Revisited: Nashville’s 2020 NHL Entry Draft

How did the Day of Lukes pan out?

It hasn’t been close to a full year since the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, but it has been a (mostly) complete season for the Nashville Predators’ haul from that class. This year, I’ve watched a majority of games for each of these prospects, tracking multiple data points for all seven.

With their DY+1 seasons behind them, I’ll share my observations, how my takes from last October have fared, and some of that tracked data.

Yaroslav Askarov | Post-Draft Instant Grade: A

I don’t have to give much background on Askarov, especially heading into the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Here’s what I wrote immediately after his selection:

It may not have been the pick everyone hoped for (including myself), but you can’t argue with the organization if they believed Askarov was the best player available. The highest-rated goalie prospect in some time, Askarov has the potential to be a franchise netminder for Nashville for years once the Rinne era officially ends.”

This season, Askarov faced plenty of action across a variety of leagues. He played nine games for SKA St. Petersburg (KHL) and recorded a 0.951 save percentage; six games for SKA-Neva (VHL) and recorded a 0.923 save percentage; seven playoff games for SKA-1946 (MHL) and recorded a 0.927 save percentage; and six games for Russia at the World Junior Championship (WJC), recording a 0.914 save percentage.

There were some wobbly performances, especially in the spotlight at the WJC, but overall, Askarov delivered this season. Facing his best competition at the KHL level, he saved 6.85 goals above average and posted a solid 0.879 save percentage on high-danger shots against.

2020-21 Nashville Goalie Prospects Tracked Data

All in all, my initial reactions still stand. Askarov was dominant at times this season and will have plenty more time to mature out of his flaws in a full-time KHL role next season.

Luke Evangelista | Post-Draft Instant Grade: B

I ranked Evangelista at 73 in my final draft ranking last season, but Nashville took him at 42. I gave the pick a B-grade and wrote:

But I completely understand why teams were high on his potential. He’s got a creative scoring touch and can convert on chances from all over the offensive zone. Evangelista has good skating mechanics and thrives on stickhandling or passing his way out of tight situations. It’s notable that Nashville is betting on the London development model, which is regularly lauded for producing excellent NHL players. He’s not the direction I would’ve gone here, but this could prove to be a shrewd selection a few years down the road.”

Of all of Nashville’s picks, Evangelista’s went furthest away from planned. An Ontario Hockey League (OHL) season never got off the ground, so Evangelista had nowhere to play until joining the Chicago Wolves in late March.

Luke Evangelista’s 2021: “I was in the gym five times a week…eating five meals a day almost.”

Through not much fault of his own, the second-round pick looked out of place at times in the AHL, scoring just four assists in 14 games with the Wolves. He played almost exclusively bottom-six minutes and only flashed brief moments of his offensive skill. But that’s nowhere near an indictment for someone his size and age.

Of those four assists, two were primary ones recorded at even strength. He also struggled to execute controlled zone entries, succeeding just 37.04% of the time.

2020-21 Nashville Forward Prospects Tracking Data

Overall, it’s hard to draw too many conclusions from Evangelista’s 2021 season. His experience in the AHL should help down the line as he looks to improve his shooting and add more muscle to his frame.

Luke Prokop | Post-Draft Instant Grade: C

For the pick he was taken with, Prokop was my least favorite of Nashville’s selections in the immediate aftermath of the draft. Here’s what I wrote:

“I’ll be hit with replies about how great Nashville is at developing defenders (although more contemporary results may suggest otherwise), but it’s a bit disheartening for the team to rely on such a raw prospect in round three. His size stands out, and his ceiling certainly can be as a good shutdown NHL defender, but I’m concerned about if he can adapt to quick-recovery transition play at higher levels.”

At the time, I thought Nashville left too much talent on the board going with such a raw prospect in Prokop, and after his 2020-21 season, I’m even more sure of that. You can’t base a serious opinion off just DY+1 seasons, but when forwards like Ty Smilanic, Jean-Luc Foudy, and Danil Gushchin were taken right after Prokop, it’s hard not to scratch your head.

Prokop was limited to just 15 games for the Calgary Hitmen (WHL) due to two injury bouts, and totaled two goals and six points. His shooting rate of 3.85% wasn’t noticeable enough, and he gave up 2.78 goals per 60 minutes of even-strength play.

2020-21 Nashville Defense Prospects Tracking Data

Against familiar junior-level competition, Prokop struggled against quick players. His pivots were mistimed, he couldn’t protect the slot well enough, and his transition up the ice was not impactful enough. Ultimately, he exited the defensive zone with possession only 53.13% of the time and allowed successful entries against on 48.84% of attempts.

I think it’s clear I believe Nashville missed here. Maybe they can develop something from Prokop from his size and okay skating mechanics, but this past season did little to help his case.

Adam Wilsby | Post-Draft Instant Grade: B

Wilsby was a bit of a surprise pick for me and a player I hadn’t scouted much. I’ll admit I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of spending a fourth-round pick on a double overager, but happy to say I think I’ll be wrong. At the time, here’s what I said:

I like the selection in that sense that he could be a bit closer to play pro hockey in North America. He’s nearly the opposite of Prokop: a transition defender who has underrated puck handling skills and can lead a rush with his skating—an aspect of his game he’s really perfected over the past couple years.”

Of this entire class of Nashville prospects, Wilsby had the best 2020-21 season. Over the year, he emerged as a top-pairing defender for Skellefteå AIK of the SHL, overtaking Edmonton’s Philip Broberg—drafted eighth overall in 2019—in ice time.

