Sixty-one players took the ice on Thursday for the Nashville Predators on the first day of training camp, including nine players on tryout agreements and as many as 20 expected to play a significant role for the Milwaukee Admirals.
The team experienced plenty of roster turnover in the first offseason under first-year general manager Barry Trotz and first-year head coach Andrew Brunette, and there are plenty of roster spots still up for grabs.
Below are five players with the most to gain with a strong showing during training camp:
1. Luke Evangelista, RW
The consensus seems to be that the Predators have left a spot on their top line open for Evangelista, all he has to do is take it. Evangelista looked right at home during his NHL call up at the end of last season, logging seven goals and 15 points in 24 games while averaging 16:34 of ice time per game. He was also one of just six Predators players with a shooting percentage of 13% or better.
Evangelista was the Admirals third-leading scorer last season (nine goals, 41 points in 49 games), despite playing in a minimum of 17 fewer games than the two players who out-scored him, and he thrived during Milwaukee’s playoff run, scoring 15 points in 16 games, which tied him for the sixth-most points in the AHL postseason.
It appears Evangelista will get plenty of run with other top-six forwards like Filip Forsberg and Ryan O’Reilly during camp and the preseason. The 21-year-old is already on Trotz’s radar as well; he was name-dropped by the new GM during the offseason as a player who he might have to leave a spot open for.
2. Tommy Novak, C
Novak’s roster spot is safe, but his performance during training camp could mean the difference in whether he’s the Predators No. 2 or 3 center. Nashville’s third-leading scorer last year, Novak’s 2022 scoring pace would have put him around 27 goals and 69 points over a full 82-game season.
The 26-year-old played up and down the lineup last year, and perhaps the most underrated part of Novak’s game is his ability to play with any forward combination the team lines him up with. The question he has to answer now is was last season’s 43 points in 51 games a fluke, or is Novak actually capable of consistently producing at a high level in a top-six role?
3. Philip Tomasino, RW
With as many as four spots in Nashville’s top six still open, Tomasino is potentially one of the front-runners to lock one of them up. He was nearly a point-per-game player with the Admirals last year (32 points in 38 games), and he produced when called up to the Predators as well (18 points in 32 games), including making a strong impression on the power play too (four goals, six points).
Tomasino admitted on Thursday that he shed some weight over the summer to increase his speed — a vital part of his game — in hopes of getting back to the player he was when he averaged 37 goals and 86 points per season during his last two years in the OHL. Brunette has the kind of offensive mind to put Tomasino in positions to succeed, all the 22-year-old forward has to do is make a strong impression and make the opening-night roster.
4. Jeremy Lauzon, D
With as many defensemen as the Predators have under contract, it’s tough to find any significant ice time for Lauzon in 2023. Roman Josi, Ryan McDonagh, Tyson Barrie and Luke Schenn are all locked into roster spots — presumably occupying the top two pairings — leaving Lauzon to battle with Alex Carrier, Dante Fabbro and Jake Livingstone for the final two spots.
Of the four, Carrier and Fabbro play more of the Predators style of defense, but Lauzon does bring a physicality that could come in handy in matchup-specific games against heavy-hitting teams like the Blackhawks, Coyotes or Flyers. Lauzon has an outside chance of impressing enough to earn one of the spots on the third pair, but if he’s not making a significant contribution by March 8, it wouldn’t be surprising if he’s flipped to a contender wanting to shore up its blue-line.
5. Denis Gurianov, LW
Gurianov’s signing was a bit precarious given the Predators already have a few bottom-six players with essentially the same skillset. The 26-year-old forward does have a 20-goal season under his belt; however, that has proven to be more of the exception than the rule. He hasn’t scored more than 12 goals or 31 points in any of his three seasons since.
Gurianov will have to prove during camp that he’s an upgrade over Mark Jankowski, Michael McCarron and Cole Smith, who all fit the gritty grinder role that Gurianov does, and he has the scoring upside to fend off Egor Afanasyev and Kiefer Sherwood.
At this point, Gurianov is more of a reclamation project than a known commodity. His contract is just a one-year, $850,000 deal, so the Predators wouldn’t think anything of cutting him loose.
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