Nashville, was a game-changer for the organization. Ryan Suter and Shea Weber have been anchors of the defense and franchise for the last five years. Weber has been nominated for the Norris Trophy in each of the last two seasons, while Suter could become the first $100 million defenseman this summer. They have also combined to make four trips to the All-Star Game.

When it comes to top defense pairings around the NHL, Suter and Weber are the cream of the crop. When you add the second-round pick of Kevin Klein, those three have made up half of the team’s defense corps for the last four seasons. In the last two seasons, they have been the top-three ice time recipients – and Poile was able to grab them all in the same draft. Not many other general managers can say that.

2. 2004
Notable picks: Alexander Radulov (1st), Mike Santorelli (6th), Pekka Rinne (8th)

As for the 2004 draft, it’s all about Pekka Rinne. The goaltender has picked up the nickname ‘The Eraser’ from the coaching staff due to his miraculous saves that help nullify the defense’s mistakes. Rinne is now a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist and has grown into one of the NHL’s most popular netminders. Rinne was also the first of the Big Three to sign an extension (seven years, $49 million) with the Predators.

The only other player from the 2004 draft class that made an impact here was Alexander Radulov. In his time with the organization, though, there were more off-ice happenings despite the hype surrounding his talents.

3. 1998
Notable picks: David Legwand (1st), Denis Arkhipov (3rd), Karlis Skrastins (9th)

The organization’s first draft class wasn’t as impactful as 2003 and 2004, but it did play a role in helping the Predators get over the hump pre-lockout.

David Legwand, the club’s first-ever draft selection, has been a mainstay in the Predators’ lineup for the better part of 12 seasons. He is the franchise’s all-time leader in games played (846), goals (188), assists (313) and points (501). Meanwhile, Denis Arkhipov and Karlis Skrastins were solid role players as the Predators went from expansion team to playoff contender.

4. 2008
Notable picks: Colin Wilson and Chet Pickard (1st), Roman Josi (2nd), Anders Lindback (7th)

Now we’re getting to the point where potential plays a big role in these rankings. Colin Wilson has yet to reach his potential and Roman Josi has a long way to go, but both have a good chance of turning into really good players here in the coming years. Wilson could be a mainstay in the top-six at forward; Josi’s ceiling is a top-pair defenseman by NHL standards.

Anders Lindback, who was just dealt to Tampa Bay for three draft picks, was a solid backup to Rinne the last two seasons. With each passing season, the more it doesn’t look like Chet Pickard will live up to the billing of being a first-rounder. I don’t need to remind Predators fans that Edmonton’s Jordan Eberle was available when Pickard was selected 18th overall.

5. 2009
Notable picks: Ryan Ellis (1st), Taylor Beck and Michael Latta (3rd), Craig Smith and Mattias Ekholm (4th), Gabriel Bourque (5th)

Talk about potential – this 2009 draft class has already shown oodles of it, and it very well could rise up this list quickly.

Ryan Ellis, Craig Smith, Mattias Ekholm and Gabriel Bourque all made their Predators debuts in 2011-12. Ellis had some growing pains, but proved that he could play in the NHL; Smith raised a lot of eyebrows before falling off in the second half; Bourque was a key player down the stretch for the Predators.

If Ekholm shows some patience for the North American game, he could make an impact. Taylor Beck and Michael Latta aren’t far behind in Milwaukee.

6. 2001
Notable picks: Dan Hamhuis (1st), Jordin Tootoo (4th), Mikko Lehtonen (9th)

The Predators drafted two players in 2001 that turned out to be more-than-useful.

The first was Dan Hamhuis, who was a steady presence and main cog on the blue-line for six seasons until he signed with Vancouver in 2010 as a free agent. Hamhuis led the Predators in ice time in both 2005-06 and 2007-08, and is also third in franchise history for games played by defensemen.

And of course, we all know about Jordin Tootoo. The energetic winger has been a fan favorite ever since he arrived in Nashville in 2003.

7. 1999
Notable picks: Brian Finley (1st), Adam Hall (2nd), Martin Erat (7th)

This draft class has the biggest first-round bust in the team’s history. Goaltender Brian Finley, selected sixth overall, played in just two games for the Predators and gave up 10 goals in 107 minutes of action. Yikes.

However, there were a couple of quality picks in this class. First of all, Martin Erat was a steal in the seventh round. Like Legwand, Erat has been a mainstay in the Predators’ lineup for quite some time now. Erat, who is second to Legwand in the four aforementioned statistical categories, has been a consistent producer when healthy.

Adam Hall was serviceable in a third-line role over his three full seasons with the Predators.

8. 2005
Notable picks: Ryan Parent (1st), Teemu Laakso (2nd), Cody Franson (3rd), Cal O’Reilly (5th), Patric Hornqvist (7th)

Patric Hornqvist, two years removed from a 30-goal season, was a steal with the 230th and final pick of the draft in 2005. The rest of this draft class was never able to stick in Nashville.

In two separate stints with the Predators, Ryan Parent never played one NHL game. Cal O’Reilly and Cody Franson, each traded last calendar year, weren’t missed by the Predators in 2011-12. Teemu Laakso, who ultimately got lost in the defensive fold, has taken his talents to the KHL.

9. 2007
Notable picks: Jonathon Blum (1st), Jeremy Smith and Nick Spaling (2nd), Ryan Thang (3rd)

The jury is still out on the 2007 class. Nick Spaling has played the most games (179) with the Predators thus far. Jonathon Blum took a step back in 2011-12 and has been surpassed in the depth chart. Jeremy Smith could be a future backup to Rinne, but that’s not a certainty.

10. 2000
Notable picks: Scott Hartnell (1st), Matt Hendricks (5th)

Scott Hartnell broke into the NHL as a baby-faced 18-year-old with the Predators. He had a roller coaster ride en route to becoming a power forward that reached the 20-goal mark twice as a Predator. That was before he was traded to Philadelphia in 2007.

11. 2006
Notable picks: Blake Geoffrion (2nd), Mark Dekanich (5th)

2006 was the first year that Poile did not possess a first-round pick. He dealt the pick to Washington at the trade deadline that spring in exchange for Brendan Witt. Blake Geoffrion and Mark Dekanich, the two notables from the 2006 draft class, are no longer in the organization.

12. 2002
Notable picks: Scottie Upshall (1st)

Scottie Upshall showed a good amount of potential in 77 career games with the Predators – the problem was, those 77 games stretched out over a four-year span. He could never stay healthy (still can’t) and was included in the 2007 blockbuster trade that brought Peter Forsberg to Nashville.

Incomplete: 2010 and 2011

Obviously, it’s too early to draw conclusions from either of the last two draft classes.

Austin Watson, the team’s first-round pick in 2010, had a breakout campaign for London in the OHL this past season. Watson was even included on the Memorial Cup All-Stars roster last month. He is expected to start next season in Milwaukee.

The Predators had two second-round picks last summer, one of which was used on Swedish goaltender Magnus Hellberg. After a solid season with Frolunda over in Sweden, Hellberg will be playing in North America in 2012-13.

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