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Undrafted Free Agency, PTOs, and Entry-Level Contracts

Via the NHL and NHLPA’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA), teams can sign entry-level contracts for the following season beginning on March 1.

This is also the time of year when European leagues are wrapping up their regular seasons and college hockey conference tournaments are underway. That means a stream of Nashville’s prospects could be making their way to Milwaukee soon, and the organization could add a new player or two to the pipeline. It’s well-timed, as the Admirals could desperately use the help.

Nashville’s farm team is short five of its top ten scorers—Luke Evangelista, Phil Tomasino, Tommy Novak, John Leonard, and Kiefer Sherwood—plus veteran Mark Jankowski, all while they’re fighting for first place in the AHL’s Central Division with 18 games left to play. Scott Nichol added Isaac Ratcliffe and Austin Rueschhoff at the NHL trade deadline, but this team is icing a razor-thin forward lineup.

Evangelista, Tomasino, Leonard, Sherwood, and Jankowski were all added to Milwaukee’s roster (on paper) at the deadline, making them eligible for the Calder Cup playoffs. But other help could be on the way.

In terms of prospects already signed to their entry-level contracts, Joakim Kemell immediately stands out. Kemell’s Liiga team—JYP—will not be making the playoffs, and his regular season ends this Saturday. Expect him in Milwaukee quite soon.

On top of that, Nashville has a bevy of signed prospects playing in the CHL, including defenders Jack Matier and Luke Prokop and forwards Reid Schaefer, Zach L’Heureux, and Nolan Burke. All five should be playing in the AHL or ECHL next season, but I wouldn’t count on any contributing much this year. Their teams—the Ottawa 67’s, Seattle Thunderbirds, Halifax Mooseheads, and Sarnia Sting—are all serious contenders for their league titles and Memorial Cup hopefuls (which ends in June 2023).

Nashville is also looking to sign Russian draftees Fyodor Svechkov and Semyon Chistyakov; both are on expiring KHL deals. Chistyakov and Avangard Omsk are in a first-round playoff series with Sibir Novosibirsk right now, and Svechkov and JHC Spartak Moscow are waiting for the MHL play-in round to end and for the playoffs to start. Both can sign once their seasons end and then can join Milwaukee on a professional tryout (PTO) for the balance of this year.

The Predators may also dive into the undrafted free agent pool as they’ve done in the past with Cole Smith, Navrin Mutter, Tanner Jeannot, and more.

Overseas, keep an eye on defender Valtteri Pulli and goalie Nikita Tolopilo. Pulli is a 6’6” 21-year-old playing for TPS in Finland. He has one year remaining on his contract but can sign an entry-level deal whenever (TPS will at least make the league’s play-in round). Pulli has scored three goals and 17 points in 51 games this season, and the agile blueliner is drawing the interest of a handful of NHL teams.

Tolopilo is a 6’6” Belarussian goaltender who has also caught the eye of half a dozen NHL organizations. The 22-year-old is playing in his second in Sweden’s HockeyAllsvenskan with Södertälje SK; he’s posted a 0.926 save percentage and four shutouts in 43 games this season. Södertälje is fourth in their league standings with two games to play in the regular season. Both Pulli and Tolopilo can join Milwaukee on a PTO, once their leagues’ seasons are over, if they sign an ELC this spring.

On this side of the ocean, Nashville could find some benefit in graduating junior players like Ben Zloty (Winnipeg Ice), Landon Kosior (Prince Albert Raiders), and Owen Pederson (Winnipeg Ice). Zloty is a 6-foot, 21-year-old blueliner who’s scored 136 points in 119 games over the past two seasons, and Kosior is a very cerebral 5’11” defender who has pitched in 17 goals and 53 points in 51 WHL games this year.

Some of you may remember the name Owen Pederson, as he participated in Nashville’s 2022 development camp. The 6’3” forward isn’t the best skater, but he is excellent at attacking the night, providing good puck support, and scoring goals—29 (plus 39 assists) in 57 games this year. He’s the type of player Nashville’s targeted in the past, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in Milwaukee this season if the Ice doesn’t go far in the WHL playoffs.

From the college ranks, I’m keeping an eye on 6’1” center Hunter McKown, who has carried the Colorado College Tigers this year with 25 points in 34 games. Carl Berglund, captain of the UMass-Lowell Riverhawks, is another solid option; he’s recorded 89 points in 112 NCAA games over the past four years and might be a decent pickup on an AHL contract this year. Colorado College is not at risk of making it to the Frozen Four, and UMass-Lowell would need to win the Hockey East tournament to get there, meaning both options will likely be available sooner rather than later.

All in all, Nashville isn’t one to make a major splash in the spring free agency world, but we could see an addition or two to boost the Admirals on top of enticing the likes of Kemell or Svechkov over here to help until the Predators’ season ends.

All statistics are courtesy of eliteprospects.com and all contract information is courtesy of capfriendly.com.

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