It’s been a trying season for the Nashville Predators in 2021. Expectations have been sorely missed and the fan base has been downright disappointed. However, there have been a few nice surprises. For one, Eeli Tolvanen may finally be turning into the player many hoped. He’s showing to the team, the fans, and the rest of the league that he can live up to the hype that surrounded him when the Predators selected him with their first pick back in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
Before this season started, general manager, David Poile mentioned that the franchise wanted to see somewhat of a youth movement and promote from within. We thought we were going to see a lot more opportunity for younger players who’ve been sitting in the system for a few years or even those who are fresh to the franchise. If the Predators started this season with a bang, competed as one of the best teams in the division, it would be hard to argue that the youth should be called up sooner rather than later. The results would have spoken for themselves and the status quo would have been not only acceptable but most likely embraced.
However, the season hasn’t been anything close to acceptable, and paired with the fact that this year will consist of just 56 games, many may be asking, “what do they have to lose?”
Now would be time for the Predators to see who they have. It’s one thing having a prospect sitting in the minors who scouts rave over, or a player who can put up points with the best of them in the AHL, but once in the NHL, it can be another story. The NHL is the best hockey league in the world for a reason. It’s a different game when you play with and against the sport’s best.
So, to answer the question that many may be being asking, the Predators really don’t have anything to lose. The following players are those we need to see don the gold sweater at some point, as well as those we need to see more of.
The young defenseman made his NHL debut against the Carolina Hurricanes on March 9 and he certainly didn’t look out of place. Davies, 24, may always be known in Nashville as the player the Predators received for P.K Subban. He’s a seventh-round pick (192nd overall) from the 2016 draft, which may have put some fans off originally when they found out the team had parted with the larger-than-life personality, Subban. However, the former Northeastern University Husky has impressed and excelled since turning pro.
The 5-foot-11 defenseman finished third in defensive scoring for the Milwaukee Admirals in 2019-20 and was off to a flying start this season with the Chicago Wolves – the farm team the Predators are sharing with the Hurricanes for this year only, due to the Admirals opting out of the AHL season. While playing for the Wolves, Davies registered nine points in his first nine games, which was the team’s highest total from a defenseman and the fourth-highest league wide at the time of his call-up.
The Predators have been tested immensely so far with injuries. All three of their best defensemen have missed games this season already, with their top pairing currently missing significant time as Roman Josi was recently placed on injured reserve and deemed “week-to-week” with an upper-body injury. Ryan Ellis is also out for up to six weeks while he deals with his own upper-body injury.
Davies may be in the lineup more out of necessity than the Predators’ coaching staff wanting to see what he can do on the big stage. But when the team’s defensive corps returns to full strength – assuming Davies is still on the roster – he should not be reassigned to the minors, but rather left to see what he’s capable of with a significant and consistent stream of games.
One impression that Davies made from his debut was his early confidence. There was a moment in the game against the Hurricanes where the 24-year-old used a slick spin move to exit the defensive zone with the puck. While it could be argued it was just a breakout or a fancy one at that, it did speak volumes. It almost looked like a move you’d see from Josi. Not only that, it took guts to attempt it on his own blueline. He showed that he could be a staple of the Predators’ backend for a while.
Predators’ fans are more familiar with this name. Pitlick made his NHL debut during the 2018-19 season. The 23-year-old has played in three games so far for the Predators this year, again getting the call to the big league after a fast and impressive start with the Wolves, which earned him CCM/AHL Player of the Month for February. Pitlick was producing at more than a point-per-game pace when playing in the AHL, registering 10 points in just eight games. But maybe more impressive is how those points came, the former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher scored eight goals in the eight games he played in the minors.
The Predators are in desperate need of scoring, averaging 2.30 goals per game, so any help would be welcome. Pitlick could give a spark to the bottom-six forward group, which would certainly help with scoring depth. The third-round pick may not be the biggest player on the ice, standing 5-foot-11 and weighing 196 pounds. He may get pushed around, especially when battling for loose pucks on the boards and in the corners. However, the centerman is speedy and possesses skillful hands.
As we’ve learned from teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning, speed kills and can be incredibly hard to defend. Pitlick can help improve the Predators’ overall team speed, which in turn could assist in turning the tide on the lack of scoring they’re experiencing this season.
On to a name that some may be unfamiliar with in Novak. He’s a player who has been sitting in the Predators’ system since 2018-19 and another draft pick out of the University of Minnesota. Novak was selected in the third round of the 2015 Entry Draft.
He may be the next in line to receive the call-up, should the coaches look to shake up the roster, promote the youth a little more, or of course, if the injury bug continues to rear its ugly head.
Novak, 23, impressed in his first full AHL season during 2019-20, registering 42 points in 60 games. He ranked second in plus/minus, third in assists and seventh in points among rookies during that season.
So far Novak has continued his strong play. He has produced at a point-per-game level, registering 10 points in as many games. He is second in team scoring for a Wolves squad that sits third in the league standings.
The River Falls, WI native was praised by Admirals general manager, Scott Nichol for his hockey IQ.
“We love his skillset, his hockey sense, how he makes plays and how he sees the ice so well,” Nichol said earlier this year.
The Predators have players who like to shoot the puck. Novak is more of a playmaker and a forward that can read the play extremely well. If he receives the call and gets the opportunity, the youngster could help some of the team’s natural goal scorers be a little more productive.
Well, this one we just have to mention. Every fan is familiar with Tomasino. He has been elite at every level he has played, and the Predators are hopeful that the trend can continue into the NHL. The 2019 first-round pick was nothing short of sensational during his third season in the OHL, recording 100 points in 62 games.
The 19-year-old split time between the Niagara IceDogs and the Oshawa Generals after a midseason trade. Don’t worry the IceDogs were able to receive six, second-round picks, a third-round pick, and two fourth-round picks! So, you can see the type of player that we’re dealing with. Needless to say, he is held in high regard.
Tomasino has four goals and nine points in nine games for the Wolves, which ranks seventh league wide among rookies.
At only 19 years of age, the Predators would probably like to see the forward continue to develop his game at the lower levels. However, with the OHL’s 2021 season still unclear, Tomasino is currently unable to return for another season with the Generals.
We don’t know how Tomasino will perform when he gets to the NHL, whenever that is. But with the resume the young forward has, there’s a good chance that he can make a difference at the highest level. He has a natural goal-scoring touch and could develop into one of the better scorers the franchise has ever seen.
Look, one of the worse things a team can do is rush a prospect through and ruin their development. But the Predators could be accused of taking too long with their rookies and are often no better off. Poile hinted at the possibility of giving Tomasino a shot, during the last offseason, so clearly, the coaching staff and front office feel he is deserving and ready.
There’s not much downside to offering the young forward a shot. Even if it’s giving the Mississauga native less than the nine games that trigger the first year of his entry-level deal. But either way, it’s highly unlikely the Predators will be disappointed with his production. He has elite hands, works incredibly hard, has an explosive first step and a high-end top speed.
So, while the chances of earning a playoff spot this season are becoming more distant, it should be used to inject some hope back into the fanbase, who’s pretty much had all of theirs beat out of them.
Forward Ryan Johansen touched on the prospect pool after the March 9 loss against the Hurricanes.
“I think we have talented prospects; we have guys who have great character and work really hard and they’re taking advantage of their opportunities,” the centerman said. “You just love to see them compete.”
The talent is there. At this point, it may just be a case of opening the gates and letting the young guns play. After all, what do the Predators have to lose?
I graduated from Mount Royal University with a degree in Journalism with the hopes to pursue a career in sports media. I have been following hockey for many years at various different levels. Whether playing, watching or writing about it, hockey has played a massive role in my life. I was the sports editor at The Calgary Journal as well as a sports columnist for The Calgary Reflector. Follow on Twitter: @A_Grant27