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Mid-season Nashville prospects ranking

Who’s doing well along the road to Nashville, and who’s struggling?

Finland v Sweden: Quarterfinals - 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Dale Preston/Getty Images

Normally around this time, you would be reading my December Predators prospects report. But instead, I thought I’d provide a mid-season ranking of the organization’s pipeline. Some of you may know that I typically find rankings like this to be less than insightful; it’s hard to compare prospects of different ages from different leagues. But I do think it’s helpful to take a more robust look at the prospect pool from time to time to help determine who to be excited about and who to be concerned about.

Let’s lay down some ground rules before getting started:

  • Players’ rights must be held by Nashville, whether by contract or draft rights, excluding players on AHL contracts.
  • Players must be under the age of 26, excluding the likes of Kevin Gravel, Kiefer Sherwood, and Roland McKeown.
  • Players must not have played more than 100 career NHL games. I’ve purposely done this to include Philip Tomasino because I think it’s important to add some notes on him.
  • Players in the AHL or NHL must have spent the majority of this season in the former league, excluding Mark Jankowski and Juuso Pärssinen.

(1) Philip Tomasino | F | Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)

Nashville’s 2019 first-round pick has spent the entire season in the AHL, to the dismay of many. I rarely think it’s bad to season a young player more in Milwaukee, but after a decent 2021-22 campaign in Nashville, sending Tomasino down felt almost arbitrary and like this organization, which is loath to quickly promote prospects to the NHL, was just checking a box.

Regardless of all that, I still firmly believe in Philip Tomasino as this franchise’s best prospect right now. In 24 AHL games this season, he’s scored nine goals and 19 points, including ten primary points at even strength. Tomasino is rounding out his game, playing in all situations, and learning to fight smarter in puck battles in all three zones. Whether he returns to Nashville on a full-time basis this season remains to be seen, but this is a player I still think will be a 40-goal scorer in the NHL one day. Does that happen with Nashville’s current system? Maybe not. But that’s not what I’m here to project.

(2) Yaroslav Askarov | G | Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)

There’s been a good amount of increasing but hesitant concern over Yaroslav Askarov’s future since he was drafted 11th overall in 2020. His 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons were marred by inconsistent playing time and constant recalls and reassignments between the KHL, VHL, and MHL. He never consistently looked like the impressive goalie prospect he was hyped to be, and he eventually fell out of favor with the St. Petersburg organization.

Jump to this year, and it’s a whole different story. After finding his sea legs (pun intended) early in the 2022-23 campaign, Askarov has seized the Admirals’ starting job and has not looked back. In 22 appearances, he has 13 wins and a 0.905 save percentage, playing more minutes than any other rookie goalie in the AHL. Askarov has allowed -0.190 goals below average to date. But that number is skewed by one poor 0.792-save-percentage performance last time out; it was up over positive two beforehand. Askarov looks increasingly impressive, picking up two shutouts in recent weeks. There will still be growing pains, but he’s back on track to being Nashville’s starter one day.

(3) Joakim Kemell | F | JYP (Liiga)

Joakim Kemell rounds out the podium of this ranking as another first-round pick. The Finnish phenom, though, has cooled this season. Playing on a putrid JYP team in the Finnish Liiga, Kemell has just eight goals and ten points in 24 games this season, and he’s on track to fall short of his 23 points recorded in 2021-22. Just four of his points are primary ones recorded at even strength.

But his shooting percentage of 7.69% demonstrates a bit of bad luck, and he’s averaging just 14 minutes of ice time per night. Kemell has missed time due to injury once again this season, but I’ve seen improvements in the weaker aspects of his game; he’s refined some of his skating mechanics, and his World Juniors performance demonstrated he can be even more tenacious off the puck. With time, his scoring prowess will catch back up to expected levels, and I still anticipate he reaches the 25-30 goal mark in the NHL someday.

(4) Ryan Ufko | D | UMass (NCAA)

Newer followers may think this to be a case of recency bias, but those who are more familiar know I’ve been banging the drum for Ryan Ufko for the past two seasons. His ten-point (in seven games) offensive breakout at the 2023 World Juniors may have shocked some, but if you’ve watched Ufko skate for the UMass Minutemen, it should be no surprise.

Ufko’s 14 points in 17 NCAA games this season have him tied for third on his team, and he brings so much value off the scoresheet too. He’s a top-unit power-play quarterback, he’s an extremely efficient passer, and his one-on-one defending has very much improved thanks to excellent skating mechanics. With more confidence in his transition game, I think Ryan Ufko can be a top-four NHL defender.

