The Nashville Predators organization has always focused on building its NHL roster through the draft. Despite occasional free-agent signings and trades, the majority of the team’s roster today is still comprised of players who were picked by the team on draft day. Almost without exception those players have spent time with the Milwaukee Admirals before making the leap to the NHL. That has led to the organizational mantra that “the road to Nashville leads through Milwaukee.”
You’ll note that I said “almost without exception.” After Craig Smith‘s assignment to Milwaukee for conditioning last week, I got to wondering just how true the familiar refrain really is. My research showed that of the 45 players the team has drafted who eventually donned a Nashville sweater, 41 spent at least some time playing in Milwaukee before getting the call-up to Nashville Predators. That makes it a rare thing to jump straight to the team’s NHL roster.
Here’s a look at the four Nashville Predators who skipped Milwaukee en route to the NHL.
NASHVILLE PREDATORS PLAYERS WHO SKIPPED MILWAUKEE
David Legwand was selected with the second overall pick in the 1998 NHL Draft. He finished the 1998-99 season with his junior team, the Plymouth Whalers, before joining Nashville for one game at the end of the season. He bypassed Milwaukee entirely, playing the next five full seasons for the Predators. In 2005-06 he finally made his Milwaukee Admirals debut. He played three games with the Admirals on a conditioning assignment before returning to Nashville from a long-term injury.
Scott Hartnell is the only Nashville Predators player in franchise history never to wear a Milwaukee Admirals sweater. Selected sixth overall in the 2000 NHL Draft, he had only played two seasons with the Prince George Raiders of the WHL. Nevertheless he made the jump directly from Canadian junior hockey to the NHL at age 18.
After going from 16 points in his rookie season to a then-career-high 48 points in 2005-06, the team traded him to the Philadelphia Flyers just as he was entering his prime after the 2007 season. Along with the departure of captain Kimmo Timonen, the loss of Hartnell is one of lingering scars from the Not-So-Great Craig Leipold Fire Sale of 2007. The team hasn’t had another power forward like him since he was shipped off to Philly, and he’s been excellent in his time with the Flyers.
After playing two seasons in the Swedish Elite League, then-22-year-old goalie Anders Lindback made his debut with the Nashville Predators on October 9, 2010. He played 22 games for Nashville in the 2010-11 season as Pekka Rinne‘s backup and spent another four playing for Milwaukee. In 2011-12 he played another 16 games in Nashville behind Rinne and two more with the Admirals. During the off-season GM David Poile dealt Lindback to the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he has been the team’s number-one goalie during the 2013 season.
Craig Smith is the latest player to skip Milwaukee on his way to the big club. The former University of Wisconsin Badger earned his spot out of training camp before the 2011-12 season and shined in the early part of the year. Since then he has trailed off seriously enough that last week the Predators sent him to Milwaukee on a conditioning assignment. He has three points in two games there.
All of the 41 other players from the Nashville Predators’ draft history who eventually played for the NHL team spent time in Milwaukee first. Even the team’s most promising young players like Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Colin Wilson, and Alexander Radulov spent at least part of a season in Milwaukee. That’s enough for me to say that the road to Nashville really does lead through Milwaukee. The only other way to get to the NHL club is to fly.
Interested in further research? I’ve created a spreadsheet that tracks production both in Milwaukee and at the NHL level as a whole for all 50 of the players drafted by Nashville who eventually played at least one game in the league.