Breakdown: Nashville’s 2022 Draft Class, Part I
What is Nashville taking home with their top three picks?
The Nashville Predators walked away from the 2022 NHL Entry Draft with six new prospects, including forwards Joakim Kemell and Adam Ingram and defender Kasper Kulonummi. Below, I break down video of those three selections and how they graded out during my year-long scouting.
I would grade Nashville’s draft haul as good, not great. David Poile has had a strong run during the past three drafts, so it’s not an insult to say this class may be a step below those—especially considering the Predators didn’t have a second-round pick.
Joakim Kemell — RW — Round 1, Pick 17
Joakim Kemell—who Nashville had at seventh on their draft board—is a home-run pick at 17th overall. The April 2004-born right wing is a Finnish sniper who stands a little taller than 5’10”. In his DY-1 season, Kemell posted 22 goals and 36 points in 38 games at the U20 level in Finland, and scouts anticipated an okay freshman season in the Liiga. Kemell responded by exploding on the professional scene, scoring 15 goals and 23 points in 39 games with JYP, including nine goals in his first 11 games of the season. 19 of those were primary points, including 11 scored at even strength.
Kemell’s draft year was derailed a bit by a shoulder injury, but he rebounded with four points in his final five Liiga games and six goals and eight points in five games at the U18 World Junior Championship (WJC). Kemell is signed by JYP through the 2023-24 season.
The hallmark of Kemell’s (#37, white) game is his shot. He has a robust shooting arsenal—notably his wrist and snap shots, and requires little wind-up or weight transfer to fire the puck past unsuspecting goalies. What makes him even more lethal is how he can combine that shot with his ability to attack space in a timely manner. In the clip above, Kemell benefits from poor defensive positioning from his opponents, but nonetheless, he waits to attack the middle of the ice, being careful not to alert the weakside defender before it’s too late. Kemell explodes into the slot and does one quick stickhandle before snapping the puck top shelf before the goalie can even move.
In all three zones, Kemell is a creative passer who utilizes quick puck touches and a give-and-go style to advance play. He can connect with teammates across the zone using (and sometimes overusing) accurate saucer passes as we see above. As JYP enters the offensive zone, Kemell maintains a good puck-support position, but his teammate tries to force an errant pass. Kemell demonstrates his quick offensive instinct with a stick check on the defender and fiery wrist shot all in one motion.
Kemell (#23, white) isn’t just a good passer but a good puck handler too. He oozes skill and his game tape is dotted with creative attempts at beating defenders each night. He can control the puck very well at his top speed and moves with good puck protection skills and his head up. In the clip above, we see how much space Kemell can buy for himself with his power and puck skills. We also see how he can attack open ice not just with his body but with the puck too. As he circles the offensive zone, he draws his teammate into the slot with a daring but excellent saucer pass, which eventually becomes a primary assist.
With a full head of steam, Kemell is a hard player to stop. He’s tenacious with the puck and a hard forechecker off of it who battles hard to win board battles. But, I still think he’s an average skater at the NHL level right now; Nashville’s scouting staff publicly disagrees with me. Kemell’s accelerating steps are labored by short hops in his crossovers that can be smoothed out. There’s a lot of power in his legs, and he uses linear crossovers well in transition, but I think he can find more consistency in his stride extension to unlock more speed.
One of the other deficiencies I’ve seen in Kemell’s game is his tendency to force plays. Maybe this is a product of playing a full season of professional hockey, but I’d like to see him capitalize on his puckhandling skill more. It forces defenders to respect him, but he doesn’t always use the time and space he buys. Too often this year, I saw him get rid of the puck too quickly, commit a careless turnover, or—in the case of the clip above—skate himself into a dead end instead of slowing down, pulling up, or forcing defenders out of their gaps to give his teammates time to get open for his passes or rebounds from his shot.
Despite some flaws, there’s no major concern about Kemell’s game. I’ve seen some pessimistic comparisons to Eeli Tolvanen, but Kemell is a better skater at this stage and attacks the middle of the ice more than Tolvanen ever did. I had Kemell ranked tenth on my final draft board, so I’ve graded this pick as an A+ and think Kemell projects as a top-six scoring winger in the NHL.
Adam Ingram — F — Round 3, Pick 82
Without a second-round pick, Nashville didn’t select another prospect until 82nd overall when they went with Adam Ingram. Ingram is a 6’2” forward from the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms; he’s one of the older players in this draft class, having been born in October 2003.
Ingram, who will play at St. Cloud State University next season, notched 26 goals and 55 points in 54 games for the Phantoms, leading his team in scoring. 40 of those points were primary ones and 25 were primary points scored at even strength.
Ingram was a difficult player to scout this season as he had a blazing first half of the season and a shockingly different second half. I’ve done my best to parse through the noise and figure out who the real Adam Ingram is, and he’s a player whose game is built around above-average shooting and playmaking talent plus disruptive forechecking and defensive skills. The clip above demonstrates this well. Ingram (#9, purple) skates in hard on the forecheck, forcing the first defender into making a poor pass. He then circles back to pressure the second defender into making another poor pass, which ultimately leads to a turnover. Ingram benefits from a good puck bounce here, but that’s also due to timing his charge to the net well. He grabs the puck, cuts around a defender, and dekes out the goalie for a slick goal.
Although he’s not at Kemell’s level, Ingram is an above-average shooter who needs little time to fire an accurate, deadly shot. He can score from range and mid-stride or from a stagnant position as we see above. Much of his goal-scoring fortune is a result of good puck-support positioning and a good ability to find soft spots in the offensive zone or sneak behind defenders despite his bigger frame.
The biggest downside to Ingram’s game—and it’s quite large—is his skating; his skating mechanics are not that of an NHL player right now. In the clip above, noticed how arduous his accelerating steps are. Ingram’s chest leans too far over his toes at top speed, and his busy upper body does little to add speed to his stride. While he can complete a full stride extension, his recovery is not clean, and he doesn’t look particularly strong on his inside or outside edges. That leads to a lot of lost puck battles or missed scoring chances as seen above. When Ingram loses the puck, he returns himself to a good F3 position in the offensive and defensive zones, but we see the skating issues again as he struggles to generate enough speed to drive to the net around #25 in black for another scoring chance.
The good news is that skating is no longer a death sentence in the NHL, and Ingram will have plenty of time in the NCAA to improve his mechanics. Should he do so, he’s building on a skilled foundation. Ingram is a smart player off the puck; he knows what positions he needs to find even if he doesn’t always have the pace to exploit them. Regardless, he has a high work rate and always looks to be involved in the play in all three zones. In the clip above, Ingram’s play helps hem his opponents in their own zone, cutting off breakout passes up the wall on one side and forcing a turnover on the other. When Youngstown regroups, he blocks another outlet pass and processes his next move quickly, combining a deke and a primary assist pass into one move.
With an added emphasis on skating and adding more stops and starts (not laborious turns) to his game, Ingram’s skill and pressure game could make him an effective bottom-six winger at the pro level. While I had Ingram ranked 64th on my final draft board, higher ranked players also fell that Nashville didn’t take, so I gave this pick a B grade.
Kasper Kulonummi — D — Round 3, Pick 84
Two picks after Ingram, Nashville grabbed their first defender of the draft, picking Kasper Kulonummi from Helsinki. The 6’0” blueliner played his second season in the U20 SM-sarja this year for Jokerit, scoring three goals and 29 points in 40 games. 18 of those were primary points and just seven were primary points scored at even strength. He also appeared in three Mestis games (Finland’s AHL) and added five assists in six games for Finland at the U18 WJC.
Kulonummi will play for Tappara in the Finnish Liiga next year, signing a contract through the 2023-24 season.
If I had to pick one word to describe Kasper Kulonummi’s game, it would be poise. What the defender lacks in elite offensive production, he more than makes up for with his poise and confidence on and off the puck. Kulonummi’s (#3, blue) game is defined by much of what you see in the clip above. He has the patience to hold onto pucks against the pressure of oncoming forecheckers and isn’t afraid to make a play at the last minute, drawing his opponents out of the play as much as possible. He rarely makes mistakes with the puck, and his excellent four-way mobility allows him to support the rush well once he makes his first pass by jumping immediately into open ice.
Defensively, Kulonummi (#4, white) moves well backward, but I do think there is a little more power to be found in his C-cuts. His pivot timing is still inconsistent, but I feel confident that will improve with age. Regardless, he often positions his stick well to get the most out of any play. Above, we see that Kulonummi is confident defending odd-man rushes and immediately jumps to make a play on the loose puck. Despite not being the biggest, he will engage physically and use any leverage he can find to force turnovers.
One of my favorite parts of Kulonummi’s game is how quickly he can reverse play up the ice. Above, he (#26, white) maintains a good gap through the neutral zone and helps disrupt his opponents’ zone entry. Kulonummi immediately recovers the puck and explodes up the ice in transition, demonstrating his technically sound skating skills complete with strong stride extension, complete recovery, and good knee bend. Later in the shift, we see how active Kulonummi is at patroling his own blueline, covering a lot of space and not being afraid to pinch down low when necessary.
In terms of zone exits by defencemen, Salin stands out yet again with close to 15 controlled exits per 60 minutes while pressured. Kulonummi also shows up well here. Ales Cech actually had the highest success rate with his exits. Hamara's marks aren't as good as you'd expect. pic.twitter.com/3vByfVormx— Lassi Alanen (@lassialanen) July 5, 2022
Thanks to Lassi Alanen of EP Rinkside, we have data to back up just how strong of a transition player Kulonummi was last season.
While he isn’t a high-end scorer, Kulonummi shows some good offensive instincts that make me feel confident he can continue to grow that aspect of his game. As I mentioned above, he’s active on his side of the blue line, dipping low to the faceoff circles to give his teammates a passing option without sacrificing anything defensively. Kulonummi also shows great control of the puck on the line, as seen above. He’s always willing to pull opponents in as close as possible before deking them out with a simple head fake and stick move. He’ll then deliver a cross-ice pass with the utmost confidence or power down to the net for a nifty scoring chance like in the clip above.
While I’m excited to see the growth in Kulonummi’s offensive game, one area of concern is his in-zone defense. Once opponents establish possession, Kulonummi retains his strong defensive skills, but he needs to add size and strength to be a more effective body checker, cause more turnovers along the boards, and not get bullied in front of the net as we see above.
I ranked Kasper Kulonummi 56th on my final draft board, so I gave this pick an A grade. Kulonummi projects to be a middle-pair defender in the NHL who is relied on heavily in his own end and can be a good asset on a second power-play unit.
All statistics are courtesy of eliteprospects.com and pick224.com.