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Trotz’s Vision For Predators Takes Shape With ’23 Draft Class



Trotz first draft class

The Nashville Predators are 11 prospects richer after finalizing Barry Trotz’s first draft class as general manager.

The NHL sent David Poile out in Style in his final draft after a 40-year career as an NHL GM. Poile will now slide into an advisory role with the organization.

Trotz told the Predators scouting department he wanted to take “big swings,” challenging his staff to land some high-upside talent who will get fans out of their seats.

Here’s a look at the Predators’ 11-player draft class:

R1, No. 15: Matthew Wood, RW, UConn (NCAA)

Wood was the youngest player in college hockey this season, scoring 34 points in 35 games.

“He scored a point per game as a 17-year-old in college hockey this year, which is quite rare,” director of scouting and assistant general manager Jeff Kealty said on 102.5 The Game after the draft.

“We think there’s a huge amount of upside there, huge amount of offensive talent and had him ranked very high, and we’re pleased to take him.”

Wood told reporters he planned to go back to UConn for his sophomore season this fall, where its been reported he could switch to center.

R1, No. 24: Tanner Molendyk, D, Saskatoon (WHL)

Molendyk finished third among WHL defenseman in scoring with the Blades (37 points), also notching 10 power-play points. He’s a skater who can jump up on the rush and play aggressively on the forecheck when needed as a fourth forward in certain situations.

“His skating is elite,” Kealty said. “He’s one of the best skaters in the draft among the defenseman. He can play anyway you want, he can log big minutes because of the way he skates almost like Duncan Keith back in the day.”

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.

R2, No. 43: Felix Nilsson, C, Rogle Jr. (Sweden-Jr.)

After a full season in the Swedish junior league, where he scored 41 points in 36 games with Rogel BK, the Predators add a versatile European at the team’s biggest area of need.

“[He’s] just a real complete centerman,” Kealty said. “Very intelligent and plays the game the right way. Solid ability on both ends but has a great ability to makes some plays. He has a natural feel with the puck on his stick and makes player around him better.”

R2, No. 46: Kalan Lind, LW, Red Deer (WHL)

Kalan’s brother, Kole, was a forward who just played the Milwaukee Admirals in the AHL Western Conference Final. Both were taken in the second round of the NHL Draft.

Kalan scored 44 points in 43 games in the WHL and can now take his time to bolster his strengths and hone his other skills to make the jump into professional hockey. The 6-foot forward is known for his physical, grinding style of play.

“He’s got that edge to him, he’s physical and gets after people and wants to impact the game in anyway that he can,” Kealty said. “He’s almost got a little of Darcy Tucker back in the day the way he would go after people and inject energy into your team.”

R3, No. 68: Jesse Kiiskinen, RW, Pelicans Jr. (Finland Jr.)  

The Predators continued to add more Finnish flavor to their prospect pool  with Kiiskinen. He played in the U20 league in Finland with SM-sarja, scoring 43 points in 31 games.

“[He has] really good hands, really good execution ability and makes plays all over the ice and snaps pucks,” Kealty said. “A guy we had graded in the second round so when he fell to use we were really pleased with that.”

R3, No. 83: Dylan MacKinnon, D, Halifax (QMJHL)

Nashville added an old-school defender in MacKinnon — no relation to Nathan of the Colorado Avalanche — who is a prototypical stay-at-home blue-liner with smooth skating who will tenaciously defend along the boards and in the defensive zone.

“He wants to make it difficult on people but he can play the game it is today,” Kealty said. “Really good mobility. He’s a new age defender where you have to be able to move in close space and get after people.”

He got some praise from a current Predators prospect who has been his teammate the last few seasons.

“[He’s an] awesome kid,” Predators 2021 first-round pick Zachary L’Heureux told Nashville Hockey Now. “[He] plays tough, very physical. Just an overall good teammate.”

R4, No. 111: Joey Willis, C, Saginaw (OHL) 

Nashville is already familiar with goalkeeper Joe Willis from Nashville SC, but now the city has another Joe to keep an eye on. He was a consistent threat with the Spirit, scoring 44 points in 68 games this season.

“If you talked to the people in [Saginaw] they rave about his hockey sense and his instincts,” Kealty said. “Not the biggest guy but still young in his development here. The foundation is there with the hockey sense and the ability to make plays.”

R4, No. 121: Juha Jatkola, G, KalPa (SM-Liiga) 

After being passed over in the previous draft, Jatkola is joining a team that needs a new goaltender prospect after Devin Cooley announced he will test free agency and Tomas Vomacka is set to see how things pan out through the open market too.

“We had some good insight track with Janne Kekalainen in Finland  and Pekka Rinne had some good insight on him too,” Kealty said. “He’s a guy that has gotten better and better — highly competitive he’s athletic and technically sound. We just think he’s on the upper trend.”

Jatkola was the starting goalie for KalPa Kuopio in the SM-Liiga, playing in 40 games and posting a 2.16 goals-against average & .903 save percentage.

R5, No. 143: Sutter Muzzati, C, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (ECAC)

The biggest skater selected by the Predators in 2023 (6-foot-5, 209 pounds), Muzzati can use his size to his advantage while getting creative and using his skill set to be a dominant force on the ice.

“He makes plays and contributes in every situation and puts up points,” Kealty said. “He’s another guy we think will get better and better.”

R6, No. 175: Austin Roest, C, Everett (WHL)

Roest is the son of current Tampa Bay Lightning assistant general manager Stacy Roest. He scored 32 goals and 78 points in 60 games in the WHL this season — a 46-point jump from the previous year.

“He’s a self made type if guy,” Kealty said. “His dad has been in the game and knows what it’s all about. I think you can see that with the progress that he made, he’s very diligent about it. Competes really hard and has those elements that makes you believe a small player like him can make it.”

R7, No. 218: Aiden Fink, RW, Brooks (AJHL)

Fink will likely be the answer to several trivia questions asked about who was the final draft pick Poile ever made.

New Jersey Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald, who was the Predators first captain, made a trade with Nashville to allow an old friend to make his final selection. Nashville dealt its 2024 seventh-round pick.

Fink played in the AJHL last season, scoring 97 points in 54 games and was the top scorer in the league. Fink was initially supposed to go to the University of Wisconsin but he flipped to Penn State, where he will play in the fall.

“As we were coming around to the sixth round David had been talking to another team about a seventh round pick,” Kealty said. “Trotz said ‘what about Fitzgerald’ so that’s how it turned out.”

Follow Nick Kieser on Twitter: @KieserNick

(Photo via John Russell/Nashville Predators)