It’s fair to say that the Nashville Predators dug themselves a hole on defense in their first few NHL drafts. But beginning in 2003, they filled that hole with a figurative pipeline that has funneled a wealth of talent onto this season’s NHL roster.
With Francis Bouillon on injured reserve since mid-January, five of the six defensemen on the active roster were drafted and developed by the Predators. The one exception is Shane O’Brien, who was acquired in a trade with Vancouver four days before the start of this season.
“In a lot of ways he’s a defensemen that we don’t really have in the system,” coach Barry Trotz said. “He’s a big-body guy. He can handle weight. He plays with a little bit of an edge. We have guys who play with a little bit of an edge but don’t have the weight that he has.”
But for all the effort Predators scouts and staff members put into stockpiling defensive talent in recent years, they still found themselves lacking in that regard.
With the end of the season drawing near, the question is whether Nashville will be able to keep O’Brien, or whether it’s even willing to. The 27-year-old veteran of four NHL franchises will be an unrestricted free agent, and with a number of other promising prospects lined up in Milwaukee and other locales, it’s entirely possible he’ll be one-and-done with this team.
“Some nights I wish maybe I would have been drafted by them,” O’Brien said. “I’ve moved around a little bit. They brought me in. I don’t know if they’re happy with me or what, but they’ve brought me in and I’ve tried to just be solid for them.”
O’Brien is 6-foot-3, 230 pounds. He leads the team in penalty minutes and is second in hits. He’s been a fixture in the lineup from the moment he arrived — the only two games he missed this season were because of league discipline.
At this point, it seems fair to say he was a good fit based on the team’s needs back in October.
“It’s worked out,” Trotz sid. “We were looking for that type of defenseman. … He’s a good guy in the dressing room. Guys really love him in terms of bringing energy to the room and things like that. So I think he’s fit in quite well.”
Of the 19 defensemen the Predators drafted from 1998 though 2002 (one of them, Miroslav Durak, was taken in consecutive years), only three actually played for the franchise, and just two — Karlis Skastins and Dan Hamhuis — had extended stays.
Then in 2003, the year the draft was held in Nashville, the Preds added Ryan Suter, Shea Weber and Kevin Klein to the fold. They also brought on Alexander Sulzer, who played 31 games this season before he was traded to Florida.
In all, seven defensemen drafted since that year have appeared in at least one game for the Predators this season.
“They take a lot of defensemen, and the [defense] prospects have worked out for the most part,” Cody Franson, a third-round choice in 2005 and O’Brien’s defense partner this season, said. “So hat’s off to the scouting staff. They do a good job here, and the system they have in Milwaukee is a great system, too.”
Yet it hasn’t produced one like O’Brien — at least not yet.