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Mike Harrington: Building of Penguins, Predators provides lessons for entire NHL

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The NHL is a notorious copycat league and there are plenty of lessons to be learned about the way the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators were built as they advanced to this Stanley Cup final.

For teams like the Sabres who didn't make the playoffs and haven't played a game since April 9, it has to be sobering to watch two teams still on the ice on June 11.

New General Manager Jason Botterill has obviously taken plenty of mental notes over the years. Botterill, of course, is intimately familiar with the way the Penguins formulated this era of championship hockey after a seven-year drought between their 2009 Cup title in Detroit and last year's victory in San Jose.

Of course, you can build with the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin drafted first and second overall, respectively. And it's easy to forget Marc-Andre Fleury was the No. 1 overall pick in the historic 2003 draft held in Bridgestone that produced one of the greatest hauls of longtime NHLers ever (the Sabres took Thomas Vanek at No. 5).

The Predators, meanwhile, don't have a franchise player. Their only top-10 draft pick is injured center Ryan Johansen, who was taken No. 4 by Columbus in 2010. Trade acquisitions of Johansen, P.K. Subban, Filip Forsberg and captain Mike Fisher have built a core in the wake of the free agent defection of defenseman Ryan Suter to Minnesota and the swap of franchise rock Shea Weber to Montreal nearly 12 months ago for Subban.

"We sometimes we fall in love with our players," Nashville GM David Poile said earlier in the series. "We probably overrate or overestimate our players. I really try with myself and our staff to be as honest as we can about the value to our players.

It gets a little bit more difficult as you move along and you’re with individual teams and players for a longer period of time. For example, Shea Weber. Trading Shea Weber is not something you think about or ever really contemplate doing. Those type of trades become more difficult."

The Penguins have plenty of lower-round and trade help, with Botterill given plenty of credit for helping the organization develop its draft sleepers. Meanwhile, the Predators did some serious draft mining.

Mike Harrington: It's back to work for Botterill after one last celebration with Penguins

Pittsburgh's Jake Guentzel, who entered Game Six one goal shy of the all-time record for rookies in a postseason, was selected 77th overall in 2013. Bryan Rust went 80th in 2010, Fourth-liners Tom Kuhnhackl and Josh Archibald went 110th in 2010 and 174th in 2011, respectively.

And you can't overlook what happened in 2012 when the draft was in then-Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. The Penguins' No. 1 pick that year at 22nd overall was defenseman Olli Maatta and No. 83 -- in the third round -- was goalie Matt Murray.

The Penguins have also added plenty of pieces via trade around their franchise players. In deals came key contributors like Phil Kessel, Chris Kunitz, Trevor Daley, Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, Brian Dumoulin, Patric Hornqvist and Ian Cole.

And Conor Sheary, who has played on Crosby's line, was a college free agent out of the University of Massachusetts.

The biggest move by GM Jim Rutherford, however, was firing Mike Johnston and replacing him with Mike Sullivan as coach in December, 2015. Sullivan, who played 709 career games, brought a strong presence to the locker room that earned the respect of the stars and a consistent message through the regular season and playoffs.

"We've tried to define for them what it means to play the right way," Sullivan said after Sunday's pregame skate. "So I think our players are well aware of the details that we talk about, whether it be X's and O's -- but it's beyond X's and O's. When we use that phrase play the right way, it's not just about the details of the X's and O's, it's about a mindset, it's about a resilience, it's about a competitive nature that defines this group.

"We use that phrase daily with our team, and it means a lot of things to our group. It's hard to just I think encapsulate what that means to our team in just a few short sentences. But I think our players are well aware of what that phrase means to this particular group, and it applies in every circumstance. So we focus on the process. We focus on the details. We try to stay in the moment, control what we can control.

The Predators' top homegrown draft picks are forward Colin Wilson (7th in 2009) and defenseman Ryan Ellis (11th in 2009). Standout defenseman Roman Josi was taken 38th in 2008. Injured winger Kevin Fiala was nabbed at No. 11 in 2014 and winger Austin Watson went 18th in 2010. After that? There's quite a group that panned out.

Check out this list: Pontus Aberg, 37th in 2012; Colton Sissons, 50th in 2012; Craig Smith, 98th in 2009; backup goalie Juuse Saros, 99th in 2013; Mattias Ekholm 102nd in 2009; Viktor Arvidsson, 112th in 2014. And the biggest find was franchise goalie Pekka Rinne, taken 258th overall in 2004 -- in a ninth round that no longer exists in the draft.

Now the comparison that Botterill needs to change. And fast. The Sabres have just three goals from any player drafted in the third round or later since 2010, and those all came this season from Nick Baptiste. The only skater drafted No. 100 or higher since 2007 to make a contribution is Marcus Foligno, taken at No. 104 in 2009.

Botterill has a ton of work to do   and he can't overvalue players in trade as predecessor Tim Murray seemed to do. The draft is where more inroads need to happen. The Penguins and Predators certainly prove that.

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