“Growing Fangs” is going to be a series of monthly articles that allows Nashville Predators fans to learn how the team’s prospects are doing. This includes their performances, how they are trending, and any news that pertains to them. The first installment serves as an introduction to the team’s prospects I find most interesting and those who have the highest upside. Subsequent installments will look at the same prospects I introduce in this post but also any who have had months that stand out from the norm, either good or bad.
AHL – Milwaukee Admirals
Just one tier below the NHL, the AHL is generally the first place teams look to call up prospects from. Ahead of the Nov. 13 games, the Admirals had 21 points, good enough for first in the Central Division and tied for second in the league, although they have struggled with just one win in their past five games. Like the parent club, the Admirals are achieving their results with a strong blue line, but also have some high-end forwards.
F Eeli Tolvanen
Winger Eeli Tolvanen is the most notable Predator prospect after he was dynamic in the KHL last season and set the league’s scoring record for a U-20 player. The 19-year-old Finn fell to Nashville with the 30th overall pick in the 2017 Draft following two productive seasons in the USHL.
So far this season, in 16 AHL games, Tolvanen has three goals and 10 points, including four power play assists. He has turned up his production lately with two goals and an assist in his last five games and is performing well in his first full professional season in North America. However, that’s nothing compared to the 19 goals and 36 points he had in 49 KHL games in his record-breaking 2017-18 season.
Also in the past year, he dazzled at the Olympics, World Juniors, and World Championships with at least a point-per-game average in all three tournaments. On the surface, Tolvanen should be in the NHL soon given his talent and ceiling, but because Nashville’s top-nine is pretty well cemented, the question remains whether or not there will be a spot for him this season.
There’s also the issue of his contract, which grants him the right to return to the KHL if he appears in more than 10 AHL games, which he’s done. However, he has already said that he’s “probably not going to do it,” in reference to exercising that clause (from ‘Predators Prospect Eeli Tolvanen,’ Tennessean – 10/29/18). That’s great news for the Predators, who will call upon Tolvanen when he’s deemed ready and a spot opens up for him.
F Yakov Trenin
Russian forward Yakov Trenin is in his fifth season in North America and his second full one with the Admirals after he played junior hockey for the Gatineau Olympiques of the QMJHL. The Predators drafted the 21-year-old in the second round of the 2015 Draft. Ahead of the draft, his skating and vision stood out as is expected from Russian forwards, but he also possesses a willingness to go to the dirty areas and has the hands to score off deflections in front of the net.
Hockey. Is. Fun.
Here's Yakov Trenin's first goal of the season! 🙌 pic.twitter.com/ngaF5v3uXY
— Milwaukee Admirals (@mkeadmirals) October 14, 2018
He was viewed as somewhat of a project, and that if he put some mass onto his slight, 6-foot-2, 179-pound frame, he could become a prospect. Well, three years and 22 pounds later, that’s what the Predators have: a prospect.
This season, Trenin has appeared in 16 AHL games and has three goals and seven points, including one power play assist. In his last five games, he has no goals, but two assists. His seven points only tie for seventh on the team, but his .44 points-per-game (P/G) average is higher than the .36 he averaged last season when he had five goals and 16 points in 44 games.
F Emil Pettersson
At 24 years of age, Emil Pettersson is on the older side for a prospect, although he is only in his second season in North America. The former 2013 sixth round pick of the Predators spent two full seasons in Sweden’s SHL before joining the Admirals for the 2017-18 season. He was great last season and led the team with 46 points in 72 games.
So far in 2018-19, he’s appeared in 16 games and totaled four goals, nine points, and two power play assists. A natural playmaker, Pettersson has worked on shooting the puck more often this season, so an uptick in goals won’t be a surprise. Even at 24, he can still become a productive player in the NHL, but with the team’s current center depth, it may not be with the Predators.
If you recognize the Pettersson name, that’s to be expected as Emil’s younger brother is Vancouver Canuck Elias Pettersson, who is taking the league by storm as a rookie. Emil may not have the upside that Elias has, but he is still talented in his own right.
