It was not long ago the Nashville Predators were a good drafting and developing team. The team had established a reputation for being a defenseman-developing factory with a long list of impactful defenders rising through their ranks such as Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, Seth Jones, and Samuel Girard.
Currently, the Predators have few under 25 players on the roster making an impact. Development of key prospects such as Philip Tomasino, Cody Glass, and Dante Fabbro has not progressed the way many had projected causing concern.
Nashville has not drafted overly well over the past decade. not having first-round selections in 2018, 2015, 2012, or 2011, and not picking inside the top ten since selecting Seth Jones fourth overall in 2013 contributed to their draft results.
That said, the team needs to improve their scouting and drafting finding players later in the draft and more importantly, improving the development of the prospects they have in the system.
1. Yaroslav Askarov, G – Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)
Drafted: 2020 round one, 11th overall by Nashville Predators
Arguably the best goaltending prospect in the world not currently in the NHL is the big Russian. He has been an elite prospect since before he was drafted playing in Russia. He is a highly decorated prospect having won a Gold, and Bronze at the Hlinka Gretzky, Silver at the U18, and WJC while winning the best goalie award at the U18.
Askarov has made his highly anticipated debut in North America for the current campaign. Wisely Nashville allowed him to play the starting role in the AHL with Milwaukee rather than back up Saros in the NHL. His adjustment to North America and smaller ice has been strong. Through 22 games he’s posted a record of 13-6-4.
The rookie was recently recalled for his NHL debut and started his first game against Montreal (a 4-3 loss) and has since been returned to the AHL where he has been named an All-Star. His development is right on track and is trending to be an NHL starting goalie, with franchise starter upside.
2. Philip Tomasino, C – Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)
Drafted: 2019 round one, 24th overall by Nashville Predators
While Tomasino technically already graduated from prospect status after playing a full NHL season of 76 games in the 2021-22 season, he has played entirely back in the AHL for the current season and so I have demoted him back down to “prospect”.
Tomasino missed his final year of OHL when COVID closed the OHL. No problem, he played in the AHL and was dominant with 32 points in 29 games as a rookie. He was also loaned out to Canada for the bubble WJC where he was outstanding scoring four goals and six points in seven games to win the Silver Medal.
As mentioned, he made the NHL the following year scoring 32 points in 76 games as a rookie in limited ice time. Unhappy with his consistency, he has returned for more development in the AHL where he is on pace for 59 points in 64 games. Good on the Predators for allowing Tomasino to play first-line minutes in the AHL with Milwaukee. While this may seem like a step back, it should allow him to take two steps forward in the NHL soon.
3. Joakim Kemell, RW – JYP (Liiga)
Drafted: 2022 round one, 17th overall by Nashville Predators
Kemell reminds me a little of now former Predator Eeli Tolvanen, in that Kemell is a shooter. Drafted out of Liiga (Finland’s top men’s pro league) where as a 17-year-old he scored 15 goals and 23 points in 39 games. Kemell was also lights out in the WJC for Suomi scoring four times and posting 12 points in seven games to win the Silver Medal in overtime.
His D+1 year has not been as impressive, his point-per-game production with JYP has fallen from 0.59 to 0.4 points per game. As a returning player for Finland at the WJC, he only scored a third of the points he produced in the previous tournament, and his play was criticized at times.
His shot is lethal, on the power play he can unleash a laser with a slapper on-timer. His wrist shot is quick, hard and deadly accurate. He plays a reasonably physical game and can be aggressive at times. His skating is an asset as well. He lacks elite playmaking vision and at times his decision-making is questionable. With more development and if like many teenage players, he can develop some consistency he still projects as a top-six goal-scoring winger at the NHL level.
4. Juuso Parssinen, C/LW – Nashville Predators (NHL)
Drafted: 2019 round seven, 210th overall by Nashville Predators
Every once in a while a prospect comes out of seemingly nowhere and makes the NHL. A recent example of this is Yegor Sharangovich with the New Jersey Devils. The Predators seem to have one such player in the big Finnish winger Parssinen.
Found money as a seventh-round selection in 2019, Parssinen had been quietly putting points on the board in the Liiga. The Predators took notice and signed him to his ELC and loaned him back for one more year of development in the Liiga. After a 32-point campaign in 41 games and 12 more in 18 playoff games, Nashville had seen enough and brought him to North America.
After a strong training camp, he was assigned to the AHL but proved NHL-ready after posting nine points in ten games. He was recalled to the NHL and has not looked out of place as he is on pace for a 40-point season and is tied for 12th in rookie scoring.
5. Luke Evangelista, RW – Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)
Drafted: 2020 round two, 42nd overall by Nashville Predators
Evangelista was one of the more polarizing prospects in the 2020 draft class. Ranked by some as a first-round prospect, others questioned if his prolific offensive skill would translate to professional hockey, let alone the NHL.