(5) Zachary L’Heureux | F | Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)

If I had done this ranking at the beginning of the season, Zachary L’Heureux would’ve been much lower. But a few months can change everything. L’Heureux’s success waned in the final weeks of his 2021-22 season, and he started this year recovering from a nagging hip injury. That made his second consecutive snub from Canada’s World Juniors team inevitable.

But since returning to the Halifax Mooseheads lineup, L’Heureux has been nothing short of dominant, demonstrating the talent that made him a first-round pick. In 15 QMJHL games this season, L’Heureux has posted 13 goals and 25 points, including 17 primary ones scored at even strength. He is shooting at a 22.41% clip, but he also should be dominating this league as a 19-year-old. He’s gone pointless in just one game since his return, and his game away from the scoresheet has noticeably improved. L’Heureux is backchecking more and playing tighter defense; the puck is harder to dislodge from his blade in transition, and he’s making smarter moves in the offensive zone to get to higher-danger scoring areas. It’s extremely possible he hits 50 goals this season in fewer than 50 games.

(6) Luke Evangelista | F | Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)

During the 2020-21 season, while the OHL was on pause due to COVID-19, there were plenty of reasons to be concerned about Luke Evangelista. He sat out the first half of the year then went to the AHL where he looked totally out of his depth.

But he returned to the London Knights last year and torched the OHL, scoring 55 goals and 111 points in just 62 games and building up excitement for his first year in Milwaukee. Playing mostly on a line with Cole Schneider and Tommy Novak (now John Leonard), Evangelista is having a very good rookie AHL season. His five goals and 25 points (13 of which are primary ones scored at even strength) have him tied for third in rookie scoring across the league, and he’s getting plenty of ice time on the power play to display his shooting talent.

Nashville Predators v Washington Capitals Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

(7) Tommy Novak | F | Nashville Predators (NHL)

Maybe I shouldn’t have included Tommy Novak on this list; maybe this is the time he’s finally made Nashville’s roster for good. Given that, I’ll be brief. I’m really happy Novak is getting another shot at proving he belongs in the NHL. He’s done everything he can in the American League, and with six points in eight games this year, he’s looking to show he’s not just an ‘AAAA’ player. My biggest concern with him throughout his development is whether he has the pace to showcase his puck skills in the NHL, and I think we’ve seen a big difference in that between this year and last. Hopefully, I won’t have to write about him as a prospect much longer.

(8) Marc Del Gaizo | D | Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)

Much like Ryan Ufko, I’ve been a big fan of Marc Del Gaizo since his time at UMass. The 5’11” defender plays well beyond his size and has quickly become a leader in the Milwaukee Admirals’ locker room. In his debut AHL season last year, he posted 19 points in 67 games; through 32 games this year, he’s already notched two goals and 11 points and has looked much more comfortable getting involved offensively (he recently recorded ten shot attempts at even strength in a single game). His aggressive man-on-man defense has improved, and I think he has a real shot at being a full-time NHL defender soon.

(9) Egor Afanasyev | F | Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)

I’m starting to worry just a little more about Egor Afanasyev, a fan favorite. In his debut AHL season last year, he scored an impressive 12 goals and 33 points in 74 games. But on too many nights, he was just a complete non-factor on the ice. Most of his shot attempts were from low-danger areas, and he didn’t have the footspeed to carry the puck into the offensive zone enough.

This season, we haven’t seen a huge bump in his scoring output. He’s still on track to hit just 34 points, but nine of his 15 points so far have been primary ones at even strength. He’s improved his ability to get to high-danger areas with about half of his even-strength shot attempts (through three games tracked) coming from those spots, but he’s still struggling in transition. We’re nowhere near hitting the panic button, but there is still more to be desired for him to be an impact NHL player.

(10) Kasper Kulonummi | D | Tappara U20 (U20 SM-sarja)

I was, and remain, a big fan of the Kasper Kulonummi pick in the third round last summer. He’s such a solid defender who does so many things well and limits mistakes. He’s not dynamic offensively and he can be exposed in one-on-one defensive situations from time to time, but he’s largely as steady as they come (think Mattias Ekholm).

This year, he’s been dominant at Finland’s U20 level, scoring 33 points in 25 games. He’s earned his first five games in the pro league too. With added strength and an improved shot, Kulonummi looks like a top-four NHL defender to me.

(11) Nolan Burke | F | Sarnia Sting (OHL)

Nashville’s newest prospect may be its hardest to rank. Joining the organization just a couple of months ago, Nolan Burke has exploded for 23 goals and 37 points in 28 games in his third full OHL season.

