“Growing Fangs” is a monthly article in which I write about the state of the Nashville Predators’ farm system and how individual prospects are performing. I wrote the first installment in November when I introduced some of the team’s most-touted prospects. Starting with this month, and continuing in subsequent months, the articles will recap player performances from that month.
For December’s installment, there are several themes that have emerged. One is the World Junior Championship, the annual top prospect tournament that is currently underway. The other is the emergence of several college hockey prospects who have been trending in different directions since the last “Growing Fangs” was published.
I’ll start with World Juniors as it’s the most noteworthy event occurring in the hockey world. Let me know your thoughts on the team’s prospects and any that you would like to learn more about. Thanks for reading.
World Junior Participation is Small, but Impactful
The Predators may only have three prospects competing in this year’s junior tournaments and only two at the World Junior Championship in British Columbia, but those prospects had, or are having, big impacts. It starts with defenseman Vladislav Yeryomenko who represented Belarus at the U20 Division 1, Group A World Championship held earlier this month in Germany.
At the tournament, one tier below the main tournament, Yeryomenko appeared in five games and had two points to tie for the team-lead for defensemen and helped Belarus to a second-place finish. Outside the tournament, he plays for the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen, with whom he has played 31 games this season and has one goal and 15 points, second-most among the team’s blueliners.
Since Nov. 13, when I published the last “Growing Fangs,” he has three assists in 11 games. The Predators selected Yeryomenko in the fifth round of the 2018 Entry Draft. He previously represented Belarus at the 2016 and 2017 U18 World Championships and the 2018 World Junior Championship.
The two Predators prospects at the main tournament are Eeli Tolvanen and Jachym Kondelik who represent Finland and the Czech Republic, respectively. Tolvanen, the team’s 2017 first round pick and top prospect, wasn’t a guarantee to go to World Juniors this year. That is because he was in the NHL when selection camp invites were first announced. However, when the Predators returned him to the AHL, it paved the way for him to participate in the tournament.
In his third World Junior Championship, he has two assists in three games to tie for second on the team in points. Both assists occurred in Finland’s most recent game, a 5-1 victory over Slovakia on Dec. 29. Since Nov. 13, Tolvanen has played in seven AHL games, registering a goal and an assist, and in four NHL games, he also has a goal and an assist. In the NHL, he averaged 13:16 of ice time per game, including 1:27 on the power play.
Although he produced in the NHL, it was clear that he needed more time in the AHL. Although he played his junior hockey with the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers, Tolvanen played in the KHL last season and needs more time to grow accustomed to the North American game. The question with him joining Finland is whether or not playing in a junior tournament is good for his development. On one hand, it will potentially allow him to dominate, but on the other hand, the quality of competition is lower than what he faces in the AHL.
Kondelik, the Predators’ 2018 fourth round pick whom they selected from the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks, is a lesser-known prospect. He is currently a freshman at the University of Connecticut, with whom he has one goal and 14 points in 17 games to lead a bad Huskies team in scoring. So far in three games at World Juniors, the Czech center has one goal, a power-play tally that occurred in a 2-1 loss to Russia.
He previously represented the Czech Republic at the 2017 U18 World Championship when he had six points in five games. At 6-foot-7 and 218 pounds, Kondelik is already big enough to play in the NHL. Prior to the draft, he improved his skating and was projected to go somewhere in the third round. He fell by a round to the Predators and has the potential to be a long-term project who has future impact at the NHL level. Because of that, college hockey is the perfect place for him to develop, even if it is on a bad UConn team.
American Hockey League Prospects
Now that the World Juniors discussion is taken care of, it’s time to turn attention to the team’s prospects at the various levels of the farm system, starting with the AHL. The Milwaukee Admirals, the Predators’ AHL affiliate, is one step below the NHL and the first place the Predators recall prospects from. Currently, the Admirals are tied for fourth in the Central Division with 38 points and are six points out of first place.
For AHL prospects, and those in the lower levels of the farm system, I will approach them using a trending up, trending down or staying flat system. This will be based on how the player has performed since the last “Growing Fangs.”
Anthony Richard, the Admirals’ leading scorer with 21 points in 31 games, was recalled by the Predators on Dec. 1, appeared in one game and was returned to the AHL on Dec. 3. The Predators drafted the Quebec native from the QMJHL’s Val-d’Or Foreurs in the fourth round of the 2015 Entry Draft and he is in his third AHL season. Since Nov. 13, he has two goals and six points in 18 games, including four straight two-point games between Dec. 11 and 19.
#Preds recall Anthony Richard from the @mkeadmirals. In addition, Filip Forsberg has been placed on Injured Reserve and will miss 4-6 weeks with an upper-body injury. Nick Bonino will miss tonight's game due to illness and is day-to-day. https://t.co/xK0XVyImqo
— Nashville Predators (@PredsNHL) December 2, 2018
Emil Pettersson, the Predators’ 2013 sixth round pick and older brother of Elias, is 24 years old and in his second AHL season. Since Nov. 13, he has appeared in 18 games with three goals and 11 points. He had a five-game point streak between Dec. 11 and 22 in which he had eight points. In total, he is tied for second on the Admirals with 20 points. Although Pettersson didn’t have the notoriety ahead of his draft, he has since emerged as a productive center who is due an NHL call-up in the near future.
Tanner Jeannot is a 21-year-old forward whom the Predators signed as an undrafted free agent last April. He played junior hockey with the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors and had 77 goals and 170 points in 267 career WHL games. In 28 AHL games this season, he has four goals and eight points with two goals and six points occurring since Nov. 13. Jeannot is a big-bodied winger at 6-foot-2 and 207 pounds who hit his offensive stride in his final WHL season when he was a point-per-game player for the first time. He appears to have carried that upward trend to the AHL this season.
