Perhaps no team in the National Hockey League last season received a bigger boost from its rookies and prospects than the Nashville Predators.
Playing a league-leading 12 rookies — including, at one point, six in one game — the Predators got to show off the aptitude of their scouting department as the team qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs on the backs of players like Eeli Tolvanen, Alex Carrier, Tanner Jeannot and Yakov Trenin.
Because the Predators have been one of the better drafting teams in the league, their NHL roster is starting to reap the benefits.
The 2021 NHL draft, which takes place July 23 (Round 1) and July 24 (Rounds 2-7), will be significant for the Predators for two reasons. First, as many as six players who would have been AHL regulars in a normal season could be on the team's opening-night roster come October. Second, Nashville still hasn’t found that true, elite scoring forward — although Eeli Tolvanen and Philip Tomasino both look promising — and secondary scoring continues to be the team’s Achilles heel.
For the fourth time in franchise history, the Predators will be picking with the No. 18 selection in the first round of the 2021 NHL draft. The previous three times the club chose 18th overall, it didn’t work out so well: Ryan Parent (2005), Chet Pickard (2008) and Austin Watson (2010) all could be considered first-round flops.
Last week, we ranked the Predators' top organizational prospects and broke them up into performance tiers. Nashville’s depth on defense — Alex Carrier, David Farrance, Jeremy Davies, Frederic Allard and Tyler Lewington — is miles ahead of the offense.
Aside from Tomasino and Rem Pitlick, the Predators don’t have anyone in the pipeline who could realistically contribute in the next two years. That said, of the players expected to be available when Nashville is on the clock, expect the team to look for an impact forward. Listed below are five prospects the Predators could consider at pick No. 18:
Cole Sillinger, C, Sioux Falls-USHL
Aside from being the son of former Predators center Mike Sillinger, Cole Sillinger makes sense for a number of reasons. The 18-year-old scored 24 goals in 31 games in the USHL and was more than a point-per-game player. He fills the secondary scoring need and could step into a main roster spot in two years.
Here’s what NHL prospect guru Corey Pronman of The Athletic said about Sillinger: “[He’s] a smart player, who can make seam passes consistently and make creative plays due to his great hands and offensive IQ. He can play on the perimeter due to his vision and a great one-timer/wrist shot combo, which he gets off with velocity and accuracy. He can also play inside. He wins battles, gets to the net, is reliable defensively and doesn’t shy from playing physically.”
Matthew Coronato, RW, Chicago-USHL
If the Preds are looking for a pure goal scorer, Coronato fits the bill. He nearly had a goal per game in the USHL this season (48 in 51 games) and he can seemingly score from anywhere on the ice (think 2016-18 Viktor Arvidsson). He has an elite wrist shot and could be an asset on the power play in a few years.
What Pronman said about Coronato: “Coronato is an undersized forward with a lot of skill who can make plays with pace… He’s able to create controlled entries with his speed and skill, and make tough plays to his teammates on the move. Coronato is also able to play the half-wall on the power play and find seams as well as finish from distance.”
Isak Rosen, RW, Leksands-SHL
Explosive. Dynamic. Impactful. These are the most commonly used adjective that scouts use to describe Rosen’s style of play. He has top-end offensive instincts to go along with great speed and an excellent shot. He’s got a similar motor to Arvidsson and Rocco Grimald, but at 156 pounds, he’ll need to bulk up if he wants to stick in the NHL.
Pronman said Rosen "looks like a dangerous scorer at wing" and is creative and able to regularly beat defenders. Speed is a key asset for him "which should translate to higher levels."
Fabian Lysell, RW, Lulea-SHL
One of the more skilled forwards in the draft, Lysell has top-end speed and quick hands. Scouts rave about his puck skills and how crafty he can be with the puck on his stick. Lysell does have high upside, which is why he could be gone by the time the Predators pick. But if he’s still available, this one should be a no-brainer.
Daniil Chayka, LHD, CSKA-KHL
Because this is the Predators we’re talking about, we can’t completely rule out a first-round defenseman. While the cream of this year's crop — Owen Power, Brandt Clarke, Luke Hughes and Simon Edvinsson — will all be gone by pick 18, Chayka could be the best of the rest. He’s a strong, two-way defender with good size (6-foot-3, 187 pounds) and skating ability.
What Pronman said about Chayka: “The offense in his game will never be flashy other than his hard point shot, and while I think he’s smart and quick enough to play well at faster paces, his subpar world juniors wasn’t inspiring. With his size and feet, he’ll make enough stops to justify not having a ton of offense.”
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