The Nashville Predators have had a busy July this year, with Filip Forsberg’s signing and the NHL Draft, and they continued refining the team this offseason with this week’s Development Camp. The On The Forecheck staff was on hand all week long and has notes, observations and more on the prospect pool - including this year’s draft class headlined by Joakim Kemell.
Public Practice Sessions - Centennial Sportsplex
Jeff Middleton: There was a very solid turnout at the main practice rink of the Predators to start the week’s development camp. From campers to fans and media, lots of people showed up to see some new and old (but still young) faces.
- Two of the newest faces were 2020 11th overall selection Yaroslav Askarov and 2022 17th overall selection Joakim Kemell. They were certainly worth the hype. Whether we were watching Askarov make insane lateral movement saves or Kemell going top shelf during a drill, it was mesmerizing.
- One of the most exciting things to watch on the first day especially was Kemell playing with Zach L’Heureux and Juuso Pärssinen. During rush drills, their line was easily the most tenacious and skilled. They moved the puck fast and well, they pursued it in the corners, and their regroups in the neutral zone were quick and purposeful.
- The line would stick together through other drills and into the prospect game on Friday, which gave fans who weren’t there on the first day to see the outstanding work of those three players in all three zones.
Jeff: Tuesday was the second of the four on-ice days that I attended, and instead of focusing on things like line rushes, it was more focused on individual skills. From skating work to stickhandling around objects and shooting from high-danger areas, there were a myriad of exercises that the Predators prospects participated in.
- The first session was only defensemen working on things like defense-focused edgework drills and transition passing as well as walking the blue line for shots from different angles. The next session was only the forwards, and we got to see the goaltender Askarov work on his post-to-post technique as well as some movement drills before getting some actual shots in the drills.
- There were a number of defensemen that stood out to me all for different reasons. The first one was Ryan Ufko, a Predators fourth round selection in the 2021 NHL Draft. He played last season at the University of Massachussets, and was lauded for his ability to move the puck with intention in the smoothest ways possible. Nothing changed in the drills he did. On the first day he gave us a taste, but in defense-focused skill work, he looked very strong.
- The two Swedes Adam Wilsby and Anton Olsson also stood out to me. Wilsby when walking the blue line has an impressive shot. When all of the formal drills were over, he decided to do some more work on it, and hit the crossbar three times from hard shots at the point. Olsson on the other hand is a very physically capable defenseman with a sneaky hard shot that he managed to sneak passed the goalies on more than one occasion. Both of their edgework during skating was some of the best there as well, which we should come to expect from Swedes at this point.
- The main forward that stood out to me was Luke Evangelista. When stickhandling through the obstacles, it was evident how much skill he possesses, and head of player personnel Jeff Kealty acknowledged that in the development staff Q&A before the prospect showcase game.
“What he can do with the puck on his stick is something you just can’t teach,” he said about Evangelista. He wasn’t kidding.
I completely understand the hype around Evangelista. He looked strong in camp, and there was plenty to like, but there were also times where what he still needs to work on was evident. He’s not NHL ready yet, but as he gets stronger and more experienced, he will be a force to be reckoned with.
- There were plenty of things to like about the second day particularly because we got to focus more on individual skillsets rather than the combinations of players together. Watching players figure out skating drills and talking to their coaches on how to improve is always good to see, and the flashes of skill that we were fortunate enough to see would excite anyone. Oh yeah, and Matt Barbolini broke a pane of glass with a shot. That was pretty neat.
Bryan Bastin: Thursday’s session was split in two, first group was the forwards, second defensemen, and we got to see a lot of drills working on skating, puckhandling, and puck possession - giving us an excellent vantage point to evaluate many of these players for the very first time in person.
- No skater in either session was as dialed in and focused as defender Luke Prokop. There was no wasted movement in his skating, and would immediately work on any mistakes or inefficiencies in drills. He’s a fairly powerful skater, and has the ability to work in space and carry the puck. Again, these were drills, but Prokop has to be impressing the front office and scouts for seeing his potential.
Luke Prokop has been DIALED in during this drill, and he's been extremely expressive every time he's turning around. Didn't get it this time, but it's been funny to watch pic.twitter.com/8ELXGFQVcR— Bryan Bastin (@BryanBastin) July 14, 2022
- These are fresh faces, most of which were drafted in the past couple of years, so they are early on in their professional careers, but forward Luke Evangelista showed that his skating ability and his mind for the game separates him from the rest of the group. If I was to call anyone at this season’s development camp close to “NHL ready”, it would be Evangelista by a large margin. There are improvements to be made, and I fully expect him to continue to develop under Karl Taylor in Milwaukee next season, but he’s the real deal. There was a ton of talent on hand as well - Kemell was an absolute steal for the Predators, but since Evangelista was drafted, his improvement has been significant and I don’t expect that to stop anytime soon.