Wilsby—who recorded six goals and 18 points in 48 games—was second among Skellefteå defenders in scoring and fourth among U21 defenders league-wide. 12 of his 18 points were primary ones recorded at even strength, and he recorded a primary point on 30.0% of the even-strength goals he was on the ice for.

2020-21 Nashville Defense Prospects Tracking Data

Wilsby was also excellent when it came to more advanced metrics. At even-strength, he recorded a 55.17% Corsi, limited opponents to just 3.567 high-danger shots against per 60 minutes, and controlled transition play (65.52% successful zone exit rate, 38.64% successful zone entry against rate).

Nashville will need to sign Wilsby by next summer, but he could likely stay in Sweden for a season after that, too. Regardless, at this rate, Nashville may have found a fourth-round gem.

Luke Reid | Post-Draft Instant Grade: C

Continuing their run of defenders, Nashville selected Luke Reid, who I estimated would be another project pick. From last year:

Reid is an excellent skater who really controls and manipulates his edges in all four directions. He’ll need time at the University of New Hampshire to turn that asset into offense. When he can calm himself down with the puck, I think he could be a productive offensive piece despite his production in a more limited role with Chicago...”

An older player for his age group, Reid modestly improved his offensive output in two years with the Chicago Steel of the USHL, earning him an NHL Draft selection. Last year, he struggled at times on a bad team at the University of New Hampshire (UNH).

Two of his eight points in 22 games were primary ones scored at even-strength, and Reid allowed 2.83 goals per 60 minutes of even-strength play. In transition, he was okay, controlling the puck through 60.0% of zone exits, but struggled when opponents gained possession in the defensive zone. His size and defensive struggles contributed to 6.103 high-danger shots against and 49.70 total shot attempts against per 60 minutes.

2020-21 Nashville Defense Prospects Tracking Data

I opined at the time that Reid would be a four-year college player, and I think that’s still the case. He has a nice, mobile game that could help him succeed at the pro level, but there’s still a lot of things to clean up. I’m curious to see how dominant a college defender he can become over the next three seasons.

Gunnarwolfe Fontaine | Post-Draft Instant Grade: F

For the name alone, I probably didn’t receive much praise for my immediate take on Fontaine last year, and I certainly recognized a pick this late is very much a lottery ticket:

When it comes to the seventh round, it’s hard to argue for or against certain players, given the unlikelihood that many make it to the NHL. I simply don’t understand Nashville’s run of overage picks this year. When it comes to these late picks, my philosophy is draft for skill not fit or maturity. I get what they see in Fontaine as an NCAA-bound forward with a nice scoring touch. But he undoubtedly benefited from skating with an incredible Chicago Steel team, and I don’t think he has a high ceiling beyond Northeastern University.”

I’ll come off my criticism a bit after his first college season, but I’m still not convinced there is much of an NHL product here. Fontaine recorded six goals and 15 points in 21 games as a rookie at Northeastern—good for fourth on a mediocre Huskies team.

Seven of Fontaine’s 15 points were primary ones scored at even strength, and he did record a primary point on 63.64% of the even-strength goals scored while he was on the ice. He was decent in transition—particularly at zone exits (75.0% success rate)—but he didn’t shoot much at even strength (10.44 attempts per 60 minutes), and his line was often caved in possession-wise (47.80%).

2020-21 Nashville Forward Prospects Tracking Data

I like the style of player Fontaine is and at first glance, he had an excellent freshman season, but remind yourself that he did so as a 20-year old. With his 5’10” frame, Fontaine struggled to beat defenders when entering the zone and his speed wasn’t a separating factor enough to make a difference to the outside. Some nights, he was lively, firing pucks and digging through tough areas to win battles; other nights, he was invisible—particularly on defense.

If I had to re-grade now, I would give Fontaine a D or C, but I’m still somewhat pessimistic.

Chase McLane | Post-Draft Instant Grade: NA

I didn’t watch a single shift of McLane’s prior to the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. I scouted his Tri-City Storm often, but didn’t think he would be on any NHL team’s radar:

“I’ll refrain from providing a grade due to this and his short 2019-20 season (18 games), but I’ll reiterate my confusion at the overage strategy. It would be one thing if these overage players were closer to making an NHL or AHL impact (like Wilsby), but these college-bound skaters are the opposite of that. It’s a bewildering draft class for Nashville.”

I was impressed with McLane this season during his freshman year at Penn State. But I don’t want that to be confused as me thinking there is an NHL-caliber player here. In his fourth-line role, McLane notched three goals and five points in 19 games. More importantly, however, he was entrusted with key penalty-killing minutes (1:21 of average PK TOI per game) and late-in-the-game shifts.

McLane wasn’t particularly effective in driving the play forward; he was able to exit the defensive zone with possession 59.09% of the time but was mitigated or relied on dump-ins all but 43.75% of the time. His lacking foot speed doesn’t do him many favors, and he rarely puts together a highlight-reel play.

2020-21 Nashville Forward Prospects Tracking Data

However, he earned, and succeeded, in tough defensive assignments and ground his way to some solid performances, including a two-goal game against Notre Dame in the BigTen Tournament.

Updating my grade, I’d give McLane a solid D. I think he’ll carve out a role as an integral, understated player for the Nittany Lions, but I don’t think he becomes an AHL—let alone NHL—regular.

All statistics are courtesy of or tracked by hand.