There are a lot of NHL teams that talk about building through youth and the entry draft but the Nashville Predators are the only one that does it consistently and does it well.
They have little choice since their precarious finances do not allow for any spending on big contracts but general manager David Poile manages to maximize his draft picks and head coach Barry Trotz squeezes the most out of those picks when they hit the ice.
A case in point is right winger Patric Hornqvist, 23, who was the last player taken in the 2005 entry draft. He did not expect to be drafted at all, so he went to bed on the night of the draft after watching some of it on television in his hometown of Sollentuna, Sweden. Then his father told him the next morning the Predators took him 230th overall.
In his last 16 games, Hornqvist has given the Predators an amazing return. He has scored 13 goals in those games, bringing his season total to 19 going into Monday night's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. That is 17 more goals than he scored last season as a rookie in a 28-game stint with the Predators.
"Patric's biggest thing is he likes to go to those hard areas for loose pucks," Predators head coach Barry Trotz said. The coach compared him to another Swede, Tomas Holmstrom, the tenacious winger for the Detroit Red Wings who does not hesitate to fight for the puck in front of the net and in the corners.
Trotz said Hornqvist, who split last season between the Predators and their American Hockey League farm team, was caught in an awkward phase last season. He was too good for the AHL but not quite good enough to play in the NHL.
"Last year was a big year for me to see and learn what the NHL is all about," Hornqvist said. "If you make one mistake the puck ends up in the net. This year, I took some steps and played more.
"The puck is bouncing my way this year. I'm playing on the power play more and getting some confidence."
Trotz said Hornqvist's "confidence is at an all-time high. He's driving to the net and gets to loose pucks."
Being the last player taken in the entry draft is not exactly a badge of honour among players. But Hornqvist said he did not regard it as a slight or an omen for his chances of making it to the NHL.
"I felt it was an opportunity to play in the NHL," he said. "There was one team that wanted me. I was happy for that.
"The first time I put my skates on and grabbed a stick, it was my dream to play in the NHL. I know it can be tough [to be drafted so low]but you're only 18 years old when you get drafted and lots of stuff can happen after that."
Trotz said the Predators expect to have centre Jason Arnott back for Monday night's game against the Leafs. He missed four games with an undisclosed injury.Report Typo/Error