Nashville, Tenn. (June 29, 2023) – The Nashville Predators made 11 selections in the 2023 NHL Draft – hosted in Nashville at Bridgestone Arena – on Wednesday, taking eight forwards, two defensemen and one goaltender.
“We are really happy with the way it went,” Predators Assistant General Manager/Director of Scouting Jeff Kealty said. “We had a lot of picks going into it, and when that’s the case, you never know how it’s going to play out. We were happy with the way it started out on the first night, and from there, we found players that we targeted who had unique elements. A lot of preparation went into this knowing how important it was for us, but we’re pleased with the past couple of days and are proud of our group.”
In Wednesday’s first round, Nashville selected forward Matthew Wood with the 15th overall pick. Wood was the No. 4-ranked North American skater in NHL Central Scouting’s pre-draft rankings and is coming off a freshman season at the University of Connecticut in which he led his team in points with 34 (11g-23a). The 6-foot-4, 197-pound forward was the youngest player in the NCAA in 2022-23 and earned a spot on Hockey East’s All-Rookie Team. Wood also recorded seven multi-point contests and found the scoresheet in 25 of his 35 appearances, closing out his season with points in 14 of his final 15 games (5g-14a). Internationally, Wood – who was born in Lethbridge, Alta., but resides in Nanaimo, B.C. – represented Canada at the 2022 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where he won gold after producing five points (2g-3a) in five games; he also earned bronze at the 2023 U-18 World Championship, leading Canada in goals (7) and finishing second in points (13). Wood joined UConn following two seasons with the BCHL’s Victoria Grizzlies, winning the Brett Hull Trophy as rookie of the year in 2021-22 after leading the league in goals (45) and points (85).
“We were really excited to have Matthew get to us,” Predators Chief Amateur Scout Tom Nolan said. “He’s a big kid with really good hands and can shoot the puck. He looks up to (Buffalo forward) Tage Thompson, and that’s the direction we feel his game is going in. He’ll be going back to UConn next season and we’re looking forward to seeing him have a really good year.”
The Predators chose defenseman Tanner Molendyk at 24th overall, the team’s second pick of the first round. Molendyk established WHL career highs in games played (67), goals (9), assists (28) and points (37) with Saskatoon in 2022-23, helping lead his team to the Eastern Conference Final. The 5-foot-11, 181-pound blueliner added three goals and five assists in 18 postseason games, sharing the lead for goals and finishing second and tied for second in points and assists, respectively, among WHL defensemen. Molendyk also was second on the Blades and 10th among WHL skaters in his position in plus-minus at +31, a career high. At the international level, the McBride, B.C., native won gold with Wood at the 2022 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where he had the third-most points (4) and assists (3) by a Canadian defenseman at the tournament.
“He’s an exceptional skater and we love his compete level,” Predators North American Amateur Scout Glen Sanders said. “He can really use his feet to move in all three zones and never seems to panic under pressure. He plays bigger than he is and we see nothing but upside to him.”
Nashville traded up in the second round to 43rd overall to take forward Felix Nilsson, giving the Detroit Red Wings the No. 47 pick (Brady Cleveland) and the No. 147 pick (traded to Tampa Bay; Tampa Bay selected Kevin Bicker). Nilsson, a 6-foot, 187-pound center, spent the 2022-23 campaign in Sweden with the Rögle BK organization and made his professional debut, going on to skate in 18 SHL contests. He played the majority of his games in Sweden’s junior league, posting a team-high 41 points (19g-22a) in 36 appearances en route to winning the league title. Internationally, the Stockholm, Sweden, native earned silver at the 2022 Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
“Felix plays with a lot of detail on both sides of the ice,” Predators European Scout Lucas Bergman said. “He has good offensive skills in the way he’s able to attack the middle of the ice and get to loose pucks. But, it’s his high, high hockey IQ that makes him most attractive. He has the smarts and the will to push for an NHL spot in three years or so.”
With their final pick of the second round, the Predators selected forward Kalan Lind at No. 46 overall. A 6-foot, 158-pound left wing out of Red Deer, Lind established WHL career highs in assists (28) and points (44) while adding in 16 goals, helping the Rebels reach the second round of the playoffs. In 2021-22, his rookie WHL campaign, the Swift Current, Sask., native scored 20 goals and posted 38 points, finishing fourth and fifth, respectively, on his team in both categories. Lind joined Wood and Molendyk in winning gold for Canada at the 2022 Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
“He’s fearless and all energy,” Predators North American Amateur Scout Brett Carson said. “He’s one of those guys who drags his teammates into the fight every night and makes an impact every shift. With the style he plays, he’ll need to put on weight, but he’s willing to put in the work. He likes to go to the front of the net and has enough offensive touch to contribute offensively.”
Jesse Kiiskinen, a forward from Hollola, Finland, was the first of Nashville’s two third-round picks, going to the Predators at 68th overall. Ranked No. 13 among international skaters by NHL Central Scouting entering the 2023 NHL Draft, Kiiskinen spent the majority of the 2022-23 season with Pelicans in Finland’s junior league, leading his team in points with 43 while coming second in goals (20). He also made his professional debut, suiting up for seven games with Pelicans in Finland’s Liiga, recording an assist. The 6-foot, 190-pound forward represented his country at the 2022 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, earning bronze, and at the 2023 U-18 World Championship, where he tallied five points (3g-2a) in five games. His father, Ville, played professional hockey in Europe from 1995-12 and currently coaches in Finland’s second-highest league.
