The Nashville Predators moved 2019 first round draft pick Philip Tomasino to the Taxi Squad yesterday along with defenseman Ben Harpur and Michael McCarron. The players joined goaltender Connor Ingram and forwards Eeli Tolvanen and Mathieu Olivier. While it’s certainly exciting that Tomasino has joined the team and will be traveling with them, it may not be wise to expect to see him on the starting lineup in a regular capacity. Here’s why:
During media availability yesterday, Predators General Manager David Poile gave some clarity on how the organization envisioned using the Taxi Squad this season. First, understand that the Predators organization has depth beyond Nashville. The organization has players at the AHL, ECHL, and CHL level in North America. Beyond this continent, several prospects play in leagues in Europe such as the KHL. The impact of the COVID-19 outbreak has impacted much more (from a hockey perspective) than the NHL with some leagues opting not to play and others having team opt out of their respective seasons. One of these teams is the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL. This move has forced the Predators to share an AHL team (Chicago Wolves) with new division rival the Carolina Hurricanes. As such, the agree give the teams a 50/50 split and allowed each team to dress 1 goaltender, 3 defenders, and 6 forwards on any given night. While this is a good partnership for the Predators, it is far from ideal. What it means is that several of the team’s prospects are not guaranteed a spot to play. That has forced Poile and company to find other places for these players to play.
What’s important to note is that these are players the team is trying to develop. It’s hard to develop a hockey player if they can’t play hockey. Thus, the focus is on getting players on the ice, letting them develop, staying in game shape, and being ready to go when needed. Because this drastic shortcoming is coming at the AHL level (the step before the NHL) the Predators want to make sure that everyone has a chance to play as much as possible. What does that mean?
It may be easier to identify what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that the taxi squad will be full of guys you should expect to see on the ice. It’s important to remember the Predators are carrying two additional defenders and an additional forward on their game day roster already. And, while the Taxi Squad will travel and practice with the team, they are less likely to see ice time than the prospects playing for Chicago Wolves or the extra players on the NHL roster. Therefore, I would expect to see players come and go on the taxi squad. It stands to reason that several players from the squad will see some time, but as soon as the AHL season starts up, the process of moving players back and forth will be a bit more tedious due to quarantining.
Predators Prospects Practicing With Nashville
|Yakov Trenin||F||Nashville - Active Roster|
|Jarred Tinordi||D||Nashville - Active Roster|
|Philip Tomasino||F||Nashville - Taxi Squad (Waiver exempt)|
|Eeli Tolvanen||F||Nashville - Taxi Squad (Waiver exempt)|
|Mathieu Olivier||F||Nashville - Taxi Squad (Waiver exempt)|
|Michael McCarron||F||Nashville - Taxi Squad|
|Ben Harpur||D||Nashville - Taxi Squad|
|Connor Ingram||G||Nashville - Taxi Squad (Waiver exempt)|
It appears, thus far, that Taxi Squad players will be used more for injury related call ups than COVID-19 related issues. So far, with the examples of the Dallas Stars and the Carolina Hurricanes, actual cases of the virus shut the entire team down. Quarantining out of caution, such as with the Washington Capitals, has seen the team dip into their Taxi Squad. In that case, whoever is currently with the Squad will be up to speed on tactics and strategies. However, it doesn’t make organizational, nor developmental, sense to keep your top prospect on the Taxi Squad in place of actual game experience in the AHL.
So, I’d look for some of these guys to see a game, maybe two. However, once the AHL season starts, Philip Tomasino will be much better off playing on a regular basis in Chicago against top AHL level talent, than taking practice every few days with the Predators. It’s what’s best for his development and, ultimately, what’s best for the team.