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Preds Prospects Report: January

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What have the Nashville Predators’ prospects been up to this past month?

Ethan Haider
Clarkson Men’s Ice Hockey

The World Junior Championship is behind us, the AHL season is underway, and some Nashville prospects are already gearing up for their leagues’ postseasons. Below, I run through the latest on the Nashville Predators’ pipeline with notes from last month.

January


1... Every season, one prospect seems to garner a plurality of attention from the Nashville fanbase. This year, despite playing only six games due to COVID-19, it’s Boston University defender David Farrance. The senior has begun his 2021 season on a torrid scoring pace and was recently named the Hockey East Player of the Month for January.

But the reason he’s so popular in conversation may have more to do with the fact that fans want to avoid another Jimmy Vesey saga. When it comes to potential, Farrance isn’t Vesey, but he isn’t quite Dante Fabbro either. I see a smooth-skating defender who has a bottom-four ceiling, who is a power play asset and can move the puck up ice with ease.

His biggest flaw? Rush defense. It’s improved this year (in 2019-20, he allowed a successful zone entry 48.84% of the time), and I’ve yet to hear any indication he doesn’t plan to sign with Nashville after this season is over.

In the meantime, the Terrier defender—who has been nominated for the Hobey Baker Award for a second time—leads the nation in points per game (2.33). He has four goals and 14 points in his six games, and six of those points are primary ones at even strength. He’s also shooting 36.4% on the season. It’s unfortunate his brilliant year may not go properly recognized with minimal games, but anticipate a boost to Milwaukee’s blue line next season with Nashville not too far off.

2... The Western Hockey League (WHL) is inching closer to a return to play, which bodes well for 2020 pick Luke Prokop (and prospects in Chicago who will benefit from Seth Jarvis returning to juniors).

The WHL’s U.S. Division has been cleared to return on March 19. Most of the Central Division—the teams in Alberta—will open the season on February 26. The Calgary Hitmen, Prokop’s team, won’t start their schedule until the following weekend—March 5—and will play their home games on Tsuut’ina Nation.

3... Earlier last month, defender Adam Wilsby signed a two-year contract extension with Skellefteå AIK of Sweden’s SHL after weighing options from other clubs, including Frölunda.

In his first full SHL season, Wilsby has notched three goals and 12 points in 38 games while primarily playing on Skellefteå’s bottom pair. In seven games tracked, his transition rates are out of this world: 69.8% controlled zone exits and 33.3% controlled zone entries against.

Due to being drafted as an overager, Nashville only has Wilsby’s negotiating rights until June 2022. While his extension carries him through the 2022-23 season, the NHL-SHL loan agreement does not prohibit an entry-level signing before then. In such a unique case, Nashville could sign him as early as this offseason and stash him in Sweden next season where he’ll be playing regular top-four minutes.

4... Outside of David Farrance, Nashville has one other prospect they must make a decision on this summer: Grant Mismash. The 2017 second-round pick has been, in my eyes, a disappointment (although I didn’t have high expectations on draft day either).

A quick boxscore check would impress you: nine goals and 18 points in 17 games this season, including 10 primary points at even strength. But the physical forward is playing on a dominant North Dakota team, similar to the one last season where he managed just 20 points playing on the nation’s best line. He’s nearly matched his 2019-20 output in half the games, and he’ll hit double-digit goals for the first time in college, but he’s also shooting 19.6% right now.

Scott Wheeler shares my thoughts in his summary of Nashville’s pipeline:

“Mismash isn’t going to be more than a depth player if he’s ever to make it (the odds of which are thin) but he’s a coach’s favourite who plays hard...he probably tops out as a reliable AHL and depth call-up.”

I don’t doubt Nashville will sign Mismash this summer; it’s tough to not sign a second-round pick, and his senior-year production has been good. But, for me, Mismash likely tops out as a career AHL player.

5... Since the World Junior Championship (WJC), Juuso Pärssinen has done nothing but return to the Finnish Liiga and impress. In his eight games since, he’s scored three goals and nine points, increasing his total to 21 in 26 games (just five of those points, however, are primary ones at even strength).

I know I sound repetitive in beating the drum for him, but Pärssinen—who’s second in U21 Liiga points per game to Anton Lundell—could be a gem for a seventh-round pick. Nashville has until June 2023 to sign him to an entry-level contract, but I would be shocked if it takes that long.

6... 2019 sixth-round pick Isak Walter is making the big jump from Sweden to North America for the 2021-22 season. Walther’s year was ended after just 18 games when the Swedish Hockey Federation shut down all leagues beneath the HockeyAllsvenskan and SHL, including the J20 Nationell.

The towering winger will enroll at the University of Vermont next season, adding to Nashville’s pipeline that plays in the Hockey East.

7... Nashville’s KHL trio — Semyon Chistyakov, Iaroslav Askarov, and Egor Afanasyev — have been used sparingly since returning from the WJC. Chistyakov has skated in ten games for Omsk since then but has only seen more than ten minutes of ice time twice; Askarov has started twice, allowing four goals in one win and one loss; and Afanasyev has dressed for nine games but has skated just 40 seconds in the last three. It’s simply the way it goes for teenagers in the KHL.

But Chistyakov and Askarov will suit up for Team Russia at the Beijer Hockey Games from February 11 to 14. The tournament is a four-team contest (Sweden, Finland, Russia, and the Czech Republic) that is the third stage of the Euro Hockey Tour, which comprises the Karjala Tournament (Finland), Channel One Cup (Russia), Beijer Games (Sweden), and the Czech Hockey Games. Team Russia won both of the first two tournaments.

8... UConn goalie Tomáš Vomáčka was recently named to the watch list for college hockey’s annual top goalie honor, the Mike Richter Award. Playing every minute for the Huskies this season, Vomáčka has continued his relentless workload in his junior season.

Through 16 starts, the Czech netminder owns a 0.918 save percentage and has stopped 3.5 goals above average compared to his peers who have started ten or more games. He’ll return for his senior season, and there are still some mechanics to improve, but Vomáčka is still showing he has the potential to play at the pro level.

9... Two other college prospects—Alex Campbell and Ethan Haider—were recently recognized for their excellent freshman seasons: Campbell leads all ECAC rookies in scoring (16) at the season’s midway point, and Haider is third among all ECAC goalies in save percentage (0.921).

I recently sat down with the two to discuss their adjustment to college, their relationship with the organization and playing hockey during a pandemic. Stay tuned.


What I’m reading:


All statistics are courtesy of eliteprospects.com, collegehockeynews.com, or my own manual data tracking.