Less than 24 hours after the NHL Draft lottery, Nashville Predators general manager David Poile said he had received a phone call from another team asking what it would take to get the fourth overall pick in this month’s draft.
A couple weeks later, the topic was once again brought up to Poile.
“It’s going to be a very steep price [if we trade the pick],” Poile said on May 9th. “We’ve openly talked about that with our staff and we threw around a couple ideas. I don’t want to say no to anything. We’re looking to improve our club, period. If that means something we can put on our team presently, that might be something worthwhile to do.
“As I sit here today, absolutely we’re going to draft. But I know stuff is going to come our way a couple days before the draft or right on the draft floor. Hopefully we’ll be prepared for that.”
Assistant general manager Paul Fenton basically said the same thing in Sunday’s The Tennessean.
By no means is Poile shopping the pick, but he hasn’t closed the door on trading it either. As he has said before, he wants to keep all his options open; he wouldn’t be doing his job if he didn’t do so.
The Predators don’t want to be in this position again, where a tumultuous season results in a top-five draft pick. Although it worked out for Pittsburgh and Chicago after years of losing, Poile doesn’t want to build his team that way.
That’s why this draft is so important. And unless he’s moving up a spot or two in the order, that’s why he shouldn’t trade the pick.
If there was ever an ideal year to be in position to draft in the top five, this would be it. The draft class is loaded with elite talent, something the Predators haven’t had much of throughout their history. Sitting at fourth overall, they will likely snag one of the consensus top-five prospects: Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Drouin, Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon and Valeri Nichushkin.
“The thing to me that makes them elite is not just ability; obviously the top end of the draft will have skill. But these guys are big-time competitors. They want to make a difference in the game when it matters most,” said Craig Button, a former NHL GM and scout and current TSN analyst.
“When you’re trying to project players to the NHL, you can look at talent and say we can develop that guy, but these guys are difference makers – big-time difference makers. When you can not only get talent into your lineup, but guys who want to drive the bus, you have to be all over them.
“I think there will be a lot of teams trying to get into the top four of five, but I don’t think you’re going to see any movement because I don’t think teams can pass up on elite competitors or difference makers.”
Button took it one step further when he was asked whether the Predators should entertain offers from other teams for the fourth overall pick.
“When I look at the Nashville Predators, they are a team that needs a centerman. They need an elite No. 1 center,” he said. “Teams aren’t trading No. 1 centers. At the end of the day there’s only one way to get them, and that’s in the draft. Getting four players that aren’t difference makers and are just prospects at another pick somewhere? Sorry, I want MacKinnon or Barkov. I’m a big quality guy, not a quantity guy. I want real quality. I don’t care how many assets I can get in terms of draft picks for players. I want quality. If you’re talking about a No. 1 center or defenseman, you’re going to have to blow my doors off.”
Whether or not the player the Predators select at No. 4 turns out to be a game-changer at the NHL level obviously remains to be seen. However, that player will immediately become the best prospect the Predators have ever had. Coupled with Filip Forsberg and solid depth in the pipeline, that player will give Poile and company assets to build around for the present and future.
That’s why you don’t dangle the No. 4 pick for trade (unless it means getting Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin in return, but even Lloyd Christmas had a better chance of dating Mary Swanson than either of those Penguins stars do of being traded). That’s why you use that pick on a player you believe will be a difference-maker for the next decade-plus.
Trading up to improve the draft position would be a positive, depending on the price they’d have to pay. But using the No. 4 pick as trade bait for a roster player may not be the wisest move for the long haul. And trading down doesn’t solve anything, either. Sure, the Predators would acquire more picks but depth in the system isn’t the main issue – the lack of top-end talent is, and they can get that coveted top-end talent by staying right where they are.