Outside of missing significant time after a hit to the head, Burke has been one of if not Sarnia’s best scoring threat this year as 16 of his 36 points have been primary ones scored at even strength. But at 20 years old, he should be dominating the OHL. I’m curious to see more when he gets to Milwaukee next season.

(12) Spencer Stastney | D | Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Spencer Stastney is mechanically the best skater in this pipeline. The 23-year-old defender has his skating technique nailed down and that allows him to focus on other aspects of his game with confidence. He has just seven points in 31 AHL games this year as he’s mostly played on Milwaukee’s third pair, but the skills are there to be a depth option in the NHL.

(13) Fyodor Svechkov | F | Khimik (VHL)

Of Nashville’s recent first-round picks, Fyodor Svechkov’s status is the most concerning. He was excellent in the Russian VHL last year, scoring over a point per game. This past offseason, he was involved in a blockbuster trade to the Spartak organization and things have been stuck in neutral. He’s played around ten minutes a night in 16 KHL games and just recorded his first pro goal yesterday, and he’s managed just seven points in 14 VHL games. He’s been excellent in the Russian MHL, but I would be much more alarmed if he weren’t at this age.

His offensive prowess hasn’t taken a step forward, and some nights, his playmaking abilities seem to just vanish. I hesitate to critique so much because it's impossible to know if there is more going on behind the scenes, but I would like to see a lot more from Svechkov in the second half of this season to feel better about his development.

Canada v Swizerland: Quarterfinals - 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Andy Devlin/ Getty Images

(14) Simon Knak | F | HC Davos (NL)

Simon Knak’s progression since being drafted as an overager in 2021 has been quietly impressive. Last year he notched 11 points in 42 games for HC Davos in the top Swiss league; this year, he’s built on that with 16 points in 32 games so far. He’s earned more ice time in the top six and has carved out a role as a hardworking forward that can generate offense through a tenacious forecheck.

(15) Markus Nurmi | F | Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)

Signed over the offseason from Finland, former Ottawa Senators prospect Markus Nurmi has been very solid for Milwaukee this year. In 31 games, the 6’5” forward has scored nine goals and 18 points, including 12 primary points scored at even strength. I’m not certain he ever becomes a full-time NHL skater, but I like his chances of at least being the first call-up from the AHL.

(16) Adam Wilsby | D | Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)

I’ve been tracking Adam Wilsby’s development very intently since he was drafted three years ago. While I don’t think his stock has taken a major hit, I thought he would have a more seamless transition to the AHL.

The 22-year-old has eight assists in 32 games with Milwaukee and has had an up-and-down year on the team’s third pair. Some nights you see him flashing his skating and transition skills, other nights he finds himself a tad lost in the defensive zone. Typical growing pains.

(17) Semyon Chistyakov | D | Avangard Omsk (KHL)

Three years since making his KHL debut, Semyon Chistyakov is finally getting the ice time he deserves in Omsk. He’s now a regular in Avangard’s bottom four and in 39 games this season, he’s notched five goals and 19 points—both career highs. He’s maintained his hard-hitting ways, and with more confidence in his (very capable) transition game, Milwaukee could have a nice new addition to their blueline next season, assuming he comes to North America once his contract expires.

(18) Alexander Campbell | F | Clarkson (NCAA)

Once upon a time, I was convinced we’d see Alexander Campbell as an NHL regular one day. Now, I’m not so sure. After an impressive freshman season at Clarkson (17 points in 22 games), Campbell led the Golden Knights in scoring last year with 33 points in 37 games. This season, he’s struggled a bit more.

Campbell still possesses a tantalizing blend of quickness, agility, and creative puck skills. But there are still some flaws in his skating mechanics that limit his top speed, and he’s lacked a killer scoring instinct at times this season. In 18 games for Clarkson, Campbell has 11 points, including just five primary points scored at even strength. It’s very possible the 2019 third-round pick could return to form and take another step next year, but for now, I see him more as organizational depth in the future.

(19) Jack Matier | D | Ottawa 67’s (OHL)

Fresh off his appearance as Canada’s extra defender at the 2023 World Juniors, Jack Matier is ready to continue his excellent junior season in the OHL. The 6’5” defender has starred for the Ottawa 67’s this year, scoring 26 points in 26 games—good for 13th among all OHL defenders.

Matier has been a dynamic weapon on the power play with his booming point shot, and he’s shown growth in his even-strength offense too. His gap control and man-on-man defense have improved this season, and he’s clearly more confident in using his size to win puck battles. There’s still more to be desired with his skating skills, and I don’t think his offensive ceiling grows much higher. But we could be looking at a very solid AHL defender for years to come.

