A case could be made that the Nashville Predators farm system is the deepest it’s ever been.
The team has seemingly everything it could want from its future wave of incoming talent — a blue-chip goaltender, a scoring forward with an elite offensive skillset, at least four forwards top-six potential, and a handful of defensemen with NHL potential — and with 18 picks over the next two drafts, including three first rounders, the Predators are potentially building one of the NHL’s top prospect pipelines.
Below is a post-draft look at Nashville’s farm system, including a 1-20 ranking of the top prospects according to Nashville Hockey Now:
1- Joakim Kemell, RW, Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)
Drafted: first round, 2022, No. 17 overall
Although his 43-game stint with JYP in Liiga could have gone better (he scored just 12 goals and 15 points), Kemell flipped a switch once he got to the American Hockey League, tallying 14 goals and 23 points in 28 games for the Milwaukee Admirals, including the playoffs. His eight goals were third-most in the AHL postseason.
Kemell showcased the playmaking ability and scoring prowess that has seemingly eluded many of the first-round forwards the Predators have drafted. He gets the puck off his stick quickly and already has an NHL-caliber wrist shot and one-timer. He projects as a top-line forward with tremendous value on the first power-play unit.
The 19-year-old Kemell has an incredibly high hockey IQ, is an excellent shot generator, elusively skates in and out of defensive coverages, and has an underrated physical edge to his game away from the puck. He has future top-line forward written all over him.
2- Yaroslav Askarov, G, Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)
Drafted: first round, 2020, No. 11 overall
Askarov may have had a bumpy end to the season (he was pulled in favor of Devin Cooley in the AHL Western Conference Final), but that doesn’t take away from the totality of a strong first year of North American professional hockey.
The 21-year-old Russian led the AHL in shots faced in the shootout (40), plus he ranked third in wins (26), saves (1,304) and shots faced (1,432), and he tied for 13th in save percentage (.911) and 15th in goals-against average (2.69). With Cooley now in Buffalo, Askarov should see an increased workload in 2023.
Askarov has plenty of elite skills that project to the next level including his shiftiness in the net, a sharp ability to track the puck, quick instincts and an aptitude for making timely saves based off pure instincts.
3- Luke Evangelista, RW, Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)
Drafted: second round, 2020, No. 42 overall
Evangelista may just be Nashville’s breakout player of 2022. He produced no matter what level he played at, tallying the third-most points (41) on the Admirals despite playing in just 49 games, and he added another seven goals and 15 points in 24 games with the Predators near the end of the year.
Former general manager David Poile suggested Evangelista should gain a few pounds over the summer, but he showed his body should hold up just fine in the NHL, as evidenced by his highlight-reel hit on Evgeni Malkin in March.
— Max Herz (@MaxHerzTalks) March 1, 2023
GM Barry Trotz has mentioned Evangelista’s name a few times over the offseason as a player who could be in line for an opening-night roster spot next season. The 21-year-old Evangelista showcased a quiet confidence with the puck and a keen eye for finding his open teammates for scoring chances. With his crafty puck-handling skills, a deceptive release and laser-accurate wrist shot, Evangelista could be a dark horse for the Predators’ top six in 2023.
4- Matthew Wood, LW/C, UConn Huskies (NCAA)
Drafted: first round, 2023, No. 15 overall
The No. 18-ranked prospect in the NHL per The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler, the 6-foot-4 Wood has future 30-goal, top-six potential, which is why the Predators swung big on him with the first of their two 2023 first-round picks.
He was the youngest in college hockey and UConn’s leading scorer as a freshman (11 goals, 34 points) while playing on the wing after moving from center, where he played primarily in the junior leagues. (Sources indicated to Nashville Hockey Now that Wood will likely switch to center during the 2023 season).
A dominant player in the offensive zone, Wood is a savvy shooter with a nose for the net. He’s got quick hands and a deadly shot from the slot, making him a bona fide scoring threat anytime he has the puck on his stick. Wood has the potential to be the playmaking power forward the Predators have lacked since parting with James Neal in 2017.
5- Tanner Molendyk, D, Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
Drafted: first round, 2023, No. 24 overall
Molendyk is the prototypical Predators blue-liner — an offensive-minded defenseman (his 28 points were third-most among Blades defensemen) with great speed, excellent edge, evasive skating who’s strong in transition with the ability to change direction on a dime.
The 18-year-old defenseman has the speed and ability to lead a rush and make plays in transition, and he played a lot of minutes on Saskatoon’s top power-play unit, where he logged 10 points on the man advantage. He could be a potential top-four defenseman for the Predators within the next three to four seasons.
6- Philip Tomasino, C/RW, Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)
Drafted: first round, 2019, No. 24 overall
Perhaps no player in the Predators organization will benefit more from the hire of Andrew Brunette than Tomasino will, and I expect him to flourish under an offensive-minded head coach who finally knows how to use the skillset he possesses. The 22-year-old forward scored 11 goals and 32 points as a rookie two seasons ago playing primarily fourth-line minutes with the Nick Cousins, Michael McCarrons and Matt Luffs of the world. How much better can he be if finally given the opportunity to play a top-six role?
Tomasino was a near point-per-game player with the Admirals (12 goals, 32 points in 38 games), and he produced when called up to Nashville at the end of the season as well (five goals, 18 points in 31 games). He also scored four goals and six points on the power play too. Brunette’s best course of action would be pairing Tomasino with other offensive-minded players like Filip Forsberg and Ryan O’Reilly on the top line or Cody Glass and Gustav Nyquist on the second line and just let him go to work. He should also get some run on the second power-play unit. The 2023 season should be Tomasino’s coming out party. The Predators can’t afford to let him become the next Eeli Tolvanen.
