Nashville Predators general manager David Poile placed a premium on replenishing his prospect pool over the last few years, almost certainly for a time like this.
Although he’s said he can spend to the cap if needed, Poile is tasked with finding a way to stretch his $9.26 million in cap space to cover Yakov Trenin’s new contract — likely in the neighborhood of $2 million — plus add second- and fourth-line forwards without eating up every dollar of cap space heading into the 2023 season, when Tanner Jeannot, Alex Carrier and Dante Fabbro all need new contracts and will likely command sizeable raises.
One cost-effective measure the Predators could explore is filling their fourth-line opening through an internal promotion from the AHL. Below are three rookies who could find their way onto Nashville’s roster at some point during the 2022-23 season:
It feels like Afanasyev has been the star of development camp for the last three years. His first season with the Milwaukee Admirals wasn’t anything overly impressive — 12 goals, 33 points in 74 games — but he’s a natural scorer with a big body (6-foot-4, 205 pounds) and a strong power game.
Afanasyev can be effective off the rush, but he excels at screening goalies in front of the net and chipping in goals in the greasy areas the Predators have been missing since trading Viktor Arvidsson a season ago.
Predators head coach John Hynes said last year that Afanasyev, who was a standout during the preseason, nearly made the Predators opening night roster out of camp. The sense among those around the Predators is that Afanasyev is NHL-ready and he should have dibs on being the first AHL call up.
“He's a big, strong, fast highly-competitive player that has a scoring touch and he really made a good run,” Hynes said of Afanasyev in October. “He's a guy that's not too far off."
Parssinen’s climb through the ranks of Nashville’s prospect pool essentially came out of nowhere. A seventh-round pick in 2019, the 6-foot-2 Finn has made significant strides each of the last two years in SM-Liiga, tallying 17 goals and 75 points in 96 combined games.
Parssinen plays a compact game and is difficult to move off the puck. He uses his smooth skating and elusiveness with the puck to keep defenders at bay. Think Miika Salomaki’s physicality with Craig Smith’s offensive skillset. During development camp, he’s looked to be the most NHL-ready prospect not named Egor Afanasyev.
If the Predators prefer to fill their fourth line with an internal promotion, Parssinen could make more sense than Afansyev because of the physicality and tenacity he brings to the table.
The 20-year-old forward likely won’t challenge for a spot on the opening night roster, but if his OHL production translates to the AHL, Evangelista could be an injury or mid-season call up to provide a scoring punch.
Many parts of his game have stood out during development camp — his stick handling, creativity, puck possession and a deadly accurate wrist shot — but he still needs to add some muscle to his 5-foot-11, 165-pound frame if he wants to compete against NHL talent.
The biggest question about Evangelista is how much time will it take him to build confidence and handle the step up in competition in the AHL?
“I think I have more confidence than your typical 19- or 20-year-old just because of that year I got to play [with the] Chicago [Wolves in the AHL] in the COVID year” Evangelista said. “… The size, skill and speed at the next level is a really big jump. It’s kind of similar going from minor hockey to junior, I kind of felt the same way — I was a little bit behind in terms of my physical maturity and speed playing the game. Now that I’ve got that little taste, I kind of know what to expect and I’ll be better prepared going in this time around.”
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