It only took a couple of scrolls through Twitter to get the gist of the expansion draft. Insiders were leaking picks left and right, so naturally, many fans were left out of the suspense when the actual draft show rolled around the corner. However, the suspense was boiling for those in the Predators community that weren’t on social media during the day. Would the Seattle Kraken be willing to take an awful contract like Ryan Johansen or Matt Duchene’s? Would they take one of Calle Järnkrok and Colton Sissons? Or would they go “off the board” and select someone like Yakov Trenin? Time ran its course, and general manager Ron Francis thought it best to go with the Swede, Järnkrok.
With Järnkrok headed to the Emerald City, a spot opens up in the top-six for someone to nab. With the entry draft already in the books and free agency approaching tomorrow, it’s hard not to speculate that David Poile is thinking about replacements for a player that he could rely on in the top six to play well on both ends of the ice. Considering there have been very few rumors of the approach Poile may be taking, it’s fair to speculate that there will be plenty of options for him to choose from.
I’ll start with the obvious. Philip Tomasino is the next big forward for the Predators, and the movement of Järnkrok and Viktor Arvidsson opens up tons of opportunities for him to jump into a top role. Considering that the Predators have lacked any scoring from players not named Filip Forsberg, it’s hard to justify keeping Tomasino in lower leagues for any longer.
Tomasino has proven time and time again that selecting him at 24th overall in the 2019 NHL Draft was not only the right choice but could be considered a major steal when it’s all said and done. In his DY+1 season in the OHL, he put up an impressive 100 points in 62 games, scoring an even 40 goals and 60 assists. He was fourth in the league in scoring behind Marco Rossi (MIN), Cole Perfetti (WPG), and Connor McMichael (WSH), and was traded for an absurd NINE draft picks and defender David Guicciardi after 36 games with the Niagara Ice Dogs. He then went on a rampaging scoring streak and posted 43 points in 26 games. However, the season was cut short due to the Covid-19 outbreak, so that was all we got to see of the young talent.
With the entire OHL shut down, it put Tomasino in an interesting spot. The Milwaukee Admirals decided to sit out of the 2020-21 AHL season; the Preds’ minor league players went to play with the Carolina Hurricane’s AHL affiliate the Chicago Wolves, and those that weren’t able to play in the OHL also went to play with the team. Tomasino performed at an excellent level among older players, too, tied for the team lead with 32 points in 29 games.
Outside of the AHL, he played with an absolutely stacked Team Canada in the World Junior Championships. While he was in a depth role, his numbers were still excellent. He scored six points in seven games but put up four goals in the process. He was one of the more reliable forwards on the team, because he was digging for pucks in the corners and fighting in both the defense and offensive zones for position even when he wasn't scoring. He broke the puck out consistently and was a major benefactor of Canada’s high-powered transition offense.
In 2020-21 Tomasino showed that he could play against both good older competition and elite players his age. He was excellent in both ends and was willing to fight for every inch of space that he could find. His game has developed extremely well, and it will be interesting to see where he ends up when the NHL season rolls around in October. One thing for certain is that he could be a suitable top-six replacement for a team that is desperately looking to find one.
Tomas Tatar’s journey around the NHL over the last few seasons has been nothing short of chaotic. First, he was dealt from the Detroit Red Wings to the Vegas Golden Knights. Then, he was moved from the Knights to the Montreal Canadiens. He scored 149 points in 198 games with the Canadiens, including an almost point per game season in 2019-20. His offense did regress a bit this past season, where he scored 30 points in 50 games. However, 30 points would have been third-best on the Predators, behind only Forsberg and Roman Josi.
Tatar has proven that he can be a viable two-way option, and provided that he’s given the opportunity, he can provide a consistent top-six presence. His analytics per Evolving-Hockey were excellent, and he provided some of the best value for Montreal while he was getting ample playing time.
Tatar clearly drove expected goals (xG) extremely well and contributed to actual goals at a high rate too. Many Predators players drive xG very well but fail to convert it to actual goals, which is where fans have drawn the line. Tatar changes that narrative. He also is bound to help on the rush, considering his ridiculous possession zone exit percentage per Corey Sznajder’s microstat data.
The one thing that could be concerning to most fans is the contract details. While they have been shedding cap space with recent transactions, everyone knows that the Predators can’t afford to pay another big-money deal with lots of term. Luckily for the team, Tatar’s poor usage in the playoffs may put him at a discount relative to what he could have gotten when playing consistent top-line minutes. Evolving-Hockey’s projections have him coming in at a $5.23 million cap hit for three years. it would be ideal for the front office to cut down both the AAV and term slightly, but it’s a contract I would be willing to accept. I think Tatar could be an excellent replacement for the forward group.
The final player I would be interested in adding to help fill the role that Järnkrok held is Brandon Saad. While Saad is usually a third-line forward, I would be interested in seeing if he could play in the top six. He would be a good replacement on the penalty kill, which is where Järnkrok might be missed the most. He can bring speed and skill to a lineup that is choosing that same direction. He plays the game a lot like Järnkrok, and it would be easy to see him fitting in well with the team.
Saad is still at the ripe age of 28 and produced a fair numberof goals with the Colorado Avalanche. He scored a total of 15, which would place him first among all Predators players. Of course, the scoring in Colorado is different than it would be in Nashville, but it’s still impressive nonetheless, given that he was primarily a third-line player. Saad has been an excellent transition player over the last two seasons, with his controlled entry percentage in the 81st percentile and his controlled exit percentage in the 90th percentile. He carries the play through his speed and crashes the front of the net hard after distributing the puck to his linemates.
Saad also brings some coveted veteran experience to any lineup. He may only be 28 years old, but he has two cups to his name, and someone like Poile could fall for that, especially during the time he coined as a “competitive rebuild.” There are a lot of things Saad does well, and even though he might not be the most impactful player on the team, he can fill the role that Järnkrok held, and possibly do it better.
With the competitive rebuild, it would be optimal to see Tomasino get some time with the big club. He’s proven that he can play against kids his age and players that are older than him, and the pace that he plays translates well to the NHL. If you’re going to infuse the roster with young talent, he should be the first name on the list. However, both Tatar and Saad bring experience that Tomasino can’t, and it is important to have players on the roster that have that. Any of these options could prove to be worth it, and we might even see one or two of them if Poile approaches it the right way.