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Predators Mailbag: Zach L’Heureux’s Future; Possible Marner, Necas, Zegras Trades

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Photo of Martin Necas by John Russell/Nashville Predators

In my final story as a full-time writer for Nashville Hockey Now, I’m tackling your Nashville Predators offseason questions. It’s been one heck of a ride and I’m so grateful to everyone who’s read NHN and trusted us as your go-to source for Predators news.

Here’s my final mailbag.

Question (@betaset): Do you get the feeling that we’re going to have to wait till July 1 to see some action with the Predators?

MG: I do not. Barry Trotz has already made one move (Ryan McDonagh) and I think we could see some wheeling and dealing in the leadup to the draft. Don’t be surprised to see some of the Predators’ plethora of draft picks packaged in a deal or two for some roster players.

Question (@burneridk3): So many past rivals are loading up on elite young talent (CHI, ANA, SJ etc.) while the Preds remain in mushy middle with aging stars & good but not great pool. What has to give so we don’t have another decade of our Craig Smiths losing to their Patrick Kanes in playoffs?

MG: While I respect your opinion, I respectfully disagree. The Predators’ prospect pool is one of the best in the NHL, and several of those players took major steps forward in their development this year (Zachary L’Heureux, Fedor Svechkov, Tanner Molendyk, Spencer Stastney, Ryan Ufko). It may be another year or two before most of those guys are full-time NHLers, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I wouldn’t worry too much about what Chicago, Anaheim and San Jose are doing either. Sure, they have a boatload of top prospects and high draft picks, but they’re years away from contending. Meanwhile, the Predators are already a playoff team and their rebuild is way ahead of schedule. Adding another premium scorer or two and finding another rock-solid blue-liner to replace McDonagh are the next logical steps.

Question (@OrangeRob29): Looking at the Milwaukee Admirals roster which players get traded and which ones make the opening night Preds roster? Will Egor Afanasyev get a fair shot with the team and is it time to move on from Philip Tomasino? And for s**** and giggles who had the more insane trade proposals for a Preds goalie. Toronto fans with Mitch Marner or Ottowa fans with Alex Debrincat?

MG: I don’t really see any Admirals players getting traded, but if I had to pick one I’d say Tomasino. He was challenged a handful of times last season and he ended the year in Milwaukee, and it may just be he’s not a fit in Nashville with this current roster and coach. As far as making the opening-night roster, the only ones, in my opinion, who are ready or close to ready are Afanasyev and L’Heureux (I’m not counting Stastney because he’s a lock to be on the NHL roster next season).

I’ve been told by a source that Afanasyev’s camp isn’t happy with the lack of NHL minutes he’s got so far, and with him being an RFA, I’ve been told there’s a chance he goes back to Russia next season. As far as the more delusional trade package, I’d have to go Toronto fans. One basketcase suggested it would take a package of Saros, Tomasino, Nashville’s 2024 first-rounder, Molendyk (who is untouchable) and one of Joakim Kemell, Luke Evangelista or Matthew Wood to land Marner. He’s clearlt smoking the good stuff. And because I’m sure many are wondering, a fair offer for Marner probably looks something like Saros, Kemell and a 2024 first-rounder.

Question (@Echoed95): Do you believe Yaroslav Askarov is ready for more consistent time in the NHL? If so, do you see that time as a starter or a backup? What other prospects would you like to see make the Preds next year? What do you think are the ideal UFA targets for Nashville?

MG: Lots to digest here. Do I believe Askarov is ready to transition into a full-time starting NHL goalie? No. Do I believe he’s ready for a 20-25 start workload as an NHL backup? Absolutely. He has nothing left to prove in the AHL, and I think the Predators could comfortably move him into a role similar to the one Juuse Saros had in 2016 when he started 19 games and appeared in 21 as Pekka Rinne’s backup.

I certainly believe Juuso Parssinen and Philip Tomasino could challenge for an NHL spot, but I wouldn’t necessarily call them prospects anymore. Those two aside, I really think Egor Afanasyev is ready for a full-time NHL spot, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Zachary L’Heureux makes it to Nashville next year (though I still think he needs a little more seasoning).As far as UFA targets, see below.

Question (@ethan_perry57): Give me your dream scenario for the Preds this offseason. Trades free agency the whole 9 yards.

MG: Keep in mind I haven’t crunched the numbers on salaries or anything like that, but I think best-case scenario for the Predators this offseason (for me) would be to sign either Nikita Zadorov or Brady Skjei, trade for Trevor Zegras or Martin Necas, re-sign Jason Zucker and Lankinen, and promote either Parssinen or Tomasino to replace Sherwood in the bottom six.

My lineup would look like this:

F1 — Forsberg-O’Reilly-Nyquist

F2 — Novak-Zegras-Evangelista

F3 —Glass-Sissons-Zucker

F4 — Smith-McCarron-Parssinen

D1 — Josi-Fabbro

D2 — Zadorov-Stastney

D3 — Lauzon-Schenn

G — Juuse Saros, Kevin Lankinen

Question (@JohnDrury3): I know Brady Tkachuck is not on the market, but what kind of package would the Preds have to offer to get Ottawa’s attention?

