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Philip Tomasino’s future should not be in question

I hate that this article is one that feels necessary to write, but considering some of the dialogue on the Nashville Predators side of every social media platform regarding this topic, it seems only right.

In an attempt to bring in skill, physicality, hockey IQ, and–most importantly–veteran leadership, the Predators decided to sign multiple players in the free-agent period, even after new general manager Barry Trotz said to the media that he likely wasn’t going to be active during this time. They brought in Ryan O’Reilly, Gustav Nyquist, Brayden Schenn, and Denis Gurianov to help all of those qualities be instilled into the culture of the team and help the young players navigate their way through the challenges of being a professional athlete in a league like the NHL.

The last-named of those, Gurianov, was a player who I didn’t think would be a big point of contention, considering the kind of production he has seen over the last couple of seasons. However, he was, particularly when considered with young forward Philip Tomasino.

I want to make a few things clear.

First, Tomasino is 22 years old. He is a young player, and he is a player who should always–I repeat, ALWAYS–be included when talking about the young core of this Predators team. He played 76 games as a 20-year-old, which could lead some to believe that he’s older than he actually is, but fear not. He is still only 22, and if the Predators play their cards right, they will have him under team control as they start to get back into the contention window.

The second thing I want to make clear is that Tomasino will more likely than not have a solid shot at a position in the top six in 2023-24, and it should be that way. He was sent down to the Milwaukee Admirals last season by John Hynes and the coaching staff, which caused lots of uproar among fans (mainly because what he did at 19 years old with the linemates he had was very impressive and a bad preseason being enough to cancel out that entire body of work feels a bit absurd), but he made his way back to the NHL despite a slower start in the AHL.

From there, it was evident that he was more confident in his ability to create plays, especially off the rush, and he facilitated the offense more. There are still things he needs to work on, but now is the perfect time to give him a shot to work on those things in the top half of the forward group.

Third, I think it’s important to remember that just because Tomasino hasn’t met expectations with his points in the box score doesn’t mean that he has been a bad player or a disappointment who isn’t worthy of a qualifying offer. With the emergence of Luke Evangelista and other young players who are looking for big-time roles, it’s not entirely wrong to say that the former first-round pick needs to have a good year, or at least one that is more tangibly productive, but throwing him out the window at this point in his career seems very shortsighted–he’s just entering the last year of his entry-level contract. Yes, his entry-level contract.

It wasn’t that long ago that Predators fans were heralding Tomasino as one of the best forward prospects the team has ever drafted. While there have been a bunch of shiny new toys coming out of the draft in recent years, that doesn’t mean it’s worth abandoning one that has just as much potential as the others, if not more. It’s certainly not worth giving up his lineup spot to a 26-year-old former 12th overall pick who has only scored 20 goals one time in his career and has a combined 48 points in 139 games over the last two seasons.

Does Gurianov have potential, and could a change of scenery help him get back to around what we saw in Dallas? Yes. Has Gurianov ever had a body of work in his six-year NHL career like the one Tomasino had at 20 years old? No.

Sure, he scored 20 goals in 2019-20 and 31 points in 2021-22, but that’s still less than Tomasino, who scored 32 points in his rookie year and had 18 points in 31 games in 2022-23–a 44-point pace over another 76-game season or 47 points over 82 games.

And below is Tomasino’s defensive body of work in 2021-22, to prove just how effective he can be on that side of the puck:

Credit: Evolving-Hockey
Credit: HockeyViz

Finally, is it likely that the far less-dynamic Gurianov comes into training camp and lights it up so much that, instead of pushing Michael McCarron, Cole Smith, Kiefer Sherwood, Egor Afanasyev, or Mark Jankowski out of a job, he pushes out the dynamic 22-year-old who showed improvements last season in almost every aspect of his game? Absolutely not.

There is certainly an argument that Gurianov might be able to rekindle some of the fire that he lost in the last part of his stint with the Dallas Stars and that he could be competing for a middle-six spot, likely on the third line. The Predators brought in a player with some upside on a team-friendly deal, and if they can get the most out of him, they will be able to get a very solid player.

However, I think it’s important to point out that this addition, while helpful, is only one year, and if Trotz is willing to sacrifice a player like Tomasino because Gurianov had a good preseason, there needs to be some serious reevaluation of priorities during this crucial time.

That doesn’t mean Gurianov can’t be a solid third-line player, or even find a position on the second line. But the idea that the success of one of the two individual players affects the position of the other doesn’t make sense for the roster, and it doesn’t make sense to say that Tomasino is not a guaranteed part of this team moving forward at this point in his career.

Talking Points