(20) Adam Ingram | F | St. Cloud State (NCAA)

Maybe I’ll come to eat my words one day, but I’m just simply not sold on Adam Ingram as a third-round pick. Taken 82nd overall last summer, Ingram has posted two goals and ten points in 20 games for the St. Cloud State Huskies this year; just one of those points was a primary one scored at even strength.

There are plenty of puck skills in Ingram’s game, but right now, his poor skating skills hold him back from demonstrating them at five-on-five in NCAA play. There’s a lot that needs to be fixed in his mechanics before I can trust that he’ll make an impact in the pros.

COLLEGE HOCKEY: NOV 11 Penn State at Minnesota Photo by Bailey Hillesheim/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images via Getty Images

(21) Chase McLane | F | Penn State (NCAA)

I was very perplexed when Nashville selected Chase McLane 209th overall in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Not only had I never scouted McLane, but he played just 18 games in his draft year due to injury. Nowadays, I like a lot of what I see. McLane was a mere depth piece for Penn State in his freshman season, but last year he grew into a good middle-six role, scoring 13 points in 30 games.

McLane missed summer skating work and the start of the 2022-23 season rehabbing an injury, so he’s appeared in just eight games for the Nittany Lions. But if he can find his feet again, I like the pro-style, heavy forechecking game he already plays.

(22) Jimmy Huntington | F | Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)

Jimmy Huntington is not the player he was traded for, Anthony Richard. And while we can cry over that spilled milk, I’ve been okay with what Huntington has brought to the table in Milwaukee. He’s an excellent middle-six center in the AHL, who provides a good scoring punch and notable defensive responsibility. He’s on track to score 42 points for the Admirals this season; while he won’t be a full-time NHL player, you need guys like this in your organization.

(23) Gunnarwolfe Fontaine | F | Northeastern (NCAA)

If you just looked at Gunnarwolfe Fontaine’s stat line, you might be perplexed as to why he’s so low on this list. But let me explain. Sure, Fontaine has scored 20 points in 21 games during his junior season at Northeastern, but just eight of those points were primary ones scored at even strength. I really like Fontaine’s blend of skill, speed, and vision, but I just haven’t seen the even-strength scoring ability to warrant projecting him as a full-time NHL player in the future.

(24) Jachym Kondelik | F | Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)

After a four-year career at the University of Connecticut, Jachym Kondelik is carving out a decent role as the Milwaukee Admirals’ fourth-line center this year. He has just six points in 28 games, but he’s done a lot right in his adjustment to the pro level.

Kondelik’s size, defensive prowess, and puck protection skills make him a valuable asset in the minors even if he never quite makes it to the NHL.

(25) Devin Cooley | G | Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)

Devin Cooley has rebounded well from a tough first full season in the AHL. He’s backing up Yaroslav Askarov, appearing in 11 games and maintaining a 0.908 save percentage. He’s destined for a 1A role in the AHL, but that’s perfectly fine for an undrafted prospect like him.

(26) Ethan Haider | G | Clarkson (NCAA)

Alex Campbell’s teammate, Ethan Haider, has become a workhorse for Clarkson University, starting nearly every game of his three-year career there. In fact, he’s yet to have a night off for the Golden Knights in the 2022-23 season. After a few bumps to start the year, Haider has leveled off to a 0.909 save percentage through 19 games while still allowing -0.046 goals below average. At this point, an AHL starter seems to be his ceiling.

(27) Cole O’Hara | F | UMass (NCAA)

O’Hara is another candidate for me eating crow one day. An overage pick taken by Nashville in the fourth round of last year’s draft, O’Hara is off to a decent start at UMass with 14 points in 18 games for the Minutemen; six of those points were primary ones scored at even strength.

O’Hara is a solid two-way player who has carved out a role on UMass’ power play too. I have questions about his ceiling and his ability to drive a line offensively, but for now, I’m enjoying his freshman year.

Edmonton Oil Kings v Seattle Thunderbirds - Game Three Photo by Christopher Mast/Getty Images

(28) Luke Prokop | D | Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)

Prokop began the season in the pros, joining Milwaukee for training camp before being sent down to ECHL Norfolk. After eight ECHL games, Nashville decided his development wasn’t being served playing on the league’s worst defense and returned him to the WHL.

In 11 WHL games for Memorial Cup contending Seattle, Prokop has scored two goals and eight points. At this point, in his fifth season in juniors, he should be dominating both on and off the scoresheet. It’s good that he’s getting more defensive reps against top junior scorers, but right now I have a hard time charting his path toward a full-time NHL role. There’s still time, but we’ll just have to see.

