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Preds Mailbag: Most Impactful Rookie, Defensive Logjam And More



Preds forward Philip Tomasino
Photo of Philip Tomasino, left, and Adam Larsson by John Russell/Nashville Predators

With training camp a few weeks away, the Nashville Predators still have several questions that need answering.

I tried to answer some of them and address a few other burning questions from Predators fans in this week’s Nashville Hockey Now mailbag:

MG: Of the three forward additions, Denis Gurianov is the only one I feel fits that grinder label. Last season notwithstanding, Ryan O’Reilly totaled 50 or more points in 10 of his previous 11 seasons, with 20 or more goals in seven of them. His career face-off winning percentage of 55.8 is also better than any center on the Predators’ roster. Gustav Nyquist’s 2022 season also left a lot to be desired as well, but he scored 40 or more points in eight of his previous nine seasons. He’s also a three-time 20-goal scorer and I could see him filling a role similar to Craig Smith in the top six.

My best guess is each player serves a specific purpose. O’Reilly will stabilize the top line and give Filip Forsberg a playmaker to work with and serve as a mentor to one of the top young forwards in the system, presumably Luke Evangelista. Nyquist is a consistent, reliable, high-motor forward who can really help a young center like Cody Glass. Gurianov is more of that defensive-minded grinder who registers a solid amount of hits and blocked shots. I see him as a perfect complement opposite Yakov Trenin on the third or fourth line.

MG: I agree. I believe the roster the Predators have right now is the one they’ll bring to training camp in a few weeks. But if Trotz were to make one more addition, the two players I would look at are Max Comtois and Jay O’Brien.

Once one of the top prospects in the Ducks organization, Comtois is only 24 and was never quite put in a position to reach his potential in Anaheim. He produced a lot of points in the QMJHL (123 goals and 244 points in 205 games) and was solid in his brief stint in the AHL (9 goals and 24 points in 31 games). He’s physical, has scoring upside, is smart defensively and plays with an edge to his game that could be just what the Predators’ bottom six needs.

The 19th overall pick in the 2018 draft, O’Brien became a free agent on Aug. 15 after completing his fourth NCAA season and never signing a contract with the Philadelphia Flyers. He’s only 23, plays center (a position of need in Nashville’s farm system) and he was nearly a point-per-game player the last three seasons at Boston University (70 points in 79 games). We’ll have more in-depth analysis on why the Predators should take a flier (no pun intended) on O’Brien in a separate story on Nashville Hockey Now.

MG: The Predators still have $7.9 million in cap space, but I’m not sure there’s really a trade out there that makes sense for them right now. The team has been linked to Toronto Maple Leafs winger William Nylander, Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov and Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce at varying points throughout the offseason, but there isn’t a pressing need to add any of those three, nor has there been much noise on the trade front for Nashville lately.

However, if I had to pick one, I would say Kuznetsov is the likeliest of the three. The Predators really pushed hard for him before the start of free agency and they’re presumably still high on him. Nashville still has close to $8 million in cap space and Kuznetsov would add a much-needed scoring punch to the middle of the lineup. The only problem with adding him is it likely pushes Cody Glass down to the third line, unless Andrew Brunette wants to experiment with moving him out to the wing.

MG: A logjam at forward? No. On defense? Absolutely. I think there will be some healthy competition among the forwards and the young players like Evangelista, Philip Tomasino, Egor Afanasyev and perhaps even someone like Zachary L’Heureux will be given solid shots to beat out players like Kiefer Sherwood, Cole Smith and Michael McCarron for roster spots in camp.

However, by my count, there’s eight defensemen — Roman Josi, Ryan McDonagh, Tyson Barrie, Luke Schenn, Alex Carrier, Dante Fabbro, Jeremy Lauzon, Jake Livingstone — vying for six NHL roster spots with Spencer Stastney and Marc Del Gaizo not too far off in Milwaukee. If I had to guess, I think Livingstone starts the year with the Admirals, leaving Nashville to carry seven defenseman on the main roster. There’s also a possibility Barrie could be traded at some point as well.

I’ve had the Carrier/Fabbro discussion several times last season with Braden Gall on the Gold Standard podcast, and my belief is only one will stick around past this year and the other could be flipped at the trade deadline to a contender. My gut says Carrier outlasts Fabbro, but it’s awfully close.

