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Preds Prepping for 2020 NHL Draft, Ready for Different Circumstances

One year ago, more than 600,000 spectators packed Nashville’s Lower Broadway and the adjacent avenues to witness the 2019 National Football League Draft in all its glory.

One year later, our world looks vastly different with COVID-19 in play, but the NFL will still be welcoming their next wave of stars into the League this week – and Predators brass will be taking notes.

Preds General Manager David Poile isn’t necessarily interested in how many quarterbacks are taken in the first round. Instead, he’s curious as to how things will function with NFL general managers, coaches and scouts all residing at home and set to make picks virtually. The NFL’s Draft was scheduled to take place in Las Vegas in the coming days, but the coronavirus pandemic has forced the league to make other arrangements.

That may indeed be the case for the NHL at some point this summer – or fall. Whenever the League is able to reschedule its 2020 draft, an event originally supposed to take place this June at the Bell Centre in Montreal, it too may need to be done remotely.

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While it’s too soon to say with any degree of certainty what the NHL Draft will ultimately look like in the months to come, the likelihood things will be different than the norm is high. Therefore, Poile, Predators Assistant General Manager Jeff Kealty and the rest of Nashville’s staff will no doubt be intrigued by their NFL counterparts.

“I certainly want to learn as much as I can about that,” Poile said of the NFL’s upcoming draft process. “We have a pretty good relationship with the [Tennessee] Titans and [General Manager] Jon Robinson, [Head Coach] Mike Vrabel, and when their draft is done and we know what we’re going to do, I certainly will reach out to them to see what they did with their scouts and their player personnel, all of those type of things.”

Poile and Kealty do have a somewhat similar situation to build from if necessary, at least from a hockey standpoint. Back in 2005, the NHL and NHLPA officially agreed to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement on July 22 to end a year-long lockout. Less than 10 days later, the League held the 2005 draft from a hotel in Ottawa, a vastly scaled-down version compared to the usual format.

“It was a lockout that carried all the way into the summer, and when you finally came to the resolution at some point in July, the next thing you know, you’ve got to hold the draft a week or two later,” Kealty recalled. “It very well may be something like that, so we’re going to prepare as best we can for that. We’re in that process right now, we’re going through the paces a little bit… and kind of just trying to have a gradual build. So that way… when the Draft does take place, we’re prepared for it, but it’s kind of touch and go at this point… But we’re going to have the list ready to go and have a plan in place.”

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As of now, that plan will include one selection in the first round and two picks in both the second and third rounds, an enticing scenario in what many are calling one of the deeper drafts in recent memory. However, another challenge brought about by the cancellation of current seasons all across junior hockey is the inability for scouts to get final in-person looks at players who have been generating buzz.

“The biggest challenge right now is time lost, so to speak, in terms of viewing, getting your last viewings in on guys,” Kealty said. “But, we have a really experienced staff here…and we had our viewings over the course of the year, and now with the video work that we’re able to do, our [Amateur Scouting Video Coordinator] Nick Lubrano is really hard at work trying to supplement a lot of the games we might have missed when scouting the rest of the season. It’s not an ideal situation, but we’ll be able to fill the gaps as best we can, as well as we can.”

What’s clear in all of this is the need for adaptation and flexibility, just like so many in their everyday lives right now. And regardless of when the 2020 Draft takes place, how many people will be in the room or how many buttons will need to be pressed to make a selection, the Predators are well into their preparations.

“Our scouts are looking at all the players that we have interest in…and whether we have somebody rated in the fourth or fifth round doesn’t matter,” Poile said. “What matters is if we’re interested in them. We’ve probably crossed off players that are going to be taken in the start of third or fourth round just because that’s not the type of player that we want. The concentration is on guys that we really want… We’re very confident we’ll be fine, and I think this is probably a good exercise for [our scouts] to do it. They know a lot about most players, but again, watching guys on a little bit more video than maybe traditionally, I think this could be a real good mix for our scouting staff.”

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With five picks in the first three rounds, finding the next Roman Josi or Viktor Arvidsson is certainly possible. So, whether those names are called two months from now or six, it’s difficult to hide the excitement.

“We’ve talked about that a lot internally, and we haven’t had that situation in quite a while,” Kealty said. “As a staff, everybody is really excited about the opportunity to produce in terms of restocking the cupboard. That’s our goal here… We had a full draft last year…so we’re climbing our way back in terms of rebuilding our pipeline… We still believe that we’re in that competitive state, and to keep going along that path, you always need to have good players that are coming up within the system. We feel like with this draft we can really add to that, but it’s going to be different because we’re not quite sure when that draft is going to be yet. But the preparations will be there, and I think it will be a good showing.”

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