Predators optimistic that 2009 draft gambles will pay off

Sunday, June 28, 2009 at 7:44pm

When David Poile looked at the Nashville Predators’ overall organizational depth chart prior to last week’s NHL draft, he saw a cupboard he considered to be anything but bare.

When he looked at the team’s subsequent draft class Sunday afternoon, he chose to believe the glass was half full.

Nashville’s 2009 draft selections — 10 players overall, eight in the first four rounds — collectively constitute a gamble, particularly in terms of the first two choices. Whether emboldened by a well-stocked farm system, or desperate to make something happen for a franchise that missed the playoffs this spring, the Predators’ personnel staff took some chances.

First-round pick Ryan Ellis is a defenseman who puts up big numbers but is decidedly small. Forward Zach Budish, the first of two second-round picks, is plenty big but is still involved in rehabilitation from major reconstructive knee surgery.

Poile and the rest of the organization, obviously, believe both will realize their potential.

“We’re taking, maybe, a little bit more risks than we have before,” Poile conceded. “Ryan Ellis was a little bit out of the box, and we could have been more conservative. We’re looking (for) more of a home run there. With Budish, the biggest (forward) in the draft, … if he gets back to 100 percent what we have is one big power forward.

“It’s a good start if they both come through.”

Ellis, the 11th overall selection, has put up huge offensive numbers (152 points in 120 games) during two seasons with Windsor of the Ontario Hockey League.

However, he also is just 5-foot-9, 173 pounds, which makes him at least two inches shorter than any other blue liner taken in the first two rounds. The three defensemen taken in front of him are 6-6, 6-2 and 6-5, respectively.

“(Ellis) is unbelievably special,” Poile said. “When you watch a hockey game, this will be the guy you notice on the ice. Everything comes to him. He’s involved in everything.

“You’ll notice him because he’s small. You’ll notice him because he’s got the puck. You’ll notice him because he’s going to be on the power play.”

Poile’s optimism regarding the pick was increased after discussions with personnel from Minnesota, which had the 12th pick. According to Poile, the Wild were in talks with five different teams that wanted to trade for No. 12 and all five backed out after Nashville took Ellis.

“Obviously, (11th) was when he should have been drafted,” Poile said. “We’ve seen a lot of good, young and small defensemen having some success, like a Duncan Keith in Chicago, for example, Brian Rafalski is a player (Ellis) mentioned he patterns himself after.”

Budish, the 41st overall choice, was the 22nd-ranked skater, according to the NHL’s scouting bureau despite the fact that he missed the entire 2008-09 hockey season because of knee injury he sustained during football season at Edina (Minn.) High School.

He is a 6-foot-3, 229-pound center who plans to attend the University of Minnesota.

“There certainly is downside when anybody has an injury of that significance,” Poile said. “As we all know, the younger you are the better your chances of complete recovery and faster recovery.

“(Minnesota) will treat it right and they’ll get his career back on track.”

There was not a goalie among Nashville’s picks (seven forwards, three defensemen) but one was drafted each of the previous three years, and all three have been signed to professional contracts.

“I feel good at every position,” Poile said. “…The cupboard is clearly full. We’ve got prospects, good prospects, at every position.”