- Every year I’ve been to development camp, one of the highlights is watching Jachym Kondelik. He’s an absolute blast to watch - he’s a massive player, and surprises me every time with the moves he makes in space. He’s not in contention for NHL playing time in the near future, and is still a longshot to crack the roster, but he’s a fun player to watch, especially as he manifests opportunities for himself in creative ways.
- Besides Luke Prokop, four players really stood out to me during the defenseman session: Ryan Ufko, Anton Olsson, Adam Wilsby and Jack Matier. Matier in particular was quick to work with coaches on skating drills and technique and had no problem adjusting to the speed of drill on subsequent attempts. There’s still work to be done with his stride and edgework, but I think being in the organization will only be good for his development.
Ufko, Olsson and Wilsby impressed me with their offensive ability. I was surprised at Ufko and Wilsby’s quick, powerful shots during drills and the ability to work in tight spaces.
Adam Wilsby and Marc Del Gaizo in a corner drill. It appears once they make the pass to the point, they're trying to drag the defender in front of the net to create traffic pic.twitter.com/bTGp2MqH5R— Bryan Bastin (@BryanBastin) July 14, 2022
- Olsson has a good shot as well, but his puck-handling ability - especially in drills designed to work the middle of the ice - was better than I had expected to see. I’m very excited to watch him develop next season - he’s an exciting possibility for a dynamic defender somewhere down the road. Plus, he gave us this awesome moment during a drill:
- I’ve heard the hype from our own Eric Dunay for awhile now, but seeing it in person just confirms that Jusso Parssinen is a fantastic talent. Working with other top players like Evangelista, Zachary L’Heureux, and Joakim Kemell, Parssinen showed the ability to be an efficient playmaker with his passing and movement in transition, but also being dangerous with the puck, either with a quick shot on net or maneuvering into the high-danger areas. His ability to play to the strengths of whatever linemate he had in drills was equally impressive to watch, as he seamlessly worked in tandem with whoever was working with him at the time.
Prospect Showcase - Ford Ice Center - Bellevue
Ann Kimmel: It was great to get to see the prospects finally go at “game speed”. Drills gave some idea of the players’ skills but how those skills translate to a game reveals another important aspect to use the eye test on. It was fantastic to see the crowd at Ford Ice Center Bellevue and feel the excitement of hockey again!
- Seeing Luke Evangelista in a game setting was exciting and gave a glimpse of what made his season with the London Knights so successful. He sees the game well and quickly capitalized on possession changes to sneak into the offensive zone immediately.
Luke Evangelista on ice… pic.twitter.com/02mqdmOxrV— Locked On Predators (@LO_Predators) July 15, 2022
Evangelista credits the shooting work he put in last off-season for much of his success with the Knights. That shot work was on display in the prospect showcase as he found a pocket of net glove side high to score and executed a terrific penalty shot. Evangelista may not be ready for his Bridgestone Arena debut, but his talent will take him there eventually.
- Juuso Pärssinen was a stand out for me on Friday. While his offensive talent was evident in last year’s development camp, I was really impressed with his two way game. While a prospect showcase isn’t the same as “NHL ready”, Pärssinen showed an impressive 200 foot game. Skating with L’Heureux and Kemell highlighted each of the three players really well.
- The Askarov anticipation was nearly tangible at FIC. When the young net minder finally took the ice, Askarov did everything a young talent could do to win over any lingering doubters. Askarov is going to be a Nashville favorite. His in-net performance was impressive, tracking the puck well even during chaotic net front scrambles and not allowing any goals during the game time. And Askarov’s charisma translates on the ice as well. He is a ridiculously talented hockey player with - dare we say it? - tons of personality, and it appears he has many Nashville fans already wrapped around his finger. Fans will need to be patient though. Askarov will be well served to spend quality time in Milwaukee, but he did plenty during development camp to leave a great impression.
Jeff: There’s not much more that I can add to what Ann said without being repetitive, but there is one player in particular that I would like to highlight out of the prospect game that I think deserve some recognition.
- Gunnarwolfe Fontaine, who easily has the coolest name in the Predators system, is hard not to immediately fall in love with when scouting the games. He has a motor that almost no other player has. He and Zach L’Heureux are the two players that I would say look the most like each other in terms of play style. Both skate very hard, and even though Fontaine isn’t an agitator, he possesses the same no quit attitude that staff loves to see in a player. Fontaine killed it in last year’s prospect showcase game, and he did the same this year.
- Unfortunately one of the “veterans” of the camp Egor Afanasyev was unable to play in the showcase due to precautionary reasons, but a huge shoutout to him for talking to fans and greeting people that wanted to talk to him about hockey, get autographs, or snap a few pictures.