The Nashville Predators are one of many shock groups of this NHL season. Barring an unexpected collapse, they’re going to the playoffs, and they’re going to be a handful.
One of many fascinating narratives in current days has been the position Predators captain Roman Josi has performed on this renaissance in Nashville, the place the workforce appeared to have misplaced its approach after an look within the 2017 Stanley Cup Closing.
Not solely has Josi seemingly surpassed Cale Makar down the stretch as the favourite to win the Norris Trophy because the NHL’s high defenseman, however there was ongoing dialogue on quite a lot of platforms about Josi’s worthiness as a Hart Trophy candidate.
It’s an enchanting subject. Josi simply had a 12-game level streak come to an finish. It was his second level streak of no less than 10 video games this season. As of Friday morning Josi was 10th in NHL scoring with 81 factors and has a sensible shot at reaching the magical 100-point plateau. If he reaches triple digits, Josi would be the first defenseman to take action since Corridor of Famer Brian Leetch notched 102 in 1991-92.
To grasp how all this has come to move in Nashville, we begin not with the 31-year-old Josi, however with the 22nd total choose within the 1994 NHL Draft, a person named Jeff Kealty.
Kealty was a promising defenseman popping out of Boston College who was drafted by Quebec however ended up signing with the Predators group. Amongst his teammates at BU have been present NHL executives and/or coaches and/or former NHLers Chris Drury, John Hynes, Mike Grier and Jay Pandolfo.
Kealty performed one full season for the Predators’ farm workforce in Milwaukee – then within the previous Worldwide Hockey League – however within the workforce’s first recreation in the course of the 1999-2000 season he suffered a head harm and by no means performed once more.
After coping with concussion points, Kealty went to work for the Predators as a scout. He’s by no means left the group.
Kealty now holds the title of assistant normal supervisor and director of scouting, and whereas his duties have expanded through the years, the Boston-area native nonetheless will get that prickle of anticipation when he walks into an enviornment on a scouting journey, whether or not he’s strolling in to catch a USHL or faculty recreation or maybe strolling right into a rink in Leksand or Mora, Sweden, which is the place a 17-year-old Roman Josi performed for an undermanned Swiss workforce on the 2007 World Junior Championship.
Kealty laughs at how most gamers view the concept of scouting when they’re enjoying. Oh, you watch hockey. Possibly take some notes. Cool job. And possibly Kealty thought the identical as he was considering his position within the recreation after he hung up the blades for good. However he discovered rapidly that scouting, or extra particularly scouting correctly, is advanced and layered, and there may be nothing certain about any of it.
The job is a lot extra nuanced than most individuals, even gamers, assume it’s, as a result of one of many first classes of scouting is that you just’re continually evaluating issues that may’t actually be in contrast. Like making an attempt to weigh youngsters enjoying main or Tier II junior towards collegiate children or children enjoying in skilled males’s leagues throughout Europe. All these gamers are at completely different factors of their evolution, and you need to, as a scout, discern not simply what they’re now, however what they’ll develop into.
“There’s not an entire ton of frequent denominators to it,” Kealty stated.
And, oh yeah, in case you screw up on the job, your workforce sucks. That’s the truth.
Kealty has typically stated to his longtime boss, Nashville GM David Poile, that scouting, particularly on the novice degree, is extra arts and literature and fewer maths and sciences. And it’s a job you may’t do half-heartedly. You possibly can’t faux it.
“You discover out rapidly how a lot find it irresistible or how a lot you don’t find it irresistible,” Kealty stated. “You both should do it proper otherwise you don’t do it, and also you’ve acquired to know that.”
Fortunately for Kealty and the Predators, because it seems, not solely did he find it irresistible, however he liked to do it the appropriate approach. In 2007, the 12 months earlier than Josi was drafted, Kealty turned the workforce’s head of novice scouting after which later that 12 months turned director of participant personnel whereas persevering with to guide the workforce’s novice scouting group.
The 2008 draft held in Ottawa was Kealty’s first on the helm of the Predators’ desk. It might develop into some of the vital drafts in workforce historical past due to the thin Swiss defender the Predators had been conserving their eye on since lengthy earlier than he turned draft-eligible.
Josi had performed on the Swiss U18 workforce and was simply 17 when he appeared on the Preds’ scouting radar on the World Junior Championship in 2007. Switzerland has taken massive steps in turning into a aggressive worldwide hockey entity, however at the moment the Swiss have been nonetheless a hockey nation that struggled to compete with the extra established international locations. Partly, that’s why Josi caught out.
“Even again then he liked to have that puck on his stick. And his skating has at all times been elite,” Kealty stated.
He can’t assist however assume that Josi’s potential to regulate the puck for lengthy durations of time now towards the world’s finest gamers stems from the truth that maybe he didn’t have as many expert teammates at these high-profile worldwide occasions as gamers on extra full groups did.
