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Things that Robert is thinking about that keep him from accomplishing anything.

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Saturday, June 21, 2003
NHL Draft 2003
I spent the better part of today attending the NHL 2003 Entry Draft here in Nashville. The announced crowd was over 11,000. Not too shabby. We had worse attendance some nights in December before the January-February rush to .500.

If I get a chance this weekend, I may post my review on the whole first round. For now, I'll just review the draft itself and the Predators selections through the 2nd round.

The Draft
The NHL draft is cooler than the other drafts for several reasons. First, compared with the NFL, it's a 1000 times faster. Nothing infuriates me like waiting the full 15 minute allotment for the first pick in the draft, who signed with the team before the draft. Ditto for subsequent teams when they know who has gone before. The NHL limits teams to 5 minutes per selection (with a t.v. fudge factor and, I'm not kidding, a "time out" process that was used more than once to exceed the limit).

Second, all the teams draft in one place. Wayne Gretzky is sitting on the concrete floor of the Gaylord Entertainment Center with all the other schmoes from his organization and every other organization in the NHL. For those of you viewing at home, this has to be a godsend: you're not subjected to the coach and GM's cliches for "why did you pick this guy?" ("He has tremendous upside. He was the best player on the board. He plays with an edge.").

Third, because the draft takes place in an arena, every invited player--and hockey invites roughly the full first 3 rounds--plus almost their entire families show up. It's like a high school graduation ceremony for these kids, one in which the names are read in something other than alphabetical order so that you wonder if somebody transferred your name to the "repeat 12th grade" list. Even the kids who don't go in the first round get to come down on the floor, get a jersey, and meet the whole scouting department. The NBA by contrast invites maybe a dozen players, sequesters them from the world except for that glimpse when the curtain is pulled and the player steps out of the modified green room in the most outrageous suit imaginable. Come to think of it, sequestering them is good.

Not everything is great. While it's neat to have the GMs announce the picks instead of the commissioner (as in other sports), the early announcements take a little while to get through because they have to praise the host city, host team, their own team, their own host city, the league, the league champions, the league runners-up, the inventor of the vulcanization process by which we get hockey pucks, the makers of hydrogen and oxygen without which we could not have water to freeze, and so on.

All in all though, they moved pretty quickly, completing the first round in about 2:45, even with a handful of trades and the announcement that Roger Neilson died, which sobered the mood.

The crowd got into it pretty well. They booed the teams in the Predators' division plus the other big market clubs (NYR, PHI, etc.). We got to see all the NHL hardware--and the NHL gives out more awards than any sports league in the world--on display. And everyone was polite to the draftees, even after the tedium of seeing these kids slap on their jersey and hug the office staff for their team.

The highlight for the hometown crew was the Preds' selection of Ryan Suter. It was nice to be making a pick early, but the crowd seemed a little extra enthusiastic over Suter because of his bloodlines. If only we were drafting racehorses. I hope he works out. When you have no history of your own, anything that connects you to the league's history takes on greater importance. If they put on a player's bio that he used one of Wayne Gretzky's old sticks, it would be a blurb in our media guide.

Predators Picks
Rd 1: #7 Overall: Ryan Suter, D, US Developmental League
He rated between 5 and 11 overall on different boards and among the top 3 defensemen in the draft. The Predators need a lot, and defense is one of those things. The probable departure of Cale Hulse and possible departure of Bill Houlder means relying on the few possible minor leaguers at Milwaukee (Dan Hamhuis, Tomas Kloucek) to step up and see continued improvement in players like Mark Eaton. Andy Delmore is not likely to be one of those step up guys defensively.

I'm intrigued by the idea of drafting an American-born high school player. Suter is not technically a HS player because he has been playing for the developmental league, but he hasn't been competing in college or in the major junior leagues which is where the best young North American talent plays. Perhaps my memories of Bobby Carpenter's poor development with the Caps scarred me, but I say you're asking for trouble taking one. Just like taking high school pitchers in baseball. Likewise, I wonder about Los Angeles taking Brian Boyle, from St.Sebastian's H.S. in Massachusettes.

Taking him is especially interesting given that Braydon Coburn and Dion Phaneuf were available. Coburn has size, and Phaneuf charged up the board, earning comparisons to Scott Stevens (another Capitals scar). My guess is that Suter is a safe pick: he plays well at both ends rather than specializing in one or the other; he provides instant history and media attention; and, he may take less time to develop, if exposure to an NHL family is indeed beneficial in that way. (Could be just another scouting myth.) If there's one thing the Predators can be counted on to do, it's to pick the safe player.

So, we'll hope he turns out great, because we have no choice. He's ours.

Rd 2: #35 Overall: Konstantin Glazachev, Yaroslavl, Russia
The classic productive Russian goal scorer (Federov) or the classic problemed Russian goal scorer (Bure)? On a team that needs scoring, the promise of scoring is sufficient to get fans atwitter. Jury's still out on our own Denis Arkhipov, but at least he'll have somebody to talk to in the mother tongue. Looking at Glazachev's stats, it's not clear why he's rated so high--between 15 and 22--but I suspect from reading the other Russians' stats that there's a huge missing data problem (e.g., they play in a lot of games outside of their primary team). If he provides any offense, he's definitely a "value" pick. Worth the risk considering what was on the board.

Rd 2: #37 Overall: Kevin Klein, D, St. Michael's, OHL
I thought this was an absolute steal. The only other player I thought, "Well, maybe they should go for him" was Richard Stehlik, who was a few places higher than Klein in the scouting reports. And we got Stehlik in the 3rd round.

Thumbing through my draft guide, Klein was one of two players I circled and said, "Why isn't he higher, and I hope he falls to us." (The other was Hugh Jessiman. I circled Patrick O'Sullivan because how do you pass on a guy who averages nearly 1.5 points per game! Apparently others didn't value that until Minnesota came along in Round 2.) Klein' points per game rose by .25 between his first and second season. He has decent size, is a little older than his cohorts, a good positional defender, and--a huge deal for the Predators, about which I'll vent in the future--can handle the puck. And sure enough, he fell right into our lap. Dare we dream that he's another Kimmo Timonen?

Still, we were a little disappointed: if we had drafted Kevin Kline, we'd have Phoebe Cates at the games.

Rd 2: #49 Overall: Shea Weber, D, Kelowna, WHL
After the Preds' scouting department shakeup, the team makes its first dip into the WHL, from which they've drafted many of their top stars (Hartnell, Upshall). A defensive defenseman from the Preds' wishlist. Judging from his PIM, he's willing to mix it up a little (another check on the wishlist), too. I'm trying to think why I recognize Shea Weber's name. Maybe I have him confused with someone else.

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