(29) Isak Walther | F | Vermont (NCAA)

Many of you may remember that Isak Walther wasn’t even in the NHL’s Central Registry when Nashville picked his name at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Nowadays, he’s playing top-line minutes for the University of Vermont.

He’s already bested his freshman season offensive totals, scoring ten points in 21 games this year. And he looks more effective on the forecheck with improved skating mechanics. I still don’t see him as an NHL-level prospect, but I’m curious to see what his size, shooting strength, and puck-protection skills can deliver in two more NCAA seasons.

(30) Graham Sward | D | Winnipeg ICE (WHL)

Another overage player taken by Nashville in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, I haven’t seen a ton from Graham Sward this year. Traded from basement-dwelling Spokane to championship-contending Winnipeg, Sward has 15 points in 27 total games playing mostly in the ICE’s bottom four. Sward defends well, and he’s alright in transition. He has good vision with the puck and can reverse play fairly quickly. I’m just not certain he stands out enough at either end of the ice to make it to the NHL.

(31) Konstantin Volkov | G | Dynamo Moscow (KHL)

After his career seemingly plateauing in the Russian VHL and bombing as a backup for the Finnish Liiga’s worst team last year, Konstantin Volkov is this organization’s renaissance man. Playing as Dynamo Moscow’s backup in the KHL, Volkov has a 0.933 save percentage and four shutouts in 18 games. On top of that, he’s saved 6.042 goals above average. It’s probably too late for him to ever make a jump to North America, but I’m absolutely here for him having a career year!

(32) Vladislav Yeryomenko | D | Metallurg Magnitogorsk (KHL)

After playing a middling role as Dinamo Minsk’s sixth or seventh defender for a few years, Vladislav Yeryomenko has found regular ice time for Metallurg Magnitogorsk this year, scoring six points in 34 games. He provides a decent bit of offense and is a solid puck mover, but much like Volkov, I doubt he’ll ever be coming over to North America.

(33) Ben Strinden | F | North Dakota (NCAA)

Nashville’s final pick at the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, Ben Strinden has been in and out of the lineup for North Dakota this year. The 6’0” center has already scored two goals and six points in 12 games on the Fighting Hawks’ fourth line. I generally like his game; he’s solid in all three zones. But I don’t think the offensive ceiling or footspeed required in the NHL are there.

(34) Anton Olsson | D | Skellefteå AIK (SHL)

I’m old enough to remember what Alex Carrier or Mattias Ekholm looked like at an early age, so I don’t want to write off Anton Olsson just yet. But man, he is struggling. Drafted in the third round of 2021, Olsson recently moved from the Malmö Redhawks to Skellefteå AIK. He’s been skating as the latter’s seventh defender in 25 SHL games this year and has posted two assists. Olsson has developed almost no offensive game in the past two seasons and some nights, he’s looked like even more of a defensive liability than before. There’s a clear lack of confidence in his zone exits and puck-handling moments, and I’m not sure Nashville ever even signs him to an entry-level deal at this point.

Guelph Storm v Kitchener Rangers Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images

(35) Navrin Mutter | F | Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)

I still don’t really know why Nashville signed Mutter last year, but I suspect it was to hopefully find another Tanner Jeannot- or Cole Smith-type player. In 18 games in the AHL, Mutter has three assists and has made more of an impact in the penalty box than anywhere else. He should peak as AHL depth and likely no more.

(36) Luke Reid | D | New Hampshire (NCAA)

So much has gone wrong for Luke Reid since being drafted in 2020. There were concerns then that he didn’t have the size or speed to translate his puck-moving skills to the NHL, but he hasn’t even been able to translate them to the NCAA. Playing for a poor Wildcats program, Reid posted eight points in both of his first seasons; he’s notched just two assists in his junior year so far. Much like Olsson, his game has been plagued by turnovers and an inability to get anything consistent going around his opponent’s net. Nashville may still offer him a deal after his senior year, but I don’t see his development improving.

(37) Tomas Vomacka | G | Norfolk Admirals (ECHL)

Since matriculating from the University of Connecticut, Tomas Vomacka’s path to the NHL has never been muddier. He split a crease in ECHL Florida last year and was okay, and this year, he’s been relegated to one of the worst teams in the league (Norfolk) and the results have shown that. In 14 appearances, Vomacka has just two wins; he’s rocking an 0.879 save percentage and has given up 9.644 goals below average. With his contract expiring after this season, I don’t expect him to be re-signed.


All statistics are courtesy of eliteprospects.com, theahl.com, or manually tracked.