Perhaps no Nashville Predators player will benefit more from the hiring of head coach Andrew Brunette than 22-year-old forward Philip Tomasino.
After playing 76 games with the Predators two years ago, Tomasino was exiled to the American Hockey League for most of 2022 and recalled with a little over one-third of the season left out of desperation by the very head coach who claimed he wasn’t NHL-ready and was trying to back his way into the postseason in hopes of keeping his job.
Tomasino parlayed his near point-per-game scoring pace in Milwaukee to solid success in his second go-around with the Predators, notching five goals and 18 points in 31 games, including four goals and six points on the power play and nearly helping the team reach the playoffs for a ninth consecutive season.
The 2019 first-round pick credited the 38 games he spent working Admirals coaches with Karl Taylor, Scott Ford, and Greg Rallo for helping transform him from a forward solely reliant on scoring goals to one who could thrive playing multiple roles in multiple situations.
“I spent my first year here and had a pretty good year, I think,” Tomasino said. “Obviously, whatever happened last year is in the past, but I think it was a really good learning experience because my overall game wasn’t really at the spot that it needed to be in. I felt like when I came back here after my time in Milwaukee and the coaches there, they really helped me.
“My confidence when I came back here, it just felt easier playing in every type of situation just because I had those types of experiences in Milwaukee and it was really beneficial for me. …When I came back here, I really felt like myself and we all played really well, and I took my game to the next level. But there’s even another level that I want to get to.”
Every year since he was drafted, Tomasino has produced over or close to a point-per-game outside of the NHL — 100 points in 62 OHL games (2019) and 64 points in 67 AHL games (2020, 2022). But once he made it to the Predators roster, he never quite maintained the same kind of scoring pace, particularly because of the talent around him.
Former head coach John Hynes rarely used Tomasino in ways that took advantage of his skillset. Under Hynes, nearly 65 percent of Tomasino’s NHL minutes (approximately 862 of 1,330) came on a line with bottom-six-level players, barely averaging over 11 minutes per night and trying to adapt to playing the role of a grinder.
But with Hynes and the stodgy brand of hockey that he favored now gone, Tomasino’s reins should be loosened instead of taut. Nashville has as many as four top-six spots up for grabs, and the Ontario native has a very real shot of claiming one of them.
“I think that’s my goal,” Tomasino said of playing on one of Nashville’s top two lines. “I think I’ve done the right things this summer and it’s a competitive training camp, so there’s a lot of guys fighting for (a spot in the top six). For me, I’m just focused on myself and trying to be the best player I can be. I think I’ve done a good job of getting ready.”
The hiring of Brunette and dismissal of Hynes presents a fresh start for Tomasino, whose career many begun to worry was starting to mimic that of Eeli Tolvanen — another uber-talented, offensive-minded first-round forward who ultimately fell out of favor with a head coach that simply didn’t know how to use him and refused to see what he had in front of him.
But a coach like Brunette was seemingly tailor-made for a player like Tomasino.
His offensive philosophy is simple: push the pace, attack the puck, control possession, and play fast and exciting hockey, as evidenced by the fact that the Florida Panthers led the NHL in goals per game (4.11), shots per game (37.3), takeaways per 60 (9.6), entries leading to scoring chances per 60 (3.5) and controlled zone entries per 60 (11.4) when Brunette coached them in 2021.
“The system [Brunette] wants us to play, I think that’s kind of my style of game,” Tomasino remarked. “I think it’s going to be awesome. … With [Brunette’s] system, it’s going to allow all of us to have that much more time and possession with the puck. So, I think it’s really exciting for a guy like me who likes to play that kind of game.
“…Lots of fun. Lots of playing with the puck. Possession is a big thing for us. We have a lot of really skilled players on our team, and I think if we have the puck more, we have a better chance of obviously scoring more … I think it’s going to be a lot of fun to play.”
The Predators are presumably banking on Tomasino following a trajectory similar to Cody Glass, who spent 66 games with the Admirals in 2021 but made the Predators’ opening-night roster out of camp last year and potentially carved out a top-six role for himself.
In preparing for the offensively aggressive system that Brunette runs, Tomasino made one last tweak to his game in the brief amount of time between the end of his AHL playoff run and the start of NHL training camp.
“I lost a little bit of weight this summer,” Tomasino said. “I think last year, I was a little too big. My game is based off of speed, so I think at times last year, I maybe felt I wasn’t as quick as I can be, so I definitely lost a few pounds this year and I feel a lot better. That was probably the biggest thing for me this summer that I wanted to improve on.”
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