Russian forward Yakov Trenin started this season on a good pace with seven points in his first 16 AHL games. Since then, he has two assists in his past 18 games and no goals since Oct. 23. The former 2015 second round pick may be in his second AHL season, but is struggling to develop further. He is viewed as a long-term project and it appears that the path to him becoming an NHL player will, in fact, be long.
Two Admirals defensemen, Alexandre Carrier and Frédéric Allard have had stagnant performances since Nov. 13. Carrier, in his third AHL season, is 22 years old and was drafted in the fourth round of the 2015 Entry Draft. He started the season with six points, all assists, in his first 16 games and has two goals and five points in the 18 games since. One of his goals was a power-play tally.
Allard, based on what I’ve seen, continues to climb up the franchise’s defensive depth chart. He is 21 years old and in his second season with the Admirals and has two goals, including one on the man advantage, and seven points in his past 18 games. This production has occurred after he posted one goal and 11 points in his first 16 games. The 18 points he has for the season are third-most on the team regardless of position. Not bad for a former 2016 third round pick.
College Hockey Prospects
First up among Predators prospects at the college ranks are a pair of teammates at the University of Minnesota, Rem Pitlick and Thomas Novak. I’ll start with Novak, the elder of the two at 21 years of age and in his fourth collegiate season. The Predators used a 2015 third round pick on him and he played his junior hockey with the USHL’s Waterloo Black Hawks.
The senior center has seven points, all assists, in 17 games and five assists have occurred in his past 10 games. The Wisconsin product has decent size at 6-foot-1 and 179 pounds and is a skilled player and will be an interesting prospect to follow the development of.
Pitlick, also a third round pick, but in 2016, is in his third season with the Golden Gophers. He too is a center, although an undersized one at 5-foot-9, and has had an excellent college career. Last season he played on a line with current Buffalo Sabre Casey Mittelstadt, but Pitlick has maintained his production in spite of Mittelstadt’s absence. He currently leads the team with eight goals and 17 points in 17 games and, since Nov. 13, he has five goals and 12 points in 10 games.
The final college prospect trending upward is UConn netminder Tomas Vomacka, the Predators’ 2017 fifth round selection. Prior to the draft, he played for the Corpus Christi Ice Rays of the North American Hockey League and followed it up with one USHL season, playing for the Lincoln Stars. At 19, he is in his freshman season and has an .899 save percentage and a 2.89 goals-against average in six games. Those aren’t great numbers, however, he’s allowed three or fewer goals in five of six games. He did allow six goals in the remaining game, an outlier that bloats his statistics.
Defenseman David Farrance was a well-known prospect when the Predators drafted him in the third round of the 2017 Entry Draft. He was a recognizable name because he played two seasons with the U.S. National Development Program and represented the United States at the 2017 U18 World Championship. Following the draft, he committed to Boston University, where he is in his second season. For the season, he has one goal and nine points in 16 games, but only one goal and three assists in his last nine games.
Farrance is interesting because he has the skillset and skating ability to thrive on the blue line, yet it hasn’t transitioned to the college level. Last season, with a loaded Terriers’ defense corps, he was moved to the wing, a decision that hindered his development. The nine points he currently has match his total from last season, a positive, but more is expected from a prospect with the potential he showed entering the draft. That feeling must have resonated with USA Hockey as well as he was absent from the nation’s selection camp roster for this year’s World Junior Championship.
Farrance’s defense partner and B.U. captain, Dante Fabbro, is one of the game’s most-coveted defense prospects. He was a 2016 first round pick and is in his junior season with the Terriers. Since Nov. 13, he has five points, all assists, in nine games and has 13 points in 16 games this season to lead the team in scoring. At 20 years of age, Fabbro is too old to compete at World Juniors, but did represent Canada at the last two tournaments.
But just because he is ineligible for World Juniors doesn’t mean he isn’t playing internationally. Instead, he was with Canada at this year’s Spengler Cup, a tournament where Canada’s roster is typically comprised of current or former professional players. Fabbro had two goals and one assist in four games and tied for second on the team in points.
Canadian Hockey League Prospects
Defenseman Jacob Paquette has been on a tear since a Nov. 20 trade sent him from the Kingston Frontenacs to the Niagara IceDogs, both of the OHL. For the season, he has two goals and 10 points in 36 games. However, one goal and six points have occurred in 12 games with the IceDogs. Paquette, a 2017 seventh round selection, was an underwhelming prospect despite a 6-foot-3, 214-pound frame. At 19, and in his fourth OHL season, he is one of the league’s older players and was an alternate captain with the Frontenacs ahead of the trade.
He has clearly enjoyed moving on from Kingston, second-to-last in the league, to Niagara, leading their division, and his improvement in play could be a sign of things to come. Projected as a mid-round pick, the Predators were lucky that he fell to them in the seventh round. He has the potential to be an NHL defenseman, albeit a defensive-minded one, and is likely to need at least one full AHL season before transitioning to the NHL.
Russian center Pavel Koltygin is an interesting prospect. He’s big, at 6-feet and 194 pounds, but has struggled to produce in the QMJHL, considered the easiest of the three CHL leagues to score in. Perhaps that is why he was still available when the Predators used a 2017 sixth round pick on him. This season started off well for him with eight goals and 15 points in his first 20 games. Since then, he has trended down with five goals and eight points in his past 15 games.
That .53 points-per-game rate is solid, but not so much when considering he plays for the Central Division-leading Drummondville Voltigeurs, a team that also has Joe Veleno, Pierre-Olivier Joseph and Nicolas Beaudin on it. At 19, Koltygin still has time to develop, but right now, he has gone flat.
*All stats are from Elite Prospects, the AHL, OHL, and QMJHL