D Alexandre Carrier
If there’s one thing the Predators are especially good at developing, it’s defensemen. On the NHL roster alone, they drafted and developed Matthias Ekholm, Roman Josi, and Ryan Ellis and that doesn’t include Seth Jones, Samuel Girard, Ryan Suter, and Shea Weber, all whom the team traded away. Current Admiral defenseman Alexandre Carrier could be one more in Nashville’s long line of quality blueliners, if he can rebound from his down 2017-18 season.
The Predators drafted Carrier in the fourth round of the 2015 Draft and he is in his third season with Milwaukee. The 22-year-old Québec product has made a name for himself as a strong, all around defenseman capable of providing offense while being strong in the defensive zone. Last season he led all Admiral defensemen with 28 points in 73 games but that was down from the 39 points in 72 games he had in his first professional season. So far this season he has six points, all assists, in 16 games, a higher scoring rate than he had last year.
D Frédéric Allard
Second-year pro Frédéric Allard was taken a year later and a round earlier than Carrier and has since leapfrogged Carrier in the Predators’ system. Allard finished last season with eight goals and 24 points in 55 games, but showed flashes of brilliance. He currently paces Admirals defensemen with 11 points in 16 games, including one assist in his last five games.
His emergence over the past year has him knocking on the NHL’s doors and he is talented enough that he’d likely be on several NHL rosters already. Allard is a prime example of a prospect who could push his way onto Nashville’s third pair next season. However, as a right shot defenseman who possesses all the tools to potentially be on a top pair in the future, his greatest value to the Predators may be as a trade chip to land them a piece for the NHL club.
ECHL – Atlanta Gladiators
The ECHL is an often-overlooked league, but as the “Double-A” affiliate of an NHL club, it serves a key role as teams regularly send goaltending prospects to the ECHL so they can have a starter’s workload rather than being a backup in the AHL. Braden Holtby, Garret Sparks, Tomas Vokoun, and Tim Thomas all played in the ECHL before getting their chances in the NHL.
G Miroslav Svoboda
Czech netminder Miroslav Svoboda is an example of a goaltender who could develop into a special player but is currently best served starting in the ECHL. He was originally drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the seventh round of the 2015 Draft but never signed and only came to North America this season. He spent previous seasons in the Czech Republic, bouncing between the country’s various leagues.
In five starts this season, Svoboda has a 4-0-1 record, with a .940 save percentage (SV%) and 1.99 goals against average (GAA). He is third in the league in goals against average and tied for first in save percentage. Considering this is his first season away from Europe, he is lighting it up in a surprising manner. Last season with HC Plzen of the Czech Republic’s top league, he had a .926 SV% and a 2.10 GAA in 47 appearances. He followed it up with a .910 SV% and a 2.25 GAA in 10 playoff games.
Given the presence of Juuse Saros, Nashville’s starting netminder role is pretty well spoken for moving forward. However, when Pekka Rinne was injured earlier this season, Svoboda was called up to the NHL to backup Saros. Eventually, when Rinne retires, the Predators will need a backup for Saros and it could be Svoboda.
College Hockey Prospects
F Rem Pitlick
Center Rem Pitlick is entering his junior year at the University of Minnesota after the Predators took him with a third round pick in 2016. He led the Golden Gophers with 31 points in 38 games last season while playing on a line with current Buffalo Sabre Casey Mittelstadt. However, Mittelstadt turning pro hasn’t led to a regression for Pitlick. Instead, he is tied for the team lead with three goals and five points in seven games. He’s been particularly good in his last five games with two goals and an assist.
D Dante Fabbro
If there’s a prospect other than Tolvanen that the average Predator fan knows, it’s defenseman Dante Fabbro. He is in his junior season at Boston University and currently captains the squad. Like Tolvanen, Fabbro fell to the Predators who took him with the 17th overall pick in 2016 and he’s increased his production every year since.
Last season he finished with nine goals and 29 points in 38 games, good enough for fifth on the team and tied for 16th among NCAA defensemen. He’s taken another step this season with a team-leading eight points in seven games and he’s been on a roll of late with two goals and four assists in the last five games.
