It is difficult to imagine that anyone in the National Hockey League’s scouting community overlooked Magnus Hellberg.
After all, the 20-year-old goalie in Sweden’s second division measures 6-foot-5.
Hellberg, though, was not even listed in the league’s Central Scouting Service midseason rankings. Eventually he was discovered and in the final rankings, released shortly before last weekend’s 2011 draft, he was second among European goalie prospects.
All the while, the Nashville Predators were well aware of him.
“We’ve been talking about this guy for the last six months in all the meetings we’ve been having,” General Manager David Poile said Saturday night.
When the Predators finally got a chance to speak at the draft — they did not have a first-round selection — it was Hellberg’s name they called. They made him their first pick (38th overall) and added him to an organizational depth chart topped by 6-foot-5 Pekka Rinne and 6-foot-6 Anders Lindback in the NHL and four others at the minor league level, although none of them top 6-foot-2.
Hellberg was the first goalie picked overall (one pick later, Anaheim took the next) and third in the last five years taken by the Predators in either the first or second round.
“It doesn’t jump out to anybody as our most glaring need,” Poile said. “I always look at the draft as a futures situation, where these guys are going to take two, three or four years to be ready to make the Predators.
“Our scouts just had this guy so far above everybody else. He’s just a terrific, terrific prospect. He falls under the auspice of you can’t have too much of a good thing. We’ve drafted another big goalie.”
While the selection of Hellberg was consistent with the organization’s approach in recent years, there were several things about Nashville’s effort in the 2011 draft that were unique.
With the second of their two second-round selections the Predators took left wing Miikka Salomaki, an 18-year-old who had 10 points in Finland’s top division last season. That made it the first time ever their first two picks were players from European teams.
The absence of a first-round choice — one of two they gave up in the February deal that brought veteran center Mike Fisher — was something they faced just once in their previous 12 drafts.
Poile entertained and ultimately declined opportunities to make a deal and get up in the first round, but he lessened the long-term impact of the trade when he shipped his third-round choice to Los Angeles for one next year (originally Toronto’s 2012 third-round spot) and the Kings’ sixth-round choice this year.
“That was a little bit about having two picks in the second round and two picks in the fourth round and not having a third-round pick in 2012 because of the Fisher deal,” Poile said.
One thing the franchise will not be without for the foreseeable future, though, is a rangy goalie.
Hellberg is expected to play at least one more season in Sweden, where he had a 2.04 goals-against average, a .936 save percentage and five shutouts for Almtuna. He is targeted for a spot with Frolunda in the top division for 2011-12.
Before then, he will be in town this week for the team’s prospects conditioning camp, where his sizable presence in the nets will make the future of the team look a lot like the present.
“Our scouts don’t vary too much in terms of what we’re looking for in players,” Poile said. “Hopefully when we look back at this in three or four years, we’ll say we had a good day.
“… I think there were a few teams that were on [Hellberg], but I don’t think everybody was on him. I guess you could take the position that we took him earlier than we had to but my philosophy on that is you have to take who you have to take. You can’t worry about what other teams are doing.
“All I can tell you is we’re very happy that we did this.”