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Predators Complete 2010 Draft

Los Angeles – With their second-smallest draft class in franchise history – one that includes four forwards and a pair of defensemen – the Nashville Predators spread its picks between the United States and Europe, selecting three Americans, a Swede, a Finn and a German. Nashville has now selected at least two U.S.-born players in each of the past four drafts, and at least one Swedish player in five straight.

“We are really excited with the quality of players we were able to select in the later rounds on Day Two of the draft,” Predators President of Hockey Operations/General Manager David Poile said. “As usual, our scouts did a fantastic job, and for the most part, we got the guys we were targeting before the draft.”

With the 18th overall selection in the draft, the Predators selected Peterborough Petes (OHL) forward Austin Watson on Friday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. At 6-3, 185-pounds, Watson is an aggressive, two-way forward who saw his stock soar after a mid-season trade from Windsor to Peterborough, where he amassed 20 points (9g-11a) in 10 games.

“We’re really happy with the draft,” Predators President of Hockey Operations/General Manager David Poile said. “We were really happy to get Austin. He’s certainly a Predator-type player, doing all the little things to help your team win. He’s got leadership qualities, and he’s been compared to (2010 Selke Trophy finalist) Ryan Kesler in Vancouver. If he’s anything close to that, we’ll have had a very good day at the draft.”

The 2010 Draft marks the fourth time in the last five years Nashville has used its first pick of the draft on an American. Watson, a native of Ann Arbor, Mich., helped the United States to a gold medal at the 2010 Under-18 World Championships, posting three points (2g-1a) in seven games.

“His strengths are his size, and his compete level,” Predators North American Amateur Scout Jason Bukala said. “He’s a very competitive player who scores, kills penalties, blocks shots. He has really no weaknesses in his game. He’s got a well-rounded skill set that will complement our group moving forward. He has the potential to put up significant points as well. This is definitely a need we wanted to fill.”

Watson started his Ontario Hockey League career playing with Predators 2009 first-round pick Ryan Ellis on a Windsor club that won the 2009 Memorial Cup as Canadian Hockey League Champions and Robertson Cup as OHL Champions. Watson posted 29 points (10g-19a) in 63 games for the Spitfires in 2008-09, then 34 points (11g-23a) in 42 games with the club in 2009-10 prior to his trade to the Petes.

The Predators used their first selection of Day Two to select defenseman Taylor Aronson of the Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks at No. 78 (third round). A native of Placentia, Calif., which is just 30 miles away from the Staples Center where the draft was held, Aronson is a mobile, puck-moving defenseman who models his game after Detroit blueliner Brian Rafalski.

“I think Taylor is a lot like (2007 Predators first rounder) Jonathon Blum,” Predators North American Scout Rick Knickle said. “He really came out of nowhere, but by the end of the year he was on Portland’s top defensive pairing. He’s very cool, very calm with the puck, and does not get rattled. We saw him in the playoffs quite a bit and we were impressed how well he played and that is why we moved him up our list.”

The 6-0, 196-pounder was considered one of the most-improved players in the Canadian Hockey League over the course of the 2009-10 campaign, posting 30 points (5g-25a) and 65 penalty minutes in 71 games during his first WHL season. The 90th-rated North American skater by Central Scouting Services ramped up his play in the 2010 WHL Playoffs, amassing nine points (2g-7a) in 11 games, good for seventh among League rookies despite the Hawks being eliminated in the second round.

Nashville dipped into the European ranks with its fifth-round pick (126th overall), taking right wing Patrick Cehlin from Djurgarden of the Swedish Elite League, the same team that produced current Predator Patric Hornqvist. An energy player with good skating skills, Cehlin posted 11 points (5g-6a) in 54 games with Djurgarden’s Elite League team in 2009-10, and six more points (3g-3a) in nine contests with its junior team. He also played 16 postseason games for the senior team in their run to the Elite League Finals, posting a pair of assists.

“He is a high-energy guy, a fierce competitor, and he goes into the hard areas,” Predators European Scout Lucas Bergman said. “I have a lot of comparisons to Patric Hornqvist in the way he approaches a game. He is not the biggest guy, but he is 6-3, and is strong on the puck. He’s one of those players who is in attack mode all the time.”

Known for his work ethic and battle skills, Cehlin received his first dose of international competition at the 2009 Under-18 World Championships where he posted four points (2g-2a) in six games. The Huddinge, Sweden native was ranked No. 14 among European skaters in Central Scouting’s final rankings.

Another U.S.-born defenseman heard his name called by the Predators at No. 168 (sixth round). Island Park, N.Y., native and Indiana Ice blueliner Anthony Bitetto was a 2009-10 All-USHL Second Team selection after ranking fourth among United States Hockey League d-men in points and sixth at the position in goals (11g-29a-40pts) in 58 games. The 6-1, 210-pounder, who is headed to Northeastern University (alma mater of Poile) in the fall of 2010, is characterized as a two-way defenseman with a booming point shot.

“Bitetto is a good, strong, physical defensemen,” Predators North American Amateur Scout David Westby said. “He makes a good first past, plays an in-your-face style of defense, finishes checks and has good jam defensively.”

Bitteto’s 13.6 shooting percentage was also second-best among USHL defensemen, while his 99 penalty minutes ranked among the Top 15 at the position. Bitteto started the 2008-09 campaign with N.Y. Apple Core of the Eastern Junior Hockey League, before joining the Ice in January, then proceeded to help the club to its first Clark Cup title that spring.

Nashville selected a German for the third time ever with its first pick (194th) of the seventh and final round. David Elsner – rated No. 52 among European skaters by CSS – posted nine points (6g-3a) in 29 games for the Landshut Cannibals of Germany’s second division in 2009-10, and 17 points (10g-7a) in as many games with Landshut’s junior team.

“Elsner is a hard-hitting forward, who does some things on the ice like Jordin Tootoo –if you do not keep your head up, you are going to pay the price,” Predators European Scout Martin Bakula said. “He likes to go after you, he likes to play physical and he likes to use his body. He will drive to the net, shoot from anywhere and stay in front of the crease.

An energy player, who can also kill penalties, Elsner won a gold medal with Germany at the 2009 Division I Under-18 Championships, posting four assists and a team-high 14 penalty minutes in five games at the tourney. The Landshut native is expected to play the 2010-11 season with ERC Ingolstadt of the German Elite League.

The club rounded out the class of 2010 with another hard-working pivot at pick No. 198 (seventh round). Joonas Rask, a Finnish center rated 82nd among European skaters by CSS, has spent the past two seasons with Ilves of the Finnish Elite League, most recently posting 19 points (10g-9a) in 43 games in 2009-10.

“We have described him as a Vernon Fiddler-type of player,” Predators European Scout Janne Kekalainen said of Rask. “He’s a good all-around player, who is full of heart, full of character, and has an extreme passion for the game.”

The younger brother of Boston Bruins netminder Tuuka Rask, Joonas has played in the past two World Junior Championships, posting two goals in six games in 2010, and four points (1g-3a) in six contests in 2009. The 5-11, 168-pound native of Savonlinna, Finland also captained his nation – as was named one of Finland’s three best players of the tournament – at the 2008 Under-18 World Championships after notching five points (1g-4a) in six games.

For more quotes and comments from the Predators Hockey Operations staff regarding all the players chosen in this weekend’s draft, visit Predators Draft Central at nashvillepredators.com.
 

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