This season, the Nashville Predators made a valiant run at the final wild card spot despite a depleted roster after becoming sellers at the NHL trade deadline. However, a few years of trades and holding onto top picks might start to pay dividends as the Predator’s prospect pipeline begins to fill.
The Predators hold 13 picks in the 2023 NHL Entry Level Draft, and there are numerous prospects on the horizon as GM Barry Trotz assumes his new role this offseason.
The last time Nashville had this many picks was exactly 20 years ago, also when they last hosted the NHL draft. Now they’ll host the NHL Awards and Draft less than a week apart on June 26.
As for who is rising in the ranks of the Predators organization, a few recent picks have made some noise at the junior level.
Zachary L’Hereux (2021 – 27th overall)
His affinity for mustard and smack talk may not be what complements his game, but it goes to show the forward isn’t afraid to be himself on the ice.
L’Hereux has been making some noise in the QMJHL playoffs scoring 17 points in 12 games, and counting. He found himself down low in the slot Tuesday, scoring nine seconds into a powerplay in the first period.
— Halifax Mooseheads (@HFXMooseheads) May 3, 2023
The forward has broken out since the Halifax Mooseheads acquired him from the Moncton Wildcats in 2020 for five draft picks. During his junior career, L’Hereux has scored 190 points in 167 regular season games.
He also has a suspension history tacked on to his resume. He speared a fan as he was leaving the ice back on Feb. 10. He was suspended for 10 games.
L’Hereux was also suspended eight times prior for other incidents on the ice. He received a four game ban in 2020-21, three in 2021-22, and once this season before his interaction with a fan.
Aside from his aggression, the soon-to-be 20-year-old forward has impressed throughout his time in the QMJHL. He’ll be eligible to join the Milwaukee Admirals next season, or stay in juniors as an overage prospect; a player can stay at that level as long as their 21st birthday isn’t prior to the start of the season.
Luke Prokop (2020 – 42nd overall)
After playing in 251 games in the WHL Prokop has spent time between the Calgary Hitmen, Edmonton Oil Kings, and Seattle Thunderbirds.
The defenseman was taken in the third round after a 23-point campaign in Calgary. He’s currently in the middle of his third playoff appearance & is fourth among defensemen in scoring with four points in 10 games.
He comes in at six-foot-six weighing 220 pounds. A bigger defenseman who can move the puck and throw the body on the opposing team.
Prokop has also won a WHL championship as well after taking down his current team in six games while on the Oil Kings last season.
Reid Schaefer (2022 – 32nd overall *Picked by Edmonton Oilers*)
After a career-best regular season with the Seattle Thunderbirds, the final pick in the first round of last year’s draft is now part of the Predator’s pool of prospects.
He was part of the deal that sent over Tyson Barrie, a first-round pick in this summer’s draft, and a fourth-round pick in the 2024 Draft.
Schaefer finished fifth on the Thunderbirds in points (61) this season and currently has seven points in 10 games during the WHL playoffs.
As a six-foot-four forward Schaefer helped the Canadian U20 team win Gold at the World Junior Championship back on Jan. 5 over the Czech Republic.
He’s eligible to play another season of junior hockey if Trotz & his staff feel it necessary before joining the Milwaukee Admirals in the AHL.
Joakim Kemell (2022 – 17th overall)
Eleven months after being drafted by Nashville & three years of playing in the Liiga for the JyP HT Jyvaskyla Kemell has made it to North America.
He played 83 games in the Liiga overall and played in 14 games with the Admirals before the Calder Cup Playoffs began. However, Kemell was suspended for game one of the playoffs after boarding a skater on the Rockford Ice Hogs.
Kemell has a chance to crack the lineup on Wednesday after serving his suspension and not being dressed for game two vs the Manitoba Moose.
Admirals Head Coach Karl Taylor said Kemell is a surprise from a different perspective.
“His competitive nature, how hard he plays, how he goes after people, how he stands his ground as a young 18-year-old coming from Europe has been super impressive,” Taylor said. “We knew he had a great shot but he’s really become part of the team as far as his competitive nature and how he goes about his business, huge upside. That compete and pushback he has is going to carry him pretty far with the skill set he has to offer.”
Yaroslav Askarov (2020 – 11th overall)
An electric goaltender with a personality to match it. The Russian netminder had a huge first season in Milwaukee posting a .911% save percentage & 2.69 goals-against average.
He’s the first goalie since Juuse Saros to be drafted and make his NHL debut as a Nashville Predator.
Askarov led AHL rookie goaltenders with 26 wins and was in a four-way first-place tie for three shutouts this regular season. He played led rookie goalies with 48 games played as well and now is leading his team in the AHL Playoffs.
The Admirals and Moose are tied 1-1 in the series with the next two games in Milwaukee. If the Admirals win this series it’ll be back-to-back seasons where they’ve taken down Manitoba to begin the playoffs.