MG: This is a tough one. Assuming they all stay healthy and play a full season, I would say Tomasino has the potential to put up the most points of the four players listed. He had 32 points two seasons ago playing with McCarron and Nick Cousins. If you put him on the second line with Glass and Nyquist, he should have no problem hitting 50 points. If not Tomasino, they I’d go with Evangelista. He had 41 points in 49 games for the Admirals and 15 points in 24 games with the Predators, and I think he could really come into his own if given a full-time opportunity in the top six, especially playing with talented offensive stars like Forsberg and O’Reilly.

MG: Joakim Kemell, 100 percent. And that’s not to take anything away from Wood. I think he will be a fine player, and if he does have Tage Thompson potential like he believes he does, then that would certainly be hard to top. But after watching Kemell play with the Admirals last year, his upside is off the charts. The kid just gets it. His hockey IQ, positioning, accuracy, puck handling, spacial awareness, and offensive prowess are elite level, and if he reaches his potential, he could just be the best forward the Predators have ever drafted. I don’t want to put the cart before the horse, but Kemell could be Nashville’s version of Patrick Laine.

Wood has top-six potential and all the makings of a potentially great scoring forward, the problem is he’s just too raw right now. He was the youngest player in college hockey last season and he was playing on the wing when his natural position is center. Sources have told Nashville Hockey Now that UConn plans to move Wood back to center next season, which could really accelerate his development. However, I think Kemell’s skillset and just pure offensive instincts as a scorer are slightly better than Wood’s.

MG: Funny enough, I had Svechkov ranked as the No. 8 prospect in the predators system in my organizational prospect rankings two weeks ago (I highly suggest giving it a read). He has great instincts and plays with a physical edginess to his game that makes him difficult to play against. I believe Svechkov is a bit underrated as a prospect, simply because he played for three different leagues last year in Russia, and he never quite found a rhythm in any of them. Having a stable environment in Milwaukee this year will do him a world of good and I wouldn’t be surprised if he quickly rose up the ranks.

MG: Stay with me here, but I think it’s winning a playoff round. And that’s not to say I’m sold on Nashville as a playoff contender, but this team almost made it to the postseason last year fielding a roster made up of mostly AHL players with a head coach on his way out the door. And with a goaltender like Juuse Saros in net, he could easily steal a series if matched up against the right team. Unless there are a series of major injuries, I just don’t think the Predators roster is bad enough to earn a top-10 draft pick anytime soon (this could obviously change if they are sellers at the trade deadline).


Traded: Barrie

Re-signed: Carrier, Tommy Novak, Sherwood and Trenin

Free agency: Gurianov, Mark Jankowski, Kevin Lankinen and Cole Smith.

MG: He set it, and had it broken by Matt Duchene not long after, with an offensively-challenged head coach like John Hynes, so I’d say there’s a good chance he can also do it in Brunette’s aggressively offensive system. Plus, O’Reilly is a clear upgrade over Mikael Granlund, and if he centers the top line, Forsberg could be on the receiving end of quite a few more scoring chances this year.

MG: Despite being a finalist for the Preds head coaching job and some reported interest from the Maple Leafs for an assistant coaching vacancy, Taylor is still under contract with the Milwaukee Admirals and he will return as the team’s head coach next season. After making it to the AHL Western Conference Final last season, the Admirals should be better next year and Taylor may just find himself in the NHL in 2024.

MG: I believe a reasonable expectation is the kind of season Nashville had last year. Somewhere in the 90-94 point range with 38-42 wins is doable, and they could be a bubble team when it’s all said and done. The moves Trotz made after the draft shows he believes Nashville can contend in 2023. However, with a first-year head coach and down eight players from last year’s opening-night roster, there’s a lot working against the Predators and their playoff aspirations.

MG: Diamond Sports Group was given an 80-day extension last week to settle their bankruptcy filing. However, my understanding is if no resolution is reached soon, the NHL plans to ask bankruptcy court to terminate the Regional Network contracts its 12 teams (including the Predators) have with Bally Sports. More details can be found here.

MG: I haven’t heard anything on that front. If they do get new jerseys sometime soon, it’ll be news to me.

Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_