With the looming trade deadline, the Nashville Predators are entering a pivotal stretch of their season. Following a surprise coaching change in early January, the Preds find themselves in a heated race for a playoff spot. They will quickly need to decide if they are buyers or sellers at the deadline.
If they are sellers, it will be a colossal disappointment for Preds fans and for David Poile, who spent more on this roster than he has on any roster in the past. A first round exit to the Dallas Stars followed by a season without playoffs would be a huge step back for Poile, especially considering he already played his trump card in firing Peter Laviolette.
But if the Preds are buyers, they will probably have to make some tough decisions to make. Namely, who or what should the Preds part with in pursuit of roster help for the playoffs?
We will spend some time discussing the relative needs of this hockey team when the trade deadline gets closer, but before that, it would help to look at what prospects the Nashville Predators have in their cupboard first.
Here is my ranking of the top five prospects in the Preds’ system along with the likelihood they will be traded away at the deadline.
1. Philip Tomasino
Right now, there is no prospect better than Philip Tomasino in the Nashville Predators’ system. All he’s doing is destroying teams in the OHL with his scoring ability and proving that he might be the best offensive prospect the Preds have ever drafted.
In 36 games with the Niagara Ice Dogs, Tomasino racked up 22 goals and 35 assists, for an excellent 1.58 point per game rate. Then after being traded to the Oshawa Generals last week, he earned 10 points (six goals, four assists) in his first three games with his new team. Right now, his 67 points ranks 4th in the OHL and he shows no signs of slowing down.
Tomasino’s speed and vision in the offensive zone are excellent. He boasts great skating and puck skills, and an above average shot. Plus, the fact that he’s doing this on North American ice is great to see. As we will see later, prospects unfamiliar with the North American game (i.e., European prospects) can often have to change their game once they get here and that can be challenging.
Given Tomasino’s ceiling and potential, not to mention his already productive juniors career, I think David Poile holds on to him for a while.
Likelihood of Tomasino being traded away this season: 0%
2. Rem Pitlick
Rem Pitlick was one of the last players that didn’t make the Nashville Predators’ opening roster in October, narrowly losing out to Rocco Grimaldi and Daniel Carr. Since that day, Pitlick has been one of the most productive forwards for the Milwaukee Admirals and looks every bit like the Hobey Baker nominee he was when the Preds drafted him in 2016.
Pitlick has put up 24 points in 40 games for the Admirals, including 13 goals, many of which have come on the Ads’ excellent power play unit. He excels as both a playmaker and a scorer, though he’s a tad undersized.
The one question about Pitlick may be his potential. Where do the Preds see Pitlick fitting into the future of the team? If they see him as a depth center that can provide some scoring, he may stick around for a while. But he could easily get passed in the prospect ladder by guys like Tomasino and Afanasayev, whose ceilings are considerably higher. If that happens, Pitlick may find himself stuck in the AHL with no easy entry into the NHL.
Still, Pitlick is only 22 years old and he continues to prove himself a valuable commodity.
Likelihood of Pitlick being traded away this season: 20%
3. Connor Ingram
The Preds acquired Connor Ingram last summer from the Tampa Bay Lightning for a 2021 7th round draft pick. This would be a relatively forgettable transaction, except that Ingram was a highly touted goaltending prospect. The ending in Tampa was a confusing one, but the Preds did well to get such a talented prospect for so little.
Fast forward to now, where Ingram is 12-4-4 with a .928 save percentage with the Admirals and is part of an excellent goaltending duo with Troy Grosenick.
The Preds’ goaltending situation, though a staple in recent years, is going through some rough times. Pekka Rinne, at 37 years old, is clearly not the same goalie as he was, and Juuse Saros has struggled to remain consistent. Saros is still seen as the future, but when Rinne eventually retires, the team will need a competent backup.
I think Poile sees Ingram as the best possible solution for backing up Saros in the future and will do everything he can do keep Ingram around.
Likelihood of Ingram being traded away this season: 10%
4. Egor Afanasayev
The other representative from the Preds’ 2019 draft class on this list is Egor Afanasyev, who has been a huge part of the Windsor Spitfires this season. With 45 points in 39 games, Afanasyev’s game has been fun to watch.
He’s a larger forward at 6’4″ but still possesses enough speed and puck handling to put up some impressive numbers. He might still be a little raw and his speed will never be a strength, but it looks like the Preds’ found a solid middle six player in Afanasyev. Put him with a speedy “shoot-first” winger and he could really do some damage.
Having said that, I could see the Preds fielding offers on Afanasyev. He doesn’t have the ceiling that Tomasino does, so he is somewhat expendable. While I think trading away Afanasyev would be a mistake, particularly because the Preds lack forward depth in their farm system, I could see Poile making it happen for the right player at the NHL level.
Likelihood of Afanasyev being traded away this season: 40%
5. Eeli Tolvanen
My, how the mighty have fallen.
The once unquestionable top prospect in the Preds’ system has struggled mightily to adjust to the North American game. While his shot is still a good one, Tolvanen just doesn’t seem to have the physical skills (both in size and speed) to keep up with the AHL.
While you could chalk up last season’s 15 goal campaign (in 58 games) to an adjustment period, Tolvanen has only 7 goals in 40 games this year. He also isn’t generating nearly enough offense at 5-on-5 to round out his development as a top six winger. It’s safe to say, he is no longer the Preds’ highest rated prospect and maybe just barely in the top five.
Still, there are always teams willing to take the bait on a player like Tolvanen. Every team thinks they have the magic dust that will transform a struggling minor leaguer into an elite pro. The odds that Poile finds someone willing to bite, and the odds that Poile actually pulls the trigger on a deal, have never been higher.
Likelihood of Tolvanen being traded away this season: 50%
— Featured image via Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA TODAY Sports —