“He simply didn’t have the supporting forged on these groups,” Kealty stated. “It was virtually prefer it was Roman Josi towards the Swedes, Roman Josi towards the Finns.”
The opposite factor that stood out for Kealty and the Preds’ European scouts was that Josi appeared to thrive in conditions the place his workforce was overmatched. Continuously, the other occurs for younger gamers.
“Roman was completely different in that sense. There was no concern in any respect, no intimidation, he performed his recreation, he wished the puck,” Kealty stated.
In Josi’s draft 12 months, 2007-08, the Preds started watching in earnest beginning on the Ivan Hlinka Event in late summer time. They regarded carefully on the 2008 World Junior Championship when Josi shined towards the likes of Steven Stamkos and Alex Pietrangelo, each of whom could be chosen at or close to the highest of the 2008 draft.
“He had the puck on his stick the entire recreation,” Kealty stated. “You may see the expertise. He had the hearth. That was one thing that actually caught out.”
In addition they saved tabs on him as he performed full time within the Swiss elite league with one of many high golf equipment, Bern.
Because the draft in Ottawa approached, the Preds had him penciled in as a first-rounder on their draft board, however because it turned out, different NHL groups didn’t share Nashville’s enthusiasm for the Swiss defenseman. The Predators had two first-round picks and went with Colin Wilson seventh total after which a goaltender, Chet Pickard, 18th total.
When the Predators’ draft workforce acquired again to the assembly room after the primary spherical was full, Josi was the highest participant left on Nashville’s board, “by far,” Kealty stated.
The Preds started speaking about how they may get themselves in place to nab him. Nashville had the 45th choose and began going by means of groups which may have been keen to maneuver again in a cope with the Preds. It appears counterintuitive now, however there was nonetheless a, “Nicely, he’s a Swiss defenseman” bias that groups might have had that scared them off. Even Poile raised an eyebrow on that second day of the draft when it got here time to make the cope with Arizona that might transfer the Preds up and land them Josi – as in, “Are you actually certain that is the child you need?”
“Again then I believe it labored in our favor,” the very fact the Swiss have been nonetheless thought-about a lesser hockey nation, Kealty stated.
It was, in a way, Kealty’s draft, and he confirmed to Poile that, sure, this was the participant they wished and wished badly.
“It was sort of a intestine feeling however that each one goes again to the scouting,” Kealty stated.
The draft workforce held its collective breaths as the primary picks of the second spherical have been made, hoping to not hear Josi’s title. Florida took goaltender Jacob Markstrom with the primary choose of the second spherical. Los Angeles took defenseman Slava Voynov. The Blues had back-to-back picks, considered one of which was used to take netminder Jake Allen. Anaheim, the Islanders and Columbus all made picks, after which it was time for Arizona, which had the 38th choose and was keen to swap with Nashville, which additionally threw in a third-round choose.
Poile chuckles on the retelling of the Josi story, as a result of at each draft each NHL GM has an analogous dialog along with his scouting employees about shifting as much as get “their” man.
Whereas these conversations are commonplace, outcomes like Josi are uncommon and, due to their rarity, develop into magnified of their significance. They’re the tales that get advised round scouting conferences as a reminder of what the job is about and what’s doable if all the pieces falls collectively.
“It’s important to have these tales,” Poile stated, as a result of simply as typically the tales are of one other workforce snapping up a participant you’ve had your eye on for a day and a half or of shifting up within the draft solely to search out out the participant you coveted seems to be a lot lower than scouts had imagined.
“This time it labored out rather well, and kudos to Jeff and the scouts for placing the participant in the appropriate place to be drafted,” Poile stated.
When you needed to redraw the 2008 draft, how excessive does Josi rank? Stamkos went No. 1, Drew Doughty No. 2, Pietrangelo at No. 4 and Erik Karlsson at 15th. You may make an argument that Josi could be within the high three in a redraft any day of the week.
“Once you see one thing like that work out, to see the participant that he’s,” Kealty stated. “He’s dynamic, he’s each phrase you may consider and now actually he’s the face of our franchise and possibly the perfect defenseman on the planet. It’s fairly cool to look at.
“I really like to inform that story as a result of I believe that on this job, a job that I’ve finished for a very long time now, that’s what you do it for.”
A couple of days after the draft, Poile and Kealty have been standing in the back of a gathering room on the workforce’s growth camp, and the GM requested his high scout the place the much-talked-about Josi was. Kealty pointed to a teen sporting jean shorts and a backwards baseball cap.
Now, when Kealty is on the town, he brings his children right down to the locker room, they usually at all times cease for a fast chat with the Predators’ captain and former Norris Trophy winner.
Does Poile take into consideration these days in Ottawa in June of 2008 and the conversations with Kealty and the way this all turned out?
Poile chuckles once more.