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2014 NHL Draft Central

Poile and Laviolette pleased with the addition of James Neal, now look for center

When it comes to finding a true top line player for the Nashville Predators, general manager David Poile and new head coach Peter Laviolette feel they may have solved part of the puzzle that has hampered the Predators as of late. With the trade for James Neal before their selection with the 11th overall pick in the draft, change has finally come for Nashville.

“We needed to make some changes with our forwards. I sound a little bit like a broken record, but Pekka [Rinne] is going to be healthy next year so we feel really good about our goaltending. Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Seth Jones, the emergence of Ellis and Ekholm, we’re really happy about our defense. Goal scoring has been a problem for us. Top-line players on the forwards have been a problem for us. I think we have the bottom half covered off, we just need to get better forwards,” said Poile as he spoke with the media at the end of the first round.

“We started this process a couple years ago when we traded Martin Erat for Filip Forsberg, and then we traded David Legwand this year for Calle Jarnkrok, we continue the draft day with Kevin Fiala as our first pick, and obviously a significant trade for James Neal. We feel he is a number one line winger, we feel he is a goal scorer, and that’s exactly what we were looking for.”

Now, with a top winger in Neal locked up for the next four years, the Predators can now look towards finding a top center to help Nashville’s newest acquisition maintain the scoring touch that he had in Pittsburgh.

“We need a top center, there’s no question about that. Mike Fisher is very good. We have some young guys like Calle Jarnkrok and Colton Sissons that played some games last year, and Paul Gaustad who is a defensive kind of center. That’s next on our wishlist, whether that comes in trade or free agency or it takes another year to get it, that’s what we need,” said Poile.

Something that has to be brought up though is Neal’s suspension history. Suspended three times already in his career, Neal’s play style could easily be described as “tenacious.” Yet, neither Poile or Laviolette were worried about Neal’s play style or any possibilities for further infractions with the league.

“I’m aware of how he plays. I like taking players for what they are and what they do. I’m not big on trying to change players. If I wanted to change a guy, I probably wouldn’t trade for him. I think there are strengths and weaknesses, maybe it’s bad habits, but that’s one of the things that makes James Neal pretty good. He plays hard all the time,” said Poile.

“I like the way he plays the game. He plays the game hard, he’s aggressive, he’s competitive. Certainly we don’t want to cross that line, but you’d rather try and take that out a little bit than have to try and find it somewhere. I think we all like the way he plays the game,” said Laviolette.

What’s interesting, though, is that the conversation continually fell back to finding a center to play with Neal.

In his time with Pittsburgh, Neal had Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as his leading playmakers. In Dallas, it was Brad Richards. Who is going to feed Neal the puck when he’s with Nashville? While Fisher, Jarnkrok, and Wilson are all good centers, it’s not the same caliber that Neal has been used to in his career. Poile laid out his plans that he wants to find a true top center for Nashville in the near-immediate future, whether it’s this weekend or next year, but can Neal produce without a player like Malkin?

“There are so many stats out now and his record is actually excellent with Malkin and it’s also very good without Malkin. He’s got what we’re looking for. He’s got the speed, he’s got the shot, he scores goals, he produces, he gets points,” said Poile. “I get it that we don’t have Malkin or Crosby, but we’re going to have some good center ice men or we’re going to find someone that can play with him”

“I think we’ve got some good players on our team and young players and David eluded to that. Calle Jarnkrok, Mike Fisher is a terrific player, Colin Wilson, [Kevin Fiala], and I think when we get to training camp we’ll sort all of that out. David [Poile] also said he continues to press and see what might be available out there. We’re still looking at our lineup and I think if you just isolate it to today, it’s an addition in our team that puts us with a top line left wing. So it was a good pickup,” said Laviolette. “Again, I feel like we have some good players down the middle. I’m excited to work with them. I’m excited to work with Colin Wilson. Mike Fisher has been around for a long time and Calle Jarnkrok is a top young player. We’ve got some good players down the middle. We didn’t miss by much last year, so I’m looking forward to that.”

Ultimately, David Poile was real bullish today trading for James Neal and seemingly is prepared to continue to be bullish in his quest for a number one center. We spoke earlier¬†about how the Predators had to sacrifice with the past to build for the now and Poile was clearly ready to do so with today’s work during the first round of the draft.

If he’s ready to trade a heart-and-soul player like Patric Hornqvist away in return for a top talent like James Neal, could it be a signal that “The Predator Way” is evolving into its next phase?