The Nashville Predators made 11 selections in the 2023 NHL Draft hosted in Nashville at Bridgestone Arena. For outgoing President & General Manager David Poile, it was his last major responsibility as an NHL GM.
“We are really happy with the way it went,” Predators Assistant General Manager/Director of Scouting Jeff Kealty says. “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 (11 goal-23 assists). 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.
“We were really excited to have Matthew get to us,” Predators Chief Amateur Scout Tom Nolan says. “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.
Nashville traded up in the second round to 43rd overall to take forward Felix Nilsson, giving the Detroit Red Wings the No. 47 pick and the No. 147 pick. 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 (19 goal-22 assists) in 36 appearances en route to winning the league title. Internationally, the Stockholm, Sweden, native earned silver at the 2022 Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
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.
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.
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.
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 (15 goals-29 assists).
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,” Predators European Scout Janne Kekalainen says. “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.
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 (32 goals-46 assists) 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.
For the final pick of 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 (41 goals-56 assists) 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.