7- Zachary L’Heureux, LW, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Drafted: first round, 2021, No. 27 overall
A dark horse to make the Predators opening-night roster, there’s no question L’Heureux will make an impact as he makes the jump from junior leagues to the professional ranks. Compared to Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand, L’Heureux has a wrecking-ball style of play gets under the opposition’s skin. He’s a tenacious power forward who loves dishing out hits as much as he likes scoring goals.
L’Heureux has a heavy snapshot and he thrives skating through sticks and heavy traffic and emerging with the puck. He’s a grinder who wins a lot of puck battles and is a menace along the boards. He scored 82 goals and 190 points across 167 junior league games the last four years. Offensively, I think his upside is somewhere between Craig Smith and Patric Hornqvist. Defensively, he gives me serious Jordin Tootoo vibes.
8- Fedor Svechkov, C, Spartak Moskva (KHL)
Drafted: first round, 2021, No. 19 overall
After a disappointing 2022-23 season in Russia, the Predators finally got Svechkov under contract during the offseason, and starting next year in Milwaukee will likely do a world of good for his development. Svechkov split the season between the KHL, VHL, which is the American version of the AHL, and MHL, a Canadian junior hockey league. He totaled just seven goals and 19 points across 46 games and never really found his footing as he switched between the three leagues.
He was a point-per-game player the previous season with SKA-Neva St. Petersburg in the VHL, scoring nine goals and 31 points in 30 games, proving he just needs a stable environment. Svechkov is a disruptive player with strong positioning and a great hockey IQ. A strong two-way forward, Svechkov can separate and jam up defenders when he has the puck. Patience and smarts are the two most valuable parts of his game.
9- Reid Schaefer, LW, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
Drafted: first round, 2022, No. 32 overall
Some may consider him a throw-in from the Mattias Ekholm trade, but Schaefer was the No. 4 prospect in the Oilers’ farm system at the time of the trade. He was more than a point-per-game player this season for Seattle (28 goals, 61 points in 55 games), where he and fellow Predators prospect Luke Prokop won a WHL championship.
Schaefer has good size at 6-foot-3 and 214 pounds, which helps him score those chip-in goals in the high-traffic area in front of the net. He’s a high-volume shooter (438 shots in 121 games the last two seasons) with a quick release and the grit to play an aggressive, puck-attacking style of play. His net-front presence will be a welcomed addition in Nashville.
10- Spencer Stastney, D, Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)
Drafted: fifth round, 2018, No. 131 overall
Stastney had a solid showing (two assists, +5 rating, 17:36 TOI) in his brief eight-game stint in Nashville toward the end of the regular season. The 23-year-old blue-liner is more of a stay-at-home defenseman, so don’t expect him to put up a bunch of points (he had just 15 in 56 games with the Admirals). A fifth-round pick of the Predators in 2018, Stastney is one of the older prospects in Nashville’s pipeline.
He’s well-seasoned after two years with the U.S. National Team Development Program and four years at the University of Notre Dame. He also has plenty of international experience having played with the U.S. U17, U18 and U20 teams. Stastney is a minutes eater who relies on his skating, superior defensive positioning and play recognition to make meaningful contributions. Of the Predators defensive prospects, he’s the closest to being NHL ready. Don’t be surprised to see him in Nashville again this year.
The best of the rest:
11- Ryan Ufko, D, University of Massachusetts (NCAA)
12- Egor Afanasyev, LW, Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)
13- Marc Del Gaizo, D, Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)
14- Felix Nilsson, C, Rogle BK (J20 Nationell)
15- Luke Prokop, D, Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)
16- Adam Ingram, C, St. Cloud State University (NCAA)
17- Semyon Chistyakov, D, Avangard Omsk (KHL)
18- Kalan Lind, C, Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
19- Juha Jatkola, G, KalPa (Liiga)
20- Nolan Burke, C, Sarnia Sting (OHL)
Other prospects in the system (alphabetical order):
– Alex Campbell, LW/C, Clarkson University (NCAA)
– Aiden Fink, RW, Penn State University (NCAA)
– Gunnarwolfe Fontaine, LW, Northeastern University (NCAA)
– Jessee Kiiskinen, RW, Pelicans (U20 SM-sarja)
– Simon Knak, RW, Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)
– Jachym Kondelik, C, Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)
– Chase McLane, C/RW, Penn State University (NCAA)
– Navrin Mutter, LW, Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)
– Sutter Muzzatti, LW, RPI (NCAA)
– Cole O’Hara, RW, University of Massachusetts (NCAA)
– Austin Roest, RW, Everett Silvertips (WHL)
– Ben Strinden, C, University of North Dakota (NCAA)
– Isak Walther, RW/C, University of Vermont (NCAA)
– Joey Willis, C, Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
– Kasper Kulonnumi, Tappara (Liiga)
– Dylan MacKinnon, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
– Jack Matier, Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)
– Anton Olsson, Slelleftea AIK (SHL)
– Luke Reid, University of New Hampshire (NCAA)
– Graham Sward, Wentachee Wild (WHL)
– Adam Wilsby, Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)
– Vladislav Yeryomenko, Metallurg Magnitogorsk (KHL)
– Ethan Haider, University of Connecticut (NCAA)
– Konstantin Volkov, Dynamo Moskva (KHL)
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_