With Spring upon us, most of the prospects in Nashville’s pipeline are wrapping up or have finished their 2020-21 seasons. The KHL and VHL playoffs are ongoing, the SHL and Liiga playoffs will start soon, and a college hockey national champion will be awarded this weekend.
Before you know it, the 2021 NHL Entry Draft will be here! For my monthly notes on all things Preds prospects, see below or click here to view my tracking project for this season.
1... The KHL playoffs have reached the conference finals, and three of Nashville’s five Russian prospects’ teams are still alive. In the west, Yegor Afanasyev’s CSKA is up two games to none over Yaroslav Askarov’s SKA; in the east, Semyon Chistyakov’s Omsk is up one game to nill over Ak Bars Kazan.
Afanasyev appeared in four playoff games for Krasnaya Armiya of the MHL, scoring two goals but has since returned to the KHL club after the former was eliminated from their championship contention. Dressing as the team’s extra forward, Afanasyev has seen ice time in just one game—a conference semifinal matchup—where he skated a little over four minutes.
Askarov also returned to his parent club after SKA-1946 of the MHL was eliminated from their playoffs; He is practicing with the SKA but has yet to dress for a game since returning.
Chistyakov has spent his entire season in the KHL but has seen his ice time reduced since the start of the playoffs. He’s topped out at 12:05 during a March 22 game but skated just a single seven-second shift this past Saturday.
2... The NCAA Frozen Four—which begins Thursday—will feature just one Nashville prospect, defender Marc Del Gaizo. The UMass Minutemen defender is looking to become just the second Nashville-drafted prospect to capture a national championship while in the organization. The first: Colin Wilson with Boston University in 2009.
Despite a career-low 14 points this season, Del Gaizo has been excellent on UMass’s top pair and a big reason why they’ve now reached back-to-back Frozen Four’s. One stat that stands out: He’s taken just two minor penalties all season—a testament to his skating skill.
Once the Minutemen’s season ends, Del Gaizo could come out of school early and sign his entry-level contract.
3... Although currently sidelined with an upper-body injury, defender Luke Prokop has ten games under his belt this season with the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen. He’s already scored twice—half of his 2019-20 goal mark—but has been disappointing (especially for a third-round pick) in my viewings.
In his latest, The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler agreed:
“He’s big, he’s a righty, he’s decently mobile, he closes out a lot of plays in the neutral zone and he can cover a lot of territory fairly quickly inside his own end. But he has never made plays with the puck at a level to me that suggests he’s ever going to be more than a sixth or seventh defenseman in the NHL if he’s lucky...”
No arguments here.
4... What a month it was for Notre Dame’s hockey club. After losing to Penn State to get eliminated from the Big Ten conference tournament, their season seemed all but over. But then, Selection Sunday was kind to them, giving the Irish a spot in the NCAA Ice Hockey Tournament thanks, in part, to a St. Lawrence University team that had to bow out due to COVID-19 protocols.
On the eve of the tournament, however, Notre Dame suffered from its own COVID tribulations and was forced to withdraw from contention, ending Spencer Stastney’s season.
Expect the defender back for his senior year in South Bend.
5... As they await their playoff opponent, Sweden’s Skellefteå AIK has to be pleased with the development they’ve seen from defender Adam Wilsby. In his first season in the SHL, the 2020 fourth-round pick has worked his way up to the team’s top pair and scored six goals and 18 points in 48 games. 12 of his 18 points are primary ones scored at even-strength.
With goals in his last two games and five points in his last five games, Wilsby—who recently signed a contract extension through the 2022-23 season—is fourth in the league among U21 defenders in scoring behind Nils Lundkvist (NYR), Moritz Seider (DET), and Albert Johansson (DET).
6... The University of Connecticut Huskies 2020-21 season came to an unceremonious end, losing 6-1 in the first round of the Hockey East Tournament to Providence on March 14. Jachym Kondelik scored UConn’s lone goal and totaled four on the season—all scored in the last two games of the year. Finishing with 22 points in 23 games, expect him back at UConn this fall for his senior season.
The Huskies cut Providence's lead down to 3-1 as Jachym Kondelik finishes the puck behind Stauber in the second period pic.twitter.com/9EaJ9bSfjV— Hockey East (@hockey_east) March 14, 2021
The other Nashville prospect at UConn might be taking a different route in his immediate future. Tomas Vomacka—who played the last month of the season with a torn meniscus—could leave school early and sign an entry-level contract this summer.
I checked in with a source who said the Huskies are preparing in case he leaves, and I broke down what the NHL/ NHLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) says his options are.
7... No other prospect in the pipeline had as surprising of a March as Penn State forward Chase McLane. The 2020 seventh-round pick was huge for the Nittany Lions down the stretch, scoring two goals in their Big Ten conference tournament matchup with Notre Dame.
I remain skeptical of any NHL future for McLane, but I was impressed this season with the role he filled in Penn State’s bottom six. By the end of the year, he was entrusted with important defensive zone faceoffs, penalty kills, and late-game shifts. While he notched just three goals and five points in 19 games, three of those five points were primary ones scored at even-strength.
8... Nashville’s only other senior college prospect is North Dakota (UND) forward Grant Mismash. The 2017 second-round pick returned (and scored in) from an upper-body injury for UND’s first-round game against American International but then left the Fighting Hawks’ five-overtime game against Minnesota-Duluth, twice, with an undisclosed injury.
I wrote about what to expect from Mismash should Nashville sign him to an entry-level contract. Otherwise, he becomes an NHL free agent on August 15 of this year unless he decides to use his extra year of eligibility granted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
9... Juuso Pärssinen continues his impressive DY+2 season in the Finnish Liiga. The 2019 seventh-round pick has been a staple on TPS’ scoresheets this year, notching eight goals and 40 points in 52 games so far—good for second on the team in scoring.
While just 12 of those points were primary ones scored at even-strength, Pärssinen is no longer being dragged down by poor goaltending when on the ice, and his PDO (on-ice shooting % + on-ice save % at even-strength) on the season is at 101.2. He also leads all U21 Liiga players in scoring.
10... Last month, I took a look at the Spring free-agent market across the NCAA and Europe. I didn’t anticipate Nashville to be very active—especially since they don’t have their own running AHL club this year—and so far, that’s been the case.
Some of these players have been scooped up, however. Here’s a rundown:
- Matt Kiersted — Florida Panthers
- Odeen Tufto — Tampa Bay Lightning/ Syracuse Crunch
- Jordan Kawaguchi — Dallas Stars/ Texas Stars
- Josh Dunne — Columbus Blue Jackets/ Cleveland Monsters
- Ty Pelton-Byce — Manitoba Moose
- Adam Scheel — Dallas Stars/ Texas Stars
- Alex Limoges — San Diego Gulls
One other name I didn’t include—Bowling Green’s Connor Ford—looks to be returning to college next season but has entered the NCAA’s transfer portal. There was rumored interest from Nashville in the 23-year old undrafted forward.
What I’m Reading:
- What Happened to the Aatu Räty of 2018-19? — Dobber Prospects
- Why Brandt Clarke is the top prospect in the 2021 class — EP Rinkside [$]
- Calls for culture shift in hockey echo as WHL players suspended over racist taunts — Calgary Herald
- Risers and fallers from the 2020 NHL Draft — The Athletic [$]
- SCSU’s ice whisperer is unsung hero of epic 5-OT game between UND, UMD in Fargo — The Rink Live