MG: Oh jeez, the answer is going to hurt. Considering his brother fetched a package of Jonathan Huberdeau, Mackenzie Weegar, prospect Cole Schwindt and a lottery-protected 2025 first-round pick, a similar package from the Predators would probably look like Filip Forsberg, Dante Fabbro, Tomasino and a first-rounder if I had to guess.

Question (@awashek3): With it well known that the Ducks have a log jam at center and Trevor Zegras is not part of it, do you think he actually is that expensive to obtain or can Barry Trotz do some magic and get the Preds a dynamic young center without wildly selling the farm?

MG: Well, Zegras may have fallen out of favor in Anaheim, but that doesn’t mean the Ducks are going to just give him away. He’s only 23 and has multiple 20-goal, 60-point seasons under his belt, and regardless of whether or not you like his flashiness, the kid is a must-watch player. That said, the longer he’s on Anaheim’s roster, the more he’s a distraction, so I’d assume the team would accept a fair offer if it got one. If the Predators offered a package of Matthew Wood, Marc Del Gaizo and Tomasino plus a first-round pick, that might be enough to get it done.

Question (@Buster_Bennett): Outside of Askarov (maybe) do we have any stars in the pipeline?? Stars, not NHLers. If not, what should we do to address this?

MG: In my opinion there are two “stars” in Nashville’s farm system — Tanner Molendyk and Joakim Kemell. From what I’ve seen of Molendyk, he’s a future All-Star and I think he can me a nice mix of Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis. Kemell’s development didn’t accelerate this year like many believed, but he also had to learn a new style of play as the Admirals ran an 80/20 split of Andrew Brunette/Karl Taylor’s systems. His 16 goals and 41 points in 67 AHL games isn’t terrible, but I’d expect those numbers to increase exponentially next season. With his shot and offensive skillset, I believe Kemell can be a 30-goal, 80-point player in the NHL.

Question (@BraddPro): Salty Preds Twitter aside, under any reasonable analysis, the Preds D got worse with the Ryan McDonagh trade, arguably significantly so. Do you see them filling the hole via acquisition or cobbling something together with promising but untested AHLers?

MG: The thing about replacing McDonagh is it’s going to be tough to find one player to do everything he did. The closest on the free-agent market is Carolina’s Brett Pesce, who plays a similar heavy workload on the penalty kill. Aside from Stastney, I don’t think anyone in Milwaukee is ready for a full-time NHL role, although Del Gaizo isn’t too far off. I think the logical move would be to sign a free agent or two (remember, Nashville also is losing Tyson Barrie and Alex Carrier too). In a perfect world, the Predators would come away with two of Zadorov, Skjei or Brandon Montour.

Question (@Grumpy_Ol_Shag): Are you leaving Nashville Hockey Now to start a new radio station in Nashville that provides good coverage of the Nashville Predators and all things hockey?

MG: Sadly, I am not. I will agree Nashville sports talk radio leaves much to be desired in terms of informed, insightful hockey analysis, but we try our best every week to fill that void on the Gold Standard, the Predators podcast I co-host with Braden Gall and Emma Lingan. We recently started doing the show live on Wednesday mornings, and we’re planning to do even more over the summer (stay tuned).

Question (@BerggquistMax): So who is Trotz going after — Necas or Zegras? We need that ”kind” of a player.

MG: The reasonable answer here is Necas; however, the correct answer is Zegras. I’m not even sure if Zegras is on Trotz’s radar (he should be), but we know Necas is. He’s been linked to the Predators for a few months now, and with him wanting out of Carolina and an increased role in the offense, Trotz could throw the right package of prospects and draft picks the Hurricanes’ way to pry him away. But if it’s a young, talented, offensively savvy center Trotz wants to build around (the exact kind of player he’s said the franchise has never had), Zegras is his guy. Imagine what he could do on a line with Filip Forsberg or Luke Evangelista. Zegras will cost more, but it’s a price worth paying.

Question (@TaylorB13739236): Who do you think is backing up Juuse Saros next year if Askarov is going to stay in the AHL for another year?

MG: My gut still says it’s Lankinen. He’s certainly worthy of being a starting goalie somewhere else, I’m just not sure the offers he’ll get will be from teams he wants to start for. Say Lankinen gets an offer to start for the Sharks or Blue Jackets, is that really a better situation than being a backup in Nashville on a playoff team? But if Lankinen does leave, there’s no reason why Askarov can’t handle backup duties behind Saros next year.

Question (@LeeDubyaTN): Do you want Necas? If so, what do think it would take to get him? Also, is it time to cut bait on Tomasino and Cody Glass?

MG: I think Necas would be a fine addition and definitely give Nashville’s top six a boost, but he’s not the kind of game-changing scorer I think Trotz is looking for. The Hurricanes would likely ask for Nashville’s No. 22 overall pick this year or its first-rounder next year, plus a prospect like Wood or Svechkov and a player like either Parssinen or Tomasino. That would be a little too rich for my blood. I don’t think now is the time to move on from either Tomasino or Glass, but if we’re asking this question the same time next year, then that answer is yes.

Follow Michael Gallagher on X/Twitter @MGsports_