The Nashville Predators came into the NHL Entry Draft after losing two key forwards in Viktor Arvidsson and Calle Jarnkrok and a stud on the blue line Ryan Ellis. Everyone knows that they struggle with forwards, and they have been continuously looking to address that very issue. They did that through the first round of the 2021 Draft, picking two players with excellent upside and value. What exactly can these players bring to an NHL lineup?
It’s time to add another Russian to the prospect pool. Fyodor Svechkov joins Yaroslav Askarov, Egor Afanasyev, and Semyon Chistyakov as premier Russian prospects looking to stake their claim in the Predators lineup one day. I wrote about the possibility of Svechkov falling to the Predators already, and if you haven’t read my stuff before or seen my tweets, I’m a massive fan of his game. There is a lot to like about his NHL projectability and what he can bring to the table as either a center or a wing.
Related: THW’s 2021 NHL Draft Guide
Svechkov has been praised as arguably the best defensive forward in this entire draft. The analysts on ESPN believe him to be like Phillip Danault–someone who can take hard matchups and be extremely effective in reducing the opponent’s ability to score. His mind for the game is incredible, and it’s extremely rare we, as hockey fans, rarely get to watch someone capable of reading almost every play that comes his way like he is. He doesn’t make mistakes in his own end. As for his offense, his toolkit is fairly underrated. He might be strongest in his own end, but his ability to create tight areas with soft hands and good coordination bodes well for his future. Some scouts view him as primarily defensive, but I believe that there is more to him offensively than first meets the eye.
Svechkov does have his flaws, of course, and they can be a bit concerning at times. His skating isn’t the greatest when taking tight turns or working on his edges, and his offensive game could use a bit of refining, specifically his shot. However, those areas of the game can be tweaked and fixed through time in both the KHL and the AHL, if necessary. This is evident in his point totals in the VHL, where he scored 15 points in 38 games. However, his team was awful, and his linemates were not helpful, so it’s hard to fault him for the bad performance, especially when you look at his production during the World under-18 Championships, where he almost singlehandedly drove his line and put up over a point per game with 10 points in 7 games.
The one important thing to note about Svechkov is that his floor is fairly high. Even if he can’t make the league with his offense, he will make it because of his defense. At worst, he looks to be a depth guy that can kill penalties and play in a defensive role. At best, he’s a consistent and reliable middle to top-six contributor that can play on both the penalty kill and even the powerplay. He’s a safe pick, and with the reputation that first-round Predators’ forwards have, it’s probably the best pick at the 18th (technically 19th) spot.
As Predators fans were starting to turn in for the night, a trade was announced. David Poile wasn’t done. The Carolina Hurricanes traded their first-round pick (27th overall) for two of the Predators’ second-round picks (40th and 51st overall). There were many options to choose from, but ultimately Poile went with Zachary L’Heureux from the Halifax Mooseheads.
L’Heureux brings sandpaper and edge to a Predators organization that is missing it dearly. He has been compared to Brad Marchand because of the way he behaves on the ice. He got suspended four times due to various reasons that range from fighting after the original altercation to flipping off fans and taking his helmet off before a fight. He’s a thorn in your side to play against, not because he’s a complete heel, but because he’s also a skilled player. His relentlessness on the forecheck is top-notch, and when he was asked by the Predators’ scout J-P Glaude why they should choose him, he had this to say per Brooks Bratten:
Needless to say, the kid is confident in his abilities, and it shows up in the scoresheet too. In the 2020-21 season, not only was he excellent at forechecking and being a pain in the rear end, but he also scored at above a point per game. He tallied 39 points in 33 games and was one goal shy of the 20-goal mark. His offense is there, his shot is an absolute cannon, and he adds another element that very few do. Whenever I think of L’Heureux, I think of Marchand, Tom Wilson, and primarily Matthew Tkachuk. All three are great agitators that prove their worth by throwing the opponents off their games and back up their talk with great production.
However, being a character can create problems, and discipline is something that needs to be fixed. Being suspended four times in one season is unacceptable, no matter how much importance you place on playing a chippy game. Flipping off fans is easily preventable and something that comes from being mature. The good thing is that Karl Taylor in Milwaukee could be exactly what L’Heureux needs to get his act together. It’s also good that his suspensions weren’t a result of predatory hits and instead were because of fighting and things that coaching and good mentorship can fix. There has been some concern with his defensive game and his willingness to try, as some scouts have noticed that he glides around a lot during the play, but good coaching can fix that. There aren’t a ton of drastic problems in his game.
Overall, I like the selection. There is something within L’Heureux’s game that isn’t present in either the Predators’ every night lineup or the prospect pool. However, to truly be on board, I need to see tangible improvement in his actions. I probably wouldn’t have traded up to choose him, but clearly, I’m not as high on him as Poile, and the scouting department is.
The Predators Are Winners of Day 1
It was a big first day for the Predators, and I really like the value they extracted with their selections. Some projected Svechkov to around 13th overall, and the lowest I saw was 20th. They picked him right in the range that most expected him to go, and he got drafted to a team in the Predators with a culture focused on two-way play. As for L’Heureux, the Predators picked him in the range that some scouts and analysts had him going. The skill is there, and if he can learn to calm himself down and become more self-aware of his actions, it could be a very impactful pickup in the future. Two skilled centermen that provide strong offense, and in Svechkov’s case, elite defense is the perfect way to start the draft.
The “competitive rebuild” is in full swing, and these two picks are just fuel to an already stoked fire. Day two will be absolutely crucial and don’t be surprised if Poile tries to trade up for a second-rounder after losing both of his in the L’Huereux trade.
Jeff is a consistent source for Predators content here at The Hockey Writers. He enjoys watching all sorts of hockey from juniors to the pros, and playing hockey for his high school and local teams in Nashville. He’s a big proponent of hockey analytics, and you’ll often see him using lots of statistics and data to back up his main talking points. You can find his work here, or check out his contributions on his own Substack, or at Last Word on Hockey and On the Forecheck. Lastly, you can listen to him on the Youth Movement Podcast presented by On the Forecheck or the Triple Shift Podcast. For any inquiries about interviews or questions about statistics, analytics, or just general hockey opinions you can message his twitter, @jjmid04.