When the Nashville Predators traded star defenseman Mattias Ekholm to the Edmonton Oilers on Feb. 28 for defenseman Tyson Barrie, prospect Reid Schaefer and a 2023 first-round pick, the team was likely hoping it could find Ekholm’s successor with that pick.
Well, Nashville took Tanner Molendyk with that 24th overall selection, and the 18-year-old defenseman has been turning heads through the first three days of training camp.
“I see Tanner Molendyk — the way he moves and skates, they’re all very impressive,” Predators coach Andrew Brunette said. “I guess I wasn’t sure of the depth of the back-end coming in, and to see the viable options I thought the young guys were good today…There are guys every day that catch your eye. I’m new to this too and I’m not that familiar with the young guys, so it’s fun to see them and it piques your interest in your brain to watch these players and figure them out.”
While the Predators have 21 defenders at camp, only two are from the 2023 draft (Molendyk and third-round pick Dylan MacKinnon).
For Molendyk, he’s used razor-sharp reads and his blazing speed to make plays and be in the right position. With his skills, the Predators have tested him against NHLers like forward Yakov Trenin, whom he skated against in one-on-one drills on Saturday.
This was Yakov Trenin vs. Tanner Molendyk today at practice. pic.twitter.com/CspS19pSNy
— Nick Kieser 🏒 (@KieserNick) September 24, 2023
“I think my skating helps,” Molendyk said. “It’s kind of been a big part of killing those plays before you even get to the blue line. Stuff happens, guys make nice moves and I think guys have treated me well. Roman Josi has been showing me what to do, so it’s been good.”
Molendyk chuckled as he recalled being burned three times during Saturday’s skate when facing forward Ryan O’Reilly.
While he may not have been perfect, the British Columbia native has stayed true to himself in his first training camp as a pro (he signed his entry-level contract in early July before Nashville’s future stars game).
Aside from the captain imparting some wisdom, Molendyk has been picking the brain of the NHL’s all-time hits leader too.
“Yeah, [Luke] Schenn has been pretty big (in helping me),” Molendyk said. “He’s one of the best defensemen, defensively, in the league and just kind of watching how he does stuff and the way he uses his stick has been critical.”
Before coming back to Nashville, Molendyk also trained with the Saskatoon Blades, his junior league team in the Western Hockey League, at their training camp. Going into his fourth WHL season, Molendyk has logged 12 goals and 57 points in 139 games. His 37 points last season was seventh-most on the team and third-best among blue-liners.
“Just using my feet more, I think that’s going to be a big thing,” Molendyk said regarding what he can learn from Predators camp to help him next year in juniors. “Producing is going to be a big thing for me, it’s one of the downsides. I think I did a lot of skill stuff this summer, worked on that, so that’s going to be the biggest thing, just confidence and kind trying new things.”
Follow Nick Kieser on Twitter/X: @KieserNick