Fabbro is one of the game’s best defense prospects and projects to be a top-four defenseman in the NHL. He isn’t huge at six-foot, 190 pounds, but he uses his skating ability and hockey sense to thrive. The sky is the limit for him as he’s the perfect defenseman to perform at a high level in the modern NHL. How he develops the rest of this season will be interesting to watch as he will be a strong candidate to make the NHL roster next season or even join the club after BU’s season concludes in the spring.
D David Farrance
Fabbro’s defense partner at BU, David Farrance, is one year younger than Fabbro and still has some developing to do despite a high-end skillset. At 19, he is in his sophomore season with the Terriers and is one year removed from the 2017 Draft when the Predators used a third round pick on him. Last season was an interesting one for him as he played some at wing in order to get him playing time and to allow him to adjust to the college game without being exposed too much. He finished the season with three goals and nine points in 31 games.
This season he’s back on the blue line and already has five points, all assists, in seven games, tying him for third on the team in scoring. However, four of his points came in the season-opening two-game series against Minnesota State and he has just one assist over his last five games. Farrance’s greatest asset is his ability to lead a rush and become an extra attacker in the offensive zone. However, his greatest asset also becomes his most glaring weakness as his decision to move deep in the offensive zone often leads to odd-man rushes for the opposition.
Even with his smaller 5-foot-11, 190-pound frame, he has the tools to develop into a dominant collegiate defenseman and eventual top-four blueliner in the NHL. To maximize his success, however, he will need to be paired with a more defensive-minded partner who can cover up his mistakes. Considering this is his sophomore season, Farrance will be a prospect to pay attention to this season to see how he develops back at his native position.
Junior Hockey Prospects
F Pavel Koltygin
If Trenin is considered a project, fellow Russian Pavel Koltygin is the equivalent of a long-term home improvement project that, if all goes well, you’ll have a useful asset, yet you won’t be surprised if everything collapses and there’s nothing to show for it. The Predators selected Koltygin in the sixth round of the 2017 Draft after he left Russia to join the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the QMJHL. After his first season in North America, he excelled with 22 goals and 47 points in 65 games, leading to Nashville taking a flier on him.
He regressed slightly last season to the tune of 17 goals and 42 goals in 64 games but has bounced back nicely this season with eight goals and 15 points, including four on the man advantage, in 20 games. He has been on fire in recent games with four goals and two assists over the past five games.
Ahead of the draft, Koltygin was viewed in the typical manner for Russians: high-end offensive talent but lacking in the defensive aspects of the game. This showed in his first QMJHL season with a minus-28 rating, a stat he improved to plus-27 last season and has continued to better this season with a plus-eight. He is still a long-term project, but if he can further develop his defensive tools in another QMJHL season and future AHL seasons, he can be a valuable asset for the Predators.
D Vladislav Yeryomenko
Belarusian defenseman Vladislav Yeryomenko is a new addition to the Predators’ system after they drafted him this year in the fifth round. A second-year draft-eligible prospect, he was passed over in 2017 after an up-and-down rookie year with the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen. Last season, however, he emerged as he was forced into difficult situations with a new coaching staff and system, a relatively young defense corps, and the absence of former first round pick Jake Bean.
The result was Yeryomenko chipping in 13 goals and 41 points in 63 games to lead Hitmen defensemen in scoring. He also represented Belarus at the World Juniors and totaled a goal and three assists in six games. He has continued his improvement with a goal and 12 points in 20 games this season to again lead the team’s blueliners in points.
Before the 2018 Draft, he was projected to go anywhere from the third to sixth round and it’s not a stretch projecting him to develop into second or third pair offensive defenseman with liabilities in the defensive zone. He has the proper awareness and the right tools to generate offense at all levels, but needs to work on his skating and defensive awareness. He’s also fairly small at just 187 pounds and is unlikely to ever develop into a physical blueliner.
*All stats came from Elite Prospects and the players’ respective league websites