Nashville Predators 2021 Previews: Role Players & Young Guns

We take a look at the questionmarks to make the regular roster.

We wrap up our positional previews with a look at the questionmarks on the Nashville Predators’ contract list.

This season’s taxi squad setup, and the likelihood that players will end up missing some time—between the pandemic, family obligations, and the greater injury risks that come with playing a season this compressed—mean that players on the fringe of the regular roster are a bigger factor than they usually would be. The fact that the Predators’ AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, will not be playing the current season means that the parent organization is faced with some tougher decisions for prospects.

Breaking down the taxi squad ahead of the 2021 NHL season
Milwaukee opts out of 2020-21 AHL season, Preds partner with Wolves

Furthermore, David Poile has several older players on one-year deals this season, and might plan to replace them with homegrown talent instead of extending them or signing new older players on one-year deals in the upcoming offseason. All this is to say that it’s fair to expect to see some of this season’s role players and young guns in a more significant way than in seasons past—though hopefully only for good reasons.

The Role Players

Every year, we hope for a Frédérick Gaudreau: a competent AHL player who lands in the right place at the right time to amaze and delight. Most years, we don’t get one.

The team has been high on Yakov Trenin and Michael McCarron all offseason—the former received a one-way NHL contract a few months ago, while McCarron was one of the most-mentioned names by General Manager David Poile and John Hynes in interviews over the last few months. However, they’ve headed in opposite directions after spending training camp on a line together with Calle Järnkrok. While Trenin has made the opening night roster, McCarron was one of the players assigned to the Chicago Wolves earlier this afternoon.

If they stick together in the regular season, Järnkrok could be an excellent mentor for Trenin, who should provide value in limited minutes this season. Trenin has size on his side to compliment his developing offensive game, so he might have a leg up on seeing the ice on opening night.

Cole Smith and Mathieu Olivier, who have been assigned to the taxi squad, hope to fill a similar role, but both are much more raw in their development process. There’s a chance we will see some cycling of these players in and out of the bottom of the lineup, but when Granlund returns, one or both may be moved to the taxi squad on a permanent basis.

24-year-old Alexandre Carrier, who’s played for four full seasons with the Milwaukee Admirals, probably belongs in this category as well. The defender is on the taxi squad and might see some ice time in a rotating capacity, but at this point he is an established professional player, and the five games he’s played in the NHL over that span are starting to look less like a quick preview and more like a ceiling. Carrier is an excellent AHL producer though pretty average defensively, but he’d better hope to make a positive impact from the taxi squad this season if he wants to be more than that.

The Young Guns

With the final roster announcement, the reported youth movement is on its last legs. Eeli Tolvanen is on the taxi squad instead of the opening roster, while Philip Tomasino has been assigned to the Chicago Wolves. Egor Afanasyev, meanwhile, has returned to the KHL.

Last year’s first-round pick Philip Tomasino had been predicted to follow up a very dominant OHL season and World Juniors performance by finding a spot on the active roster. However, that prediction was in part based on expectations of training camp, and Tomasino was unable to practice with the team, as he has been in quarantine following the international tournament. Coach Hynes has said he does not expect him to play in the first week or two of this season. Still, Tomasino is an incredibly talented player and the Predators may want to see him against NHL competition sooner rather than later, so expect to see him ease into the lineup over time. His spot is likely to be much more solidified by the end of the season.

The surprising takeaway from Tuesday’s practice was the absence of Eeli Tolvanen. The former first-round pick has been one of the top topics of conversation as we’ve moved into training camp, and most believed that he would have a spot on the opening night roster. Instead, he’s found a spot on the taxi squad. Whether this is just because of matchups, or whether something else is going on, we don’t know.

Another name that hasn’t made the roster is Jérémy Davies, who has like Tomasino been assigned to the Wolves. The defensive prospect was the most promising part of the P.K. Subban trade, and was solid in his first professional season with the Admirals—especially at his own blueline—but the organization might well believe needs some more seasoning before we see him in the NHL.

As the season goes on, we’ll wait to see which of these names can make an impact.