I went into Bridgestone Arena Saturday with the hopes of seeing my two favorite Nashville Predators prospects, Philip Tomasino and Egor Afanasyev, playing some hockey. However, although Tomasino played, Afanasyev was scratched. And, while this isn’t a clear indication of who’s going to make the opening night roster, it certainly seems that the Predators staff wants to get as many looks at Tomasino as possible before the final roster decisions are made.
As far back as the “youth movement” announcement by David Poile, Tomasino has been a player the team has been very high on. And with Tomasino lined up opposite Nick Cousins on a line centered by Cody Glass during the final preseason game, it looks like he’s finally going to get the chance to start with the NHL club.
Tomasino on the opening night roster should quench the thirst of those clamoring for the youth movement, but the question remains, how will he be used? It seems like the team has its top-six personnel set with a first line of Filip Forsberg and Matt Duchene on Ryan Johansen’s wings and a second line centered by Mikael Granlund with Luke Kunin and Eeli Tolvanen on each side. This leaves Tomasino, a young finesse player who won’t be served well by time on the fourth line, in the hunt for a spot on the third line.
And that, in turn, leaves us with the question: do you want Tomasino to play third-line minutes and potentially spend some time as a healthy scratch at the NHL level, or would you rather he head to Milwaukee and see heavy ice time against AHL talent on a nightly basis?
John Hynes puts a lot of faith in NHL ice time as well as in creating lines that play with an identity. It’s easy to remember the Herd line of last season that featured Colton Sissons, Yakov Trenin, and Mathieu Olivier or Tanner Jeannot—that was Hynes-style line identity, and it worked.
Tomasino needs to be with skilled playmakers. Cody Glass definitely has the potential to provide that spark, and partnered with Tomasino, the two could turn into a solid playmaking pair. Of course, they need time to develop that chemistry and that identity. Saturday afternoon, it looked like the two were headed in the right direction as they nearly connected on a two-on-one against Frederik Andersen. The didn’t find twine, but it was a great preview of the possibilities. They just need time. Unfortunately, all the time that’s left to do that would be during the regular season. Will they get the chance?
If this is to be, as GM David Poile put it, a competitive rebuilding year, then I’d love to see Tomasino and Glass develop at the NHL level as opposed to the AHL level. While playing for Karl Taylor in Milwaukee has huge advantages (such as being coached by expert development coach Karl Taylor and getting much more ice time), they’d also be playing against AHL-level talent. And, of course, taking nothing away from the talent in the AHL, Tomasino already put on a clinic during his stint with the Chicago Wolves last season.
Even if it means he gets scratched every now and then I would prefer Tomasino to stay with the NHL club and cut his teeth at the highest level. It should be worth it, during a competitive rebuild, to keep Tomasino in Nashville. I believe what’s best for the player is what’s best for the team and in this case, give him NHL exposure and watch him flourish.