Nashville Predators general manager Barry Trotz and assistant general manager Scott Nichol observed five of their 2023 draft picks along with several other rookies as they practiced on Thursday ahead of the Southeast Rookie Showcase in Estero, Florida.
Milwaukee Admirals head coach Karl Taylor led the group through drills and got a feel for what to expect from the players during the weekend-long tournament.
“You have to temper the expectations for everyone,” Taylor said. “The young kids who were just drafted, they’re going to be overwhelmed that’s just the way it is. We always have to pump the brakes a little bit because everyone goes at their own speed with development.”
Whilst talking about the three games ahead, Taylor alluded to how much energy there would be at the event and how mistakes will happen as part of the game.
“We tell them they’re getting three games here to set up for the main camp,” Taylor said. “Do we want to go there and win? Yes. Do we want to play well? Yes. The goal is to get these players prepared for when they come back. They should be ahead with us teaching what [Predators coach Andrew Brunette] wants to put in place so they have a leg up going into camp against some of these old guys out here skating around.”
Being in front of the Predators front office brass is a daunting feeling as Taylor said, but players who have prior experience from years past can use that to fuel their performance in three games against the Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Florida Panthers.
“The message is to do what you do really well,” Taylor continued. “Why did you make someone bring you here? You want to do those things that make that make you stand out. Try to execute what they’re looking for in the little bit of systems. We’re going to have extra energy and a little aggression to our play. Make sure we’re getting after it and making aggressive mistakes. We don’t want to be sitting around watching.”
Forward Joakim Kemell is one of the newer faces in the organization. He disclosed that he wants to establish a strong foundation with the showcase of which to build his 2023 season.
“It’s this year’s first games so far,” he noted. “I want us to give our best, and of course, my best. I’ll do everything with what I can.”
Kemell stated he expects the tournament to be tough against the Lightning, Panthers, and Hurricanes. So far, the Finland native has enjoyed getting to know his new teammates as much as possible on and off the ice. He’s also had some help getting used to hockey in North America.
“[My teammates] helped me a lot when I came here the first time,” Kemell said. “There wasn’t a huge change but of course the little things I can always do better.”
One area Kemell has excelled in is shooting from the top of the offensive circle — something that goes back to his earliest days as a youth hockey player.
“I used to always shoot one-timers when I was young and I practiced it a lot with my dad,” he said. “It’s just normal to me shooting after practice and stuff like that.”
Another familiar face tagging along for the showcase is goaltender Yaroslav Askarov, who’s coming off his first full season in the American Hockey League with the Milwaukee Admirals.
Predators goalie coach and international scout Pekka Rinne was on the ice alongside Askarov working through drills. The21-year-oldnet-minder raved about the valuable resource that Rinne is to the goaltending prospects.
“It’s awesome for me and it’s awesome for every goalie,” Askarov said. “He’s a legend and he is helping with everyone on the ice off the ice, he’s a good guy and coach. He’s a legend, and he can help you, he can help me, he can help everyone here — it’s good for us.”
Askarov has been spending plenty of time with his fellow Russians including Fedor Svechkov, Afanasyev and Yakov Trenin during his time in Nashville. The countrymen hang out, whether it be playing cards or telling jokes.
“It’s better [to have them around] because you feel more comfortable here, and if you feel good off the ice, you’ll feel good on the ice,” Askarov said.
“It was difficult to adapt,” Askarov told Nashville Hockey Now’s Clay Brewer in Russian. “Different game, different speeds. But now I’m getting used to it. It’s becoming easier psychologically and functionally.”
As for Askarov’s personality, he enjoys being himself no matter what, whether he’s bench-pressing a hockey goal after a win or flipping the net over after a shutout. He doesn’t let what others think of him dissuade him from being himself.
“I think sometimes people will like you and sometimes people will hate you. It’s normal it’s just life,” Askarov said. “You need to be you… There are only a couple of guys in the world who don’t have haters. Usually, everyone has haters and it’s normal.”
Going into the new season, Askarov wants to play in as many games as he can, stating he feels more comfortable when he does so. His confidence is high after an extended playoff run with the Admirals, and he says it’ll only grow through the 2023 season.