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Which ‘Swing-For-The-Fences’ Players Could Barry Trotz Target?



Barry Trotz could target USNTDP forward Gabe Perreault

Nashville Predators general manager-in-waiting Barry Trotz made it clear from Day 1 that finding a franchise-changing forward was at the top of his to-do list.

Outgoing GM David Poile did his part to give Trotz the ammunition to do just that, arming him with 20 picks over the next two drafts, including 13 in the 2023 draft with seven selections in the first 83 picks.

With the draft a little over three weeks away, the Predators scouts have their marching orders: find the next Dylan Larkin (No. 15 overall in 2014), not the next Luke Kunin (No. 15 overall in 2016).

“I said to our scouts this year take some swings,” Trotz said. “I want some high-end swings. If we’re going to strike out, strike out with someone who might be a high-end guy. I can find the third- and fourth-line guys all day long; we can do that. Let’s swing for the fences, let’s get some guys that will get you out of your seats. …The amateur scouts are loaded with the ability to take those swings, so I want four top players in the next two drafts coming out of this. That’s a big ask, but that’s what we need.”

Though the Predators have struggled to find that elite, homegrown, top-end scorer in their first 24 draft classes, the team may have finally shattered that ceiling with Joakim Kemell — a consensus top-10 prospect in the 2022 draft class who fell to Nashville at No. 17 overall.

While the sample size is small, Kemell has flashed elite scoring ability, tallying 14 goals in 28 combined AHL games, including eight goals (second-most in the AHL) and a league-leading four power-play goals in the AHL postseason. Kemell very well may serve as the blueprint for identifying and acquiring those swing-for-the-fence type players that Trotz desperately desires.

At 15, if (there) was (a player) identified as franchise-changing, he wouldn’t be going at 15,” Predators assistant GM/director of scouting Jeff Kealty said. “But that’s our job to see through it, to try and project. I think there will be a lot of players available to us at that point that we view as a guy that can really develop and we always say you want to out-draft the slot that you’re in.”

It should be ostensibly obvious that the Predators have two clear avenues to explore.

Option A is a super aggressive approach that involves trading up into the first 10 picks for a top-of-the-draft talent like Leo Carlsson or Matvei Michkov, should they fall beyond the top five picks.

While it’s unlikely that Carlsson makes it past San Jose at No. 4, Michkov is a puzzling case. He’s under contract in the KHL until the 2025-26 season, so any team selecting him has to be OK with waiting three years for him to come over to North America. Several reports have indicated that because of that, teams picking in the No. 3-7 range may choose to take players who can contribute more immediately and Michkov could slide down the draft board.

The 18-year-old Russian is the type of player — an elite goal scorer with top-tier finishing ability, fantastic stick and puck handling skills and elusive skating ability — that Nashville has never had a shot at before because its only picked in the top five of the draft twice.

If Michkov is that franchise-changing scorer — and many scouts agree that he is with some comparing him to Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin — Trotz has the No. 15, 24, 46, 47, 68, 79 and 83 overall picks, plus three second rounders in 2024 and two first rounders in 2025 to entice a team like Montreal, Arizona or Philadelphia that pick in the No. 5-7 range, respectively, to make a deal.

Option B — the more likely course of action — involves the Predators staying at No. 15 and hoping a top scorer falls to them the way Kemell did last year. While it’s not a bad strategy, it’s also not fool-proof either.

However, the Predators could luck out for the second straight year if, say, Gabe Perreault or Oliver Moore from the U.S. National Team Development Program or WHL forward Brayden Yager fall to No. 15.

Perreault’s 132 points in 2022 set a new USNTDP record, and he scored more single-season points with the USNTDP than Auston Matthews, Jack Hughes, and projected 2023 top-10 pick Will Smith. If Trotz wants offense, Perreault is his guy.

Moore wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize either. While he didn’t fill up the scoresheet as much as Perreault, his 31 goals and 75 points is nothing to bat an eye at. A projected top-six center, Moore is the fastest centerman in the draft with an uncanny ability to effortlessly change speed and direction, and a deceptively good shot with a quick release.

Yager was at one point projected to be a top-10 pick but his draft stock has taken a small hit over the last few months. Still, 6-foot center totaled 62 goals and 137 points over the last two seasons with Moose Jaw. He has a dangerous shot with pinpoint accuracy, and his ability to find open teammates for prime scoring chances in underrated.

“There’s clearly a much-talked about top-end of the draft,” Kealty said. “We’re not all the way up there, but we think (the draft class is) deep all the way through where we pick at 15. We think there’s a lot of depth and we have a lot of bullets (to move up or add quality depth).”

Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_

(Photo of Gabe Perreault. Credit: Rena Laverty/USA Hockey’s NTDP)

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