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Five Best Hidden-Gem Draft Picks In Predators History



Former Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne

As the 2023 NHL Draft approaches, the Nashville Predators’ 13 selections are the most picks among the league’s 32 teams. The last time Nashville held that many picks was 20 years ago when the draft was last in Music City.

Looking back at the depth of the Predators’ selections under outgoing general manager David Poile, there have been some notable hidden gems that have paid off for the franchise.

Incoming GM Barry Trotz will take his first crack at the draft this summer alongside a few players-turned-staffers who he coached during the team’s inaugural years.

Here’s a look at some selections — past and present — taken by the Predators outside the first two rounds that ended up panning out:

Tommy Novak – Round 3, No. 85 overall, 2015 

The most recent player from Nashville’s 2015 draft class to make his NHL debut, Novak reached the NHL full-time after skating in 157 AHL games. The 26-year-old center was called up on Dec. 19 and never looked back after making his season debut against the Edmonton Oilers.

He scored 11 points before earning a one-year extension on Feb. 8, and then led the team with 32 points in the final 31 regular-season games. During his time in Nashville, he had the second-most power-play goals (12) and boasted a team-best 18.3 shooting percentage.

Mattias Ekholm – Round 4, No. 102 overall, 2009

One of the glue guys in the locker room for Nashville for the last 12 years, Ekholm played 719 games for the Predators before being moved to the Edmonton Oilers prior to the trade deadline this spring.

The Predators took a flier on the then-19-year-old defenseman out of Sweden who wasn’t quite finished developing into the player Nashville anticipated it would eventually get. Ekholm was sent back to Sweden in 2011 after playing two games for the Predators, under Trotz, and returned for the 2012-13 season, where he dressed in 59 games for the Milwaukee Admirals.

By the time the following season began, Ekholm found his footing in the lineup. What he lacked in scoring he made up for in strength and positioning. Ekholm tended to always be the guy in front of the blue ice protecting his goaltender at stoppages, and he regularly led warmups on a nightly basis.

Patric Hornqvist – Round 7, No. 230 overall, 2005

Mr. Irrelevant from 2005 made his mark in the NHL, winning two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins before being dealt to the Florida Panthers in 2020.

However, being the final pick in 2005 didn’t come with an easy road to the NHL. Hornqvist returned to play 47 games in the SEL for the 05-06 season, and two seasons later landed on his feet in Nashville. After training camp, he dressed in 28 games for the Predators during the 2008-09 season and subsequently spent 49 more games with the Admirals that year.

In his first full season in Nashville, Hornqvist scored a team-high 30 goals and leading the Predators to a 100-point season. After four more years in Nashville, he was dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins along with Nick Spaling for James Neal. He ended his Predators career with 106 goals, 216 points and 23 game-winning goals.

Just this season, the 36-year-old Hornqvist suffered a concussion knocking him out of the lineup for the rest of the year, missing the Panthers’ Stanley Cup run. He’ll be a free agent this season, as long as he doesn’t hang up the skates.

Pekka Rinne – Round 8, No. 258 overall, 2004

Rinne’s resume speaks for itself, as does the statue outside Bridgestone Arena that signifies the impact he made on the city of Nashville.

Drafted in a round that no longer exists, Rinne took his time to marinate in North American before making his Predators debut in 2005 against the Chicago Blackhawks — a game in which he made 35 saves and earned the win. Rinne’s first year as the full-time starter came during the 2008-09 season when he won 29 games with a 2.38 goals-against average and .917 save percentage.

After being named a Vezina Trophy finalist as the NHL’s best goaltender four times, Rinne finally won the award after his performance in the 2017-18 season. The 40-year-old former net-minder ranks first in Predators history in games played (683), goals-against average (2.43), save percentage (.917), wins (369), and shutouts (60).

Rinne also scored a goal on Jan. 9, 2020, against the very team he debuted against in 2005. He retired on July 13, 2021, leaving the starting duties to a young Finnish net-minder (see below).

Juuse Saros – Round 4, No. 99 overall, 2013

The heir apparent to Rinne’s throne, Saros is coming off a 33-win season where he led the NHL in goals-saved above replacement (46.7). Since taking over as Nashville’s full-time starter during the 2020-21 season, Saros ranks third among NHL goaltenders in wins (71) and save percentage (.918). However, he has just six shutouts in that time.

Coming to North America was a lot more of a seamless transition for Saros as his first season in Milwaukee saw him post a 29-8 record, and he was named to the AHL’s All-Rookie team in 2015-16 as a result.

Saros sat behind Rinne until the 2019-20 season when John Hynes took over as head coach. The 28-year-old net-minder compiled a 104-64-11 record under Hynes, good for the second-best mark in the NHL. Saros is under contract with the Predators for two more seasons at $5 million per year.

Follow Nick Kieser on Twitter: @KieserNick

(Photo: John Russell/Nashville Predators)