2019 NHL Draft, Andrew Campbell, Egor Afanasyev, Long Read, NHL Entry Draft, Philip Tomasino, Predators Prospects

Predators Target Scorers in 2019 Draft

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The Nashville Predators entered the 2019 Draft needing an influx of talent to their barren farm system. Specifically, they needed an infusion of offense across all levels, and thankfully, general manager David Poile recognized this need and targeted scorers throughout the draft. It all started with their first-round selection.

Round 1, 24th Overall – C Philip Tomasino, Niagara IceDogs (OHL)

With his first-round pick, Poile drafted Philip Tomasino, a center from the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs. In my Predators draft preview, I actually picked Tomasino as a target for the team with this pick. He is an interesting prospect and is a player Predators fans should be excited about. For starters, he’s a center, a position the team needs help at. He’s also young and doesn’t turn 18 until July 28, but despite being that young he was still better than a point-per-game player in 2018-19 with 34 goals and 72 points in 67 games. He also had seven points in 11 OHL playoff games.

Philip Tomasino Predators Draft
Philip Tomasino, Nashville Predators, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He did that on a team that included drafted prospects Akil Thomas, Kirill Maximov, Jason Robertson, and Jack Studnicka. This meant that Tomasino was pushed down the lineup and played limited minutes. He’s a great skater and is a gifted playmaker. He is slight (6-feet, 181 pounds) and needs to get bigger to escape checks, but his speed and acceleration make him difficult to contain. His age bodes well for his development, and if he reaches his ceiling, he’ll be the Predators’ future second-line center.

Round 2, 45th Overall – LW Egor Afanasyev, Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL)

The Predators acquired this pick when Poile flipped the