David Poile, Nashville's G.M., knew free agency and the expansion draft would bring his first-year Predators grizzled veterans, peach-fuzzed prospects and crooked-nosed grinders. But Poile wanted desperately to move up from the third pick of the June 27 draft and make either Vincent Lecavalier or David Legwand the cornerstone of his team. For days he bombarded San Jose general manager Dean Lombardi, who had the second pick, with phone calls. With just minutes to spare on draft day, Lombardi sought out Poile on the floor of Buffalo's Marine Midland Arena and offered to trade down for Nashville's second-round pick. After Tampa Bay took Lecavalier first overall, Poile grabbed the 6' 2", 180-pound Legwand, a swift-skating center from Grosse Pointe, Mich., who had 54 goals and 51 assists last season for the Plymouth ( Mich.) Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League.
If inexperience—or his bout with mononucleosis—keeps Legwand, an 18-year-old who has been compared with Mike Modano, from starting the season with Nashville, the Predators will try to milk goals from a scoring-by-committee attack led by veteran center Darren Turcotte. Free-agent forward Tom Fitzgerald will provide leadership. Enthusiastic Barry Trotz gets his first NHL head-coaching job after four years with the Portland (Maine) Pirates, Washington's top minor league team. Trotz has promised a "fast-paced, in-your-face" club.
Regardless of how well they perform, the Predators will play to a large house. The club, which held Hockey 101 clinics to educate fans, has sold more than 12,000 season tickets with the help of a billboard campaign featuring country singers Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Amy Grant and Lorrie Morgan—each with one or two teeth blacked out—and the slogan GOT TICKETS? The Predators' $160 million arena is adjacent to the original home of the Grand Ole Opry and near a collection of old-fashioned honky-tonks. "We know they like their music here," says Poile. "The next step is to see how many of them are hockey fans."