“He’s a straight-forward, shooting winger with a very hard wrist shot,” Predators European Scout Janne Kekalainen said. “He can come down the wing and cut to the middle using defensemen as a screen. He’s a bright kid with a great work ethic who loves to practice and has produced consistently. We view him as a solid, all-around player with scoring ability.”
At No. 83 overall, the Predators chose defenseman Dylan MacKinnon from Halifax of the QMJHL. Standing at 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, he helped lead the Mooseheads to the QMJHL championship series, skating in 20 postseason contests. MacKinnon posted a 21-point improvement in 2022-23 compared to his rookie campaign in 2021-22, recording 23 points and six goals, the latter of which tied for second among Halifax blueliners. Like Wood, Molendyk and Lind, MacKinnon won gold with Canada at the 2022 Hlinka Gretzky Cup and spent the last two seasons as teammates with Predators prospect Zachary L’Heureux, who Nashville selected 27th overall in the 2021 NHL Draft.
“He’s a hard defender and is tough to play against,” Predators North American Amateur Scout J-P Glaude said. “He’s explosive and has a strong lower body; we view him as a type of guy who is hard to find in hockey these days.”
Nashville also owned two picks in the fourth round and used the first – No. 111 overall – to select forward Joey Willis. In 2022-23, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound native of Elmhurst, Ill., played in 68 games for the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit, recording 44 points (15g-29a). Willis, a product of the Chicago Mission youth hockey system, chipped in an additional six points (4g-2a) in 11 postseason appearances.
“He is a highly skilled and highly intelligent player with excellent character and work ethic,” Predators North American Amateur Scout Matt Paton said. “He sees the ice well offensively and we like his puck possession skills – he’s strong on the puck despite being a smaller guy. His offensive upside was attractive for us.”
With its next choice, Nashville added its lone goaltender of this year’s NHL Draft, selecting Juha Jatkola at No. 121 overall. The No. 2-ranked international goalie by NHL Central Scouting, Jatkola skated in his second full professional season with KalPa of Finland’s Liiga in 2022-23, going 20-11-8 with a 2.16 goals-against average, .903 save percentage and five shutouts. He was one of five Liiga goaltenders to record at least 20 wins last season and he tied for sixth in the league in shutouts. A native of Kuopio, Finland, the 6-foot-1, 176-pound Jatkola earned silver for his country at the 2022 World Junior Championship, where he was the only goaltender in the tournament to record a shutout.
“He’s made a meteoric rise to the top in Finnish hockey,” Kekalainen said. “Last year, he had a breakthrough season and took the No. 1 goalie job on his team, playing in a lot of games. He’ll be ready to come over and play the North American type of game in a season or two.”
Forward Sutter Muzzatti, an Okemos, Mich., native, was the Predators’ pick at No. 143 overall (fifth round). He spent the 2022-23 season as a freshman at RPI, where he led his team in assists (15) and held a share of the Engineers’ lead in points (22). Prior to enrolling at RPI, the 6-foot-5, 210-pound forward spent two seasons with the NAHL’s Austin Bruins; he also saw time with the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks and appeared in one game for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program in 2020-21. Muzzatti’s father, Jason, appeared in 62 career NHL games as a goaltender and currently works in player development for the Carolina Hurricanes.
“His size is the first thing you notice about him,” Predators North American Amateur Scout Greg Drechsel said. “He may be one of those classic late bloomers and had a great opportunity at RPI to play in a lot of different situations. He shows high hockey IQ and uses his reach well.”
In the sixth round (175th overall), Nashville added forward Austin Roest to the organization. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound native of Coldstream, B.C., concluded his third season with the Everett Silvertips in 2022-23, posting 78 points (32g-46a) en route to earning a nod as a WHL U.S. Division Second-Team All-Star. Named Everett’s most improved player this past season, he more than doubled his point output from 2021-22 and established WHL career highs in games played (60), goals, assists and points. The son of former NHL player and Tampa Bay Lightning Assistant General Manager Stacy Roest, he also served as an alternate captain for Everett in 2022-23.
“He’s a hard-working, two-way forward who can play center or wing,” Nolan said. “He can play in all situations, including the power play and penalty kill, and gets in on the forecheck. He’s not the biggest guy, but we feel he’s going to be a late bloomer and is just coming into his game. It’s hard not to notice him when he’s out on the ice.”
For the final pick of David Poile’s illustrious career as an NHL general manager, the Predators acquired No. 218 overall (seventh round) from New Jersey – making the trade with Devils GM and former Nashville captain Tom Fitzgerald – for a seventh-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft and selected forward Aiden Fink. He served as an alternate captain for the AJHL title-winning Brooks Bandits in 2022-23, notching a league-high 97 points (41g-56a) while racking up several accolades, including the league’s MVP. The 5-foot-9, 153-pound native of Calgary, Alta., is expected to play collegiate hockey for Penn State in 2023-24.
“He’s an offensive player who is competitive and hard on pucks,” Carson said. “He’s a puck hound and likes to shoot and score. It’s a good swing for us late on a guy who hopefully will produce and get a lot of opportunity at Penn State next season.”
The Predators’ hockey operations staff now turns their focus to the team’s development camp, which runs from July 1-6, and the start of free agency, which begins July 1 at 11 a.m. CT.