Building a winning team is as much art as it is science. Blending experienced veterans, untested rookies, and players added via trade or free agency is akin to a chemistry experiment in a science lab. Although you have known individual components, the final outcome once they are combined can be surprising.
Our resident mad scientist, GM David Poile, has built this version of the Predators using all of these components- rookies, veterans, and acquisitions. The outcome of this experiment is a work in progress, but so far, has started the season looking as if the experiment will yield success. It is instructive to look at the components of this team to see how they have blended on the ice.
The Predators are typically not going to be a team that makes headlines with free agent acquisitions or trades. That doesn't mean that they have been inactive in this area. The Predators have shown that they will make an acquisition or a trade- at the right price- if it fits in to the overall team concept. This year, the Predators have acquired free agents Marcel Goc, Ben Eaves, Peter Olvecky, and Ben Guite. Not exactly headline names, but players that bring grit and energy to a team that thrives on that style of play, are strong on the PK, and can chip in with timely goals. Guite and Goc are on the roster, while Eaves and Olvecky are with the team's AHL affiliate in Milwaukee. Captain Jason Arnott was acquired via free agency after the 2006 season and has been the highest profile free agent acquisition (Peter Forsberg notwithstanding).
The Predators have a core of veterans that have been developed through the draft and have matured in their system. On opening night, 11 of the 20 players who dressed for the Predators were drafted and developed by the team. This is the manner in which this team has operated since their inception- scout well, draft smart, and develop the talent within the system. This group included three first round picks (David Legwand, Dan Hamhuis, and Ryan Suter), Two second round picks (Kevin Klein and Shea Weber), a third round pick (Teemu Laakso), one sixth rounder ( rookie Mike Santorelli), two seventh rounders (Martin Erat and Patric Hornqvist), and and eighth round pick (Pekka Rinne). For a team that operates with a limited budget, this is crucial to long term success and speaks volumes about the success of the system.
It has been standard operating procedure for the Predators to start rookies in their farm system to let them develop, and it is rare to see a rookie make the jump straight to the big club. This season, Mike Santorelli is starting his rookie season as a second line winger for the team, and rookie Colin Wilson, the outstanding center from Boston University, is on the roster and waiting in the wings as he recovers from a groin strain. This is a function of the team's need for scoring talent and the fact that these rookies have shown the skill to compete successfully at the NHL level. Captain Jason Arnott has said that the young players bring an energy and excitement to the team that makes going to rink fun. These rookies are being counted on not to just fill a spot on the roster, but to contribute, and as the season progresses, they will have to continue to mature and be productive for the team to be successful.
Taking these component parts and making them a successful team falls to Head Coach Barry Trotz. The only coach in Predators history, and the second longest tenured coach in the NHL, Coach Trotz and his staff is known for squeezing everything out of his talent and putting a hard working team on the ice. The system will fail if the component parts are not melded into a productive unit, and Trotz has been a master at this.
Steady, consistent development of the talent in the system doesn't generate buzz or flash. It also doesn't generate explosions in the laboratory that is a hockey club. This is the way the Predators will continue to build this franchise. And it is a formula for success over the long term.