The Nashville Predators first ever draft pick was also their highest to date, No. 2 overall in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft.
That selection was used on what was intended to be the team’s eventual first line center and pillar of the franchise, forward David Legwand.
The 18-year-old was coming off 185 points over 114 games in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and seemed primed to be the offensive talent the Nashville Predators, the NHL’s newest expansion team at the time, needed then and for years to come.
But five full seasons into his career with the Predators, Legwand was yet to record a single 20-goal season and had been regulated by Nashville head coach Barry Trotz to predominately a defensive role and full-time, two-way center.
And for the next 10 years, that’s pretty much how things would remain.
Forced into a role of defense-first hockey, Legwand never was a 40-goal scorer with the Predators, and actually, never hit the 30-goal mark either. And for some reason, that was never questioned. The lack of offensive output by Legwand was usually brushed aside as either a lack of translation from the junior leagues to the NHL level or a personal shortcoming.
This evening, however, Predators general manager David Poile said something that was very interesting.
“I think Legwand may not have lived up to the offensive potential we expected when we drafted him. But that may be to blame on our system,” Poile said.
Well documented over the last few seasons has been the Predators inability to consistently score enough goals. “Defense first, defense first” is the message usually preached and to a point that’s fine. The club does have a top-five goaltender and a top-five defenseman in their arsenal, so building a team to compliment those strengths makes sense.
But when it’s clearly a lack of offense that’s costing the team victories and likely a second-straight postseason birth after this campaign, does it make sense to focus on team defense so much that it “ruins” your offensively talented players?
The one season the Predators committed to more of an offensive game than usual, Legwand had a career-high 27 goals and 36 assists playing alongside forward Paul Kariya.
Legwand has the ability to score when given the chance, but that never really happened in the Predators system.
Earlier today the Predators sent their first-ever draft pick to the Detroit Red Wings via trade. Once hoped to be Nashville’s franchise scorer, Legwand may long be remember as a forward that didn’t live up to the hype, and that might not even be his fault.