The Nashville Predators are trending down after consistently making the playoffs as a juggernaut team for three years, advancing to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017, winning the Presidents’ Trophy in 2018, and a second consecutive Central Division title in 2019. Most fans can’t decipher which direction management wants to take, whether it’s a full-scale rebuild or still competing for a playoff spot, but it’s evident that this isn’t the same team from those seasons. To help with that, a new vibe in the locker room appeared in the form of young and hungry players eager to get their shot at a full-time roster spot, and the prospect pool has slowly become one of the best in the league.
Since the team’s core is now past their prime, general manager David Poile has doubled down on the youth movement, trading core pieces like Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Ellis for draft picks and younger players. Bringing in Cody Glass and Philippe Myers is a good start, but the biggest question is Philip Tomasino. Poile has stated multiple times that Till Tomasino will have a chance to make the opening night lineup for the 2021-22 season, but nothing is guaranteed in professional sports. Considering this opportunity and what he’s shown in his young career, he should make the roster.
Tomasino is Dominating All Leagues
Tomasino was drafted 24th overall in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. From his most recent season in the American Hockey League (AHL) to his 2019-20 in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), nothing has really changed in terms of his production.
In the OHL, he scored 100 points in 62 games, which ranked fourth in league standings. He was also ninth with a 1.61 points-per-game average (among players with a minimum of 45 games). In the AHL, he tied Tommy Novak for the Chicago Wolves’ lead in points with 32 and scored 13 goals in 29 games. To be a top-15 scorer as a rookie is impressive. Even when he wasn’t scoring goals, Tomasino was far ahead of most of his competition. His ability to retrieve the puck and find open lanes with his creative passing and excellent skating put him steps ahead of his opponents, which led to a successful season.
One of his best performances was with Team Canada at the 2020-21 World Junior Championship tournament, where he scored six points in seven games. Four of those points were goals, and although they lost to the United States in the championship game, Tomasino cemented his spot as one of the best prospects in the NHL. He performed just as well against peers at or above his skill level on a big stage.
It doesn’t matter the level, Tomasino has played well. He has gained experience playing against those his age and older. He was never going to wow you with his point totals, but his ability to perform at a consistently high level separates him from other prospects. The raw tools are clearly there, and he used them with his excellent hockey mind to become one of the top scorers in two separate leagues.
Time Has Run Out
Recently, there has been talk about “overdeveloping” prospects and how it can help or hurt them. There are multiple prospects around the league in a situation similar to Tomasino’s. At this point, it would be a mistake to let him stay down and play against lower competition; he would be overextending his stay. I can understand why Poile wants to be careful, especially considering how poorly the Predators’ drafted forwards have performed since the team’s inception. However, it would simply continue that trend to let Tomasino “overripen” in the minors.
Many prospects in the Predators’ system could benefit from a couple of AHL seasons before making the jump. Egor Afanasyev comes to mind, and even one of the newest members of the pipeline, Zachary L’Heureux. They will both be NHLers at some point, but more than one year would likely benefit them, depending on their development.
It’s essential for management to fully understand how their prospects are developing and where they need to be during a specific season. Many of the failures in Predators’ history have come from keeping young players down too long or bringing them up too early. Defenseman Dante Fabbro is a prime example of a player brought up too early. He has struggled in the NHL, and it’s not because he doesn’t have the tools to become a top-four defenseman. It’s because he didn’t get any seasoning in a lower-level league like the AHL. The NCAA is great, but the AHL is very different, and not getting any experience against players that are bigger and older than him hurt his development.
In this case, it would not be wise for Nashville to leave a player as talented as Tomasino in the AHL. If he struggles during his stint on the roster, then I would consider it. However, given the team’s uncertain direction, I see minimal risk in bringing him up for opening night against the Seattle Kraken and giving him a trial run. It would benefit all parties, and he could be a massive fix to some of the problems ailing the top-six.