Predators Prospect Afanasyev: Improving & Getting Closer to Nashville

Egor Afanasyev has continued his upward trajectory this season. Scoring 67 points in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) in 62 games for the Windsor Spitfires, some believe that he has made himself the top prospect in the Nashville Predators pipeline.

Heading to North America

A native of Tver, Russia, Afanasyev started out his career in America early. He began playing with Little Caesars, a junior team from right outside of Detroit before he was selected in the 10th and final round of the USHL draft by the Muskegon Lumberjacks in 2017. That round also saw current and future draft picks Brendan Brisson and Jackson LaCombe selected.

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Playing for two years in Muskegon, Afanasyev tallied 76 points for the team.

In 2018-19, he led the Lumberjacks in goals (27), assists (35) and points (62), and was named to the USHL’s third All-Star team. He finished 10th in the USHL in points and his plus-24 plus-minus was the sixth-highest among all league forwards.

Egor Afanasyev Muskegon Lumberjacks
Egor Afanasyev, Muskegon Lumberjacks. Jan. 2019 (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Heading into the draft, some believed that he could be a diamond in the rough. THW’s Brandon Share-Cohen described his game as “a project, but with offensive upside.”

There’s going to be a large amount of USHL players taken in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, and Egor Afanasyev may be one of the most hidden gems in this year’s draft class. A big winger at 6 foot 4 and 201 pounds, Afanasyev has smoother hands than most at his size. Coupling that with his strong compete level and Afanasyev was a huge part of Muskegon’s gameplan this season in the USHL.

– Brandon Share-Cohen

Drafted by Nashville

Many described his selection in the second round as a steal, and he drew comparisons to Eric Lindros as his ceiling and Milan Lucic as his floor at the time of the draft. However, questions still remained and skating was seen as the biggest one for the Russian product.

In the East, Muskegon is closing in on the first-round playoff bye and Afanasyev is driving the bus offensively. The 2019 draft prospect leads the Jacks in scoring with 56 points in 53 games, using his hands, 1-on-1 skills and compete level to get the job done. Skating is a question mark, but the kid produces.

– Ryan Kennedy

Afanasyev said back when he was drafted by the Predators that he was really excited to get things going.

“I’m excited for sure, and I can’t wait to get things started with Nashville. I’ve heard it’s a great team and I’ve heard a lot of NHL players say it’s hard to play against them because the fans are going nuts [at Bridgestone Arena]. It should be fun.”

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A big-bodied forward, Afanasyev has had a significant amount of growth over the past year and some believe he could be seen as a possible impact player with his strength and ability to put the puck in the net. Heading towards his future with the Predators, many believe that his position will be on the wing and he says he believes that will be the case as well.

Share-Cohen expanded his beliefs last year on what his possible ceiling could be as an NHL player, but only if if he improves his skating and ability to consistently play defense.

Players who struggle with skating face unique obstacles when trying to make it to the NHL. With that said, Afanasyev isn’t so bad of a skater that his strengths are outweighed altogether. His deficiencies are all able to be improved upon and if he can figure that out, his ceiling is a top-six winger spot in the NHL.

Making the Improvements

Indeed, Afanasyev has improved that part his skating, but those around him say that while he isn’t the fastest guy, his skating is slightly underrated, and that his weaknesses will only keep getting better.

“He’s always wanting to push the middle of the ice and he’s better on entries than people expect. He’s got that Russian kind of vision. His side-to-side stuff is underrated,” Muskegon Lumberjacks assistant coach Josh Nelson said. (From ‘Predators prospect Egor Afanasyev faces the end of a whirlwind first OHL season’, The Athletic– 3/14/20) “A lot of those kids that were really good when they were young, they kind of peak and flatline for a few years and Egor is going to be one of those kids who just continues to get better and better every year and work on his weaknesses.”

Egor Afanasyev Windsor Spitfires
Egor Afanasyev, Windsor Spitfires (Dave Jewell/THW)

Afanasyev said he knows that one thing he was knocked on was his defense, and said that he is trying to improve it every day.

“I worked on my game defensively. That’s what Nashville wants from me. Just playing that all-around, physical, big man’s game.”

The general consensus is that Afanasyev will get his first chance with the Milwaukee Admirals, Nashville’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, at the start of the 2020-21 season and the team will monitor his progress. It’s possible we could see him get some call-ups along the way as well.

If things pan out the way they could, Nashville will continue to be a force in the Western Conference, and Afanasyev could just be a reason why.