The Nashville Predators‘ first-round exit came in heartbreaking fashion, as Sebastian Aho tipped a Jaccob Slavin shot from the point off of a faceoff and sent the team packing. After a long and hard-fought series and the crazy regular season, it seemed as if the Predators deserved better. One thing that leaped out to anyone watching the Predators this season was the number of injuries they sustained over two months. The young guns in Chicago were forced to be called up and played due to players like Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Matt Duchene, and even a guy like Eeli Tolvanen going down with various assortment of injuries.
Since general manager David Poile delayed the Predators’ youth movement this season, it seems like a good time to reacquaint fans with the exciting bundle of young talent the team has in the pipeline.
Full disclosure, I omitted Tolvanen on this list as a prospect, but he would be slotted in at three if he met my parameters.
1. Yaroslav Askarov
The future in net for the Predators, Yaroslav Askarov was selected in the 2020 NHL Draft with the 11th-overall pick. Widely regarded as the best goaltender since Carey Price in 2005, he has given scouts plenty of reasons to consider him a generational goaltending talent. He registered his first career KHL win with SKA St. Petersburg at the ripe age of 17 years old and has continued to produce at the VHL and MHL levels. Most recently, he put up a .951 save percentage (SV%) in nine KHL games, where he played most of his year among Russian leagues. With a rather defensively unsound Russian team in the World Junior Championships, he posted a 2.50 goals-against average (GAA) and .914 SV%. They aren’t great numbers, but much improved from his prior stint, where he ended with a 2.71 GAA and .877 SV%.
He has to work on some kinks in his game, just as there are with any goalie prospect in any league. He has been known to over-commit on pucks, and at times he looks jittery in the net. Luckily, those are things that coaching and maturity can fix. Askarov’s NHL readiness is notorious among league scouts. Having put up better stats than both Igor Shesterkin and Ilya Sorokin — two NHL starters for their respective New York clubs — in the KHL up to this point, it will be no time until we see him pulling on a gold Predators jersey. The future of the blue paint in Nashville is in good hands.
2. Philip Tomasino
The Predators’ dire need of an elite, point-producing forward could arrive in the form of Philip Tomasino, who, up to this point, has done nothing but impress in both the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and American Hockey Leauge (AHL). In the OHL, he put up 100 points in 62 games during the 2019-20 season. That total placed fourth behind the Minnesota Wild’s Marco Rossi (120), the Winnipeg Jets’ Cole Perfetti (111), and the Washington Capitals’ Connor McMichael (102).
Since COVID-19 shut down the 2020-21 OHL season and the Milwaukee Admirals decided to forego playing this year, Tomasino got time with the Chicago Wolves in the AHL. The experience was invaluable, and he was excellent in his stint. He produced over a point per game with 32 in 29, while also playing an excellent two-way game. His willingness to battle along the wall and win loose puck battles helped him generate chances off the rush.
He produced well against competition at the World Junior Championships, too. Tomasino proved to be a staple of the depth on the almost unbeatable Canadian team with six points in seven games. His four goals were tied for fourth with the likes of John-Jason Peterka (BUF), Florian Elias (Eligible for 2021 Draft), McMichael (WSH), Kasper Simontaival (LAK), and Noel Gunler (CAR). Tomasino brings a lot to the table through his speed and willingness to get to the dirty areas. It leads to point-scoring, and that’s what the Predators are missing. Expect Tomasino to see some time in the show if all goes well in training camp.
3. David Farrance
I did a full deep dive on why I think David Farrance will be a fantastic addition to the Predators’ blue line. His speed and skating are above average, and he thinks the game reasonably well. His defense and spatial awareness could use some work, but he’s very young, so I’m not worried about him too much. In a system like Nashville’s that churns out stud defenseman after stud defenseman, Farrance is most likely going to be added to that list. He was a Hobey-Baker finalist multiple times in his college career at Boston University and was continuously praised as one of the best defensemen in college hockey. The Predators got a bargain at 92 in the 2017 Draft, as his development has gone exceptionally well.
We did see Farrance get some NHL action this year, albeit only for two games. However, in those two games, he looked right at home. While the flaws I pointed out were still noticeable, he skated perfectly well with NHL veterans and looked to fit right into the system employed by head coach John Hynes. If Poile makes the correct moves this summer, we could see Farrance get substantial time on the second or third defense pairs.
4. Egor Afanasyev
Another Russian prospect that the Predators chose, Egor Afanasyev is a staggering 6-foot-3, 203 pounds and a pretty solid skater for a player of his size. There are things to figure out naturally, as a player with his stature won’t have the most graceful of strides, but it is impressive to see the towering figure move up and down the ice. He spent his 2019-20 season in the OHL with the Windsor Spitfires, where he put up 67 points in 61 games. Of those 67 points, 31 of them were goals, which is a good sign for the Predators faithful, who have been dying for a consistent goal scorer for years. At the World Junior Championship, he was one of the only sources of offense for the Russian team outside of Rodion Amirov (TOR) and Marat Khusnutdinov (MIN). He was tied with Khusnutdinov in points, and Amirov was the only Russian player to have more.
This season with the OHL shutdown, Afansyev was loaned to the KHL’s CSKA Moskva, MHL’s Krasnaya Armiya Moskva, and VHL’s Zvezda Moskva. He posted six points in 16 games in the KHL, no points in two games in the VHL, and six points in four games in the MHL. He played the most in the KHL, but his MHL stint was probably his most dominant, as five of his six points were goals. His shot is excellent, and if he can learn to pair it with equally good skating, he’s going to be an even larger threat. Afanasyev, while he most likely won’t be a 30-goal scorer in the NHL, could be a consistent 20-25 goal and 50-plus point player in the league. It depends on his linemates somewhat, but overall, he needs to create for himself as an individual.
5. Luke Evangelista
An intriguing pick in the 2020 Draft, Luke Evangelista was one of many Lukes drafted by the Predators through the seven-round draft. He was an interesting pick to say the least, as many viewed him as a third-round player at the time. However, Poile saw something in him that made him pull the trigger. In his 2019-20 OHL season, he put up 61 points in 62 games with the London Knights. He showed off the offensive creativity that most scouts praised when they evaluated him. While his defensive metrics aren’t anything to rave about, he can develop into a decent two-way player with work and time.
His 2020-21 season was abridged. With the OHL season cancelled, he didn’t play much hockey, but did get some games in with the Wolves. He played 14 games in total with them, but only put up four points with no goals. However, it should be taken with a grain of salt as he played bottom-six minutes in roles that stifled his opportunities to focus on his offensive game. The AHL experience should help him down the road as he develops further and expands on his scoring touch. Today’s Predators could use a player of his offensive caliber on their second or third lines.
Honorable mention: Connor Ingram
All of the players listed here will be vital to the Predators’ future. Each of them brings something unique to the table, whether that’s elite athleticism, scoring touch, speed, size, etc. They were all selected for a specific reason, and if the development teams in the Canadian Hockey League and AHL can recognize those reasons and build off and around them, the future of Nashville is in good hands.