Evangelista produced a point-per-game offense in his draft year with the London Knights. During the OHL lost season, he only played in 14 AHL games with only four assists. He was clearly not ready for pro hockey. Perhaps that glimpse served as a wake-up call as he returned to the OHL in the 2021-22 season as the Captain of the London Knights and torched the OHL with 55 goals and 111 points in 62 games.
In his first full season as a rookie back in Milwaukee, he is playing a top-six role and is on pace for a 61-point season. Some of the concerns in his draft year were issues with consistency, skating, and compete level. He seems to have satisfied all those concerns and more.
6. Zachary L’Heureux, LW/C – Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Drafted: 2021 round one, 27th overall by Nashville Predators
Smashville is going to love this guy! L’Heureux is an offensive forward with a penchant for violence. In his QMJHL rookie season, he caught scouts’ attention with 20 goals, 53 points and 70 PIM’s in 55 games. Traded from Moncton to Halifax his production has seen slight incremental improvement. His offensive skills project to perhaps average at the NHL level, while his skating and quickness are below average and require improvement.
What may earn him his ticket to the NHL is his aggressiveness, forechecking and ability to be a disturber. He will be a fan favorite in Nashville, and widely hated throughout the rest of the league as a middle-six winger similar to Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher.
7. Fyodor Svechkov, C/LW – Spartak Moskva (KHL)
Drafted: 2021 round one, 19th overall by Nashville Predators
Svechkov is a very smart player with a high level of hockey sense. He sees the ice very well and that allows him to make impactful plays both offensively and defensively. His two-way game will be his ticket to the NHL.
His skating is a liability, but that is correctable. His offensive upside is the big question. He has produced well at the junior level, scoring 31 points in 30 games last year in the VHL. His KHL production is underwhelming despite getting good playing time. Svechkov’s contract in the KHL will expire at the end of the current season and he could come and finish the year in North America in the AHL.
The 19-year-old has plenty of development ahead of him, but his smarts could land him in the NHL as he will be a versatile player coaches will trust.
8. Ryan Ufko, RD – Umass (NCAA)
Drafted: 2021 round four, 115th overall by Nashville Predators
One of the fastest rising prospects. Ufko is a product of the Chicago Steel where the diminutive defender scored 31 points in 37 games in his draft year. Ufko took a big step forward as a freshman at UMASS posting 31 points as a freshman in 37 games. In his sophomore season, his play has continued and earned him a role with USA at the WJC. His deployment there increased as the games progressed and he finished with ten points in seven games helping USA to the Bronze medal.
Ufko excels at creating offense in transition with stretch passes and by distributing the puck on the powerplay. Nashville may have found a good NHL player in the fourth round of the draft. Ufko may take one more year of college development and then some AHL seasoning to round out some of his defensive warts.
9. Jack Matier, RD – Ottawa 67’s (OHL)
Drafted: 2021 round four, 124th overall by Nashville Predators
Nashville did very well in drafting the lumberjack of a defenseman in the fourth round in 2021. His OHL rookie season was underwhelming. His sophomore season was lost to COVID playing only seven games in the U18 with Canada in his draft year. With the OHL returning he was a minus -20 in 66 games with 53 PIMs and 29 points.
Ottawa is now the top team in the OHL and recently loaded up for a title run and shot at the Memorial Cup and Matier will be a big part of that. In his final OHL season, he is a high-impact player on pace for 65 points and was named to the Gold Medal winning Team Canada for the WJC. He was in a shutdown role for Canada and that is likely how he will be used in the NHL.
10. Markus Nurmi, LW/RW – Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)
Drafted: 2016 round six, 163rd overall by Ottawa Senators
Nashville may have found a late bloomer in the Senators’ 2016 sixth-rounder. Big players can sometimes take longer to mature and that may be the case with the 6-5 Finnish winger. Nurmi has had some stagnant development in Liiga since Ottawa drafted him, he remained unsigned and became a free agent.
After a breakout playoff performance with TPS scoring 19 points in 18 games, Nashville signed the winger and brought him to North America. He had a good camp and was assigned to the AHL where he is on pace for a 43-point season as a rookie. He is a versatile player that moves well, has the size and reach, is sound defensively, and has some offensive upside.
Nolan Burke: Signed as a free agent, he has 39 points in 29 games with Sarnia in the OHL as an over-age.
Kasper Kulonummi: The Finnish defender was the Preds ’22 third-round pick and is scoring over a point-per-game in the U20 SM-sarja
Gunnarwolfe Fontaine: Junior at Northeastern now producing a point-per-game. He should be ready to turn professional.