The Nashville Predators didn’t leave the first round of the 2023 NHL Draft without a grabbing a defenseman.
With Saskatoon Blades blue-liner Tanner Molendyk still on the board, the Predators snatched up the 18-year-old with the 24th overall pick. He’s the first defenseman Nashville has taken in the first round of a draft since Dante Fabbro in 2016.
Speaking to reporters after his selection, Molendyk said he models his game after two of the top young defensemen in the NHL — Shea Theodore of the Vegas Golden Knights and Thomas Chabot of the Ottawa Senators.
“[I try to play with] a lot of speed and a lot of transition,” Molendyk said. “I think I transition the puck really good, and one thing I bring is a lot of speed.”
“It made sense if we could get a defenseman to get a defenseman,” Predators general manager David Poile said. “That was kind of the plan going into it.”
Molendyk scored 37 points in 67 games with Saskatoon in 2022. A mobile, puck-mover, Molendyk tends to use his feet in a lot of situations to create plays on the ice.
The #Preds take defenseman Tanner Molendyk from the Saskatoon Blades No. 24 overall.
One of the more mobile guys who was on the board playing defense.
— Nick Kieser 🏒 (@KieserNick) June 29, 2023
Molendyk teased that he’s looking forward to testing himself against Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor Mcdavid, but he mentioned that he “wouldn’t like to be roasted by that speed.”
As for next season, the British Columbia native stated he hopes to work more on his offensive game when given the opportunity, stating he wants to make the most of it as he rises up through the system.
“A full well-rounded, 200-foot game — that’s the biggest thing (I want to work on),” Molendyk said. “I’ve got to iron some things out to be able to make it first.”
“Molendyk is stronger,” Poile added. “He’s not the biggest defenseman, but he’s a young kid who’s bigger, stronger and he’s only going to get better and stronger and (we bet) that will be his ticket to get to the National Hockey League.”
During his junior league days, Molendyk has faced many talented players including No. 1 overall pick Connor Bedard, No. 13 overall pick Zach Benson, No. 14 overall pick Brandon Yager, and Riley Heidt, a likely early selection in Round 2.
Molendyk credited his family for his success so far in his career, mentioning the rush of emotion they all expressed the moment after his name was announced over the arena speakers.
The electricity among Predators fans was also palpable to Poile and incoming GM Barry Trotz.
“I’m not going to lie, I don’t even remember walking down the stairs,” Molendyk said. “This place is awesome. Just walking around and seeing the people singing and all the people screaming every night it seems like a lot of fun here.”
Nashville has 11 more picks at its disposal in Rounds 2-7 on Thursday.
Follow Nick Kieser on Twitter: @KieserNick
(Photo of Tanner Molendyk via Nashville Hockey Now)