Egor Afanasyev looks ready for the NHL, but will he (and should he) make it?
Egor Afanasyev has made his presence felt over the offseason, and the final roster is on the horizon for the young Russian.
The Nashville Predators traded P.K. Subban in the 2019 offseason. Immediately, the talk became about the return. How would a return of Steven Santini, Jeremy Davies, the number 34 pick in the 2019 draft, and a 2020 second-round pick be enough to compensate a team losing one of its best defenders?
Santini wasn’t given much of a shot and ultimately was bought out by the team. Davies looks like a strong prospect, and he even got some NHL action due to a multitude of injuries to the defense core. He’s a primarily offensive defender that uses his skating effectively to open up lanes. I’d like to see more from him to take control of the play, but that comes along with experience. He has the talent to be a solid addition to the blue line.
The most intriguing parts about the entire trade are the draft picks. The 2020 second-round pick was 37th overall, which was traded to the Minnesota Wild with Nick Bonino for Luke Kunin and a pick that turned into Adam Wilsby. The 2019 draft pick was 34th overall, and David Poile eventually traded it to the Philadelphia Flyers for the 45th and 65th picks.
The Flyers chose Bobby Brink with their selection. With their newest picks, the Predators selected Alexander Campbell at 65th, but the most intriguing choice was Egor Afanasyev at 45th overall. From the moment he was drafted, the fanbase and management regarded him as one of the best prospects in the system. After an event-filled two seasons—one in the OHL where he scored 30 goals and over 60 points, and one in the KHL on loan that was not good enough—he came into training camp and made an immediate impression.
Prospect Tournament, Future Stars Game, and Training Camp
It all started with the prospect camp and tournament. Everyone knows how much of a bull Afanasyev is, but his determination seemed extra. In the drills during camp, he won battles and beat everyone to those 50/50 pucks. During drills that focused on the rush and particularly odd-man rushes, he was either crashing the net hard or putting himself in an excellent position to rip a shot from the top of the circles.
It was the same way in the prospect scrimmages and the Future Stars Game. He made sure that Poile and the scouting staff knew what he was about. He hit people relentlessly, but he also used his strong playmaking skills to move the puck around the offensive zone and through breakouts. He played his game, and the other prospects felt his presence, especially against bigger guys that may be more challenging to knock off the puck. He even scored a pretty sweet shootout goal to put the icing on the cake.
EGOAT #PredsDevCamp pic.twitter.com/UsFXZPLVmQ— Nashville Predators (@PredsNHL) August 19, 2021
He continued his rampage into the prospects showcase in Tampa. He fed Philip Tomasino for the first goal in the first game against the Tampa Bay Lightning and ended with two points in three games, including a goal against the Florida Panthers in the second game of the doubleheader. He played well in all three games, and the sample size was small, but he got off on the right foot.
The Preseason Is a Continuation
He carried all the good vibes into the preseason and has scored three points in four games with two goals. He almost had a hat trick in the team’s 6-2 victory over the Lightning, but instead, he got the primary assist on one of the goals. It’s the only game he scored points in, which may be concerning for some people, but he hasn’t looked out of place in the games he hasn’t scored. The very least he has provided is a relentless need for the puck and very strong forechecking. He made plays every time he hit the ice, even if they were minor.
Should he make it, and where does he belong in the lineup?
The obvious caveats while writing this article are: I don’t make the decisions, and there is a limit to how many players can be on the NHL roster at one point in time. That number is 23. The only two players without any NHL experience at all to be on the roster this late into the preseason are Philip Tomasino and Afanasyev, who has made an impression even if the result doesn’t come out the way we all want.
As for the answer to the question, it’s hard to tell. At one end, we see a guy with tons of size and incredible mobility producing better than most of his peers against NHL competition. On the other, we see a young player with no NHL or AHL experience at all. He played in the KHL, but his time there was suboptimal. He wasn’t creating against that competition nearly as much as he should have been, even with the pretty limited minutes. Six points in 16 games won’t get it done.
The likelihood that he makes the NHL seems to be leaning towards the negative side, but if he did make it, where should he be slotted into the lineup? Middle-six minutes would be best for his development. However, that might be challenging considering the players making up the top six are Filip Forsberg, Matt Duchene, Ryan Johansen, Cody Glass, Tomasino, and Eeli Tolvanen. Considering how much speed would be present, a line with Mikael Granlund and Rocco Grimaldi might be interesting. Adding a player with plenty of size and physicality to go along with speed would make that third line very threatening.
What does that mean for the fourth line? Tanner Jeannot moves down with his linemates of last season, Colton Sissons and Yakov Trenin, to recreate “The Herd Line.” The problem is that it moves Mathieu Olivier out of a lineup spot, and considering how the organization seems to feel about him, I have a hard time seeing that happening.
In their preseason game against the Carolina Hurricanes on October 5th, the Predators put Afanasyev with Sissons and Trenin, and that line seemed to control the pace of play whenever they had the puck. If the coaching staff feels that Jeannot should be moved up, why not bring a player with comparable size, speed, and scoring ability? Olivier and Afanasyev have the same level of physical ability. Still, you can play the latter on the second power-play unit because of his raw skill and ridiculous cannon of a shot if the goal is to add more talent to the lineup and keep the grit and grind at the same level.
With most fourth lines, I would say that it’s hard to justify playing someone with the talent of Afanasyev. Although, it’s a little different with the one that the Predators have. The two mainstays of the line are not only physically imposing, but they’re also skilled and intelligent with the puck. They can move the puck well and make plays in space with ease. If that’s the only spot where they can throw him into the fold, I think it could work. It shouldn’t be a permanent thing, but for now, it would at least be reconcilable.
It seems beneficial for him to get some time in the minor leagues before being called up, but we can’t ignore what he has been able to do in this short span. There shouldn’t be any hesitation to put him on the shortlist for a call-up if someone gets injured during the back-to-normal regular season. I wouldn’t have any problem letting him see some NHL action early in the season either, but for now, it may be for the best to send him down to see how he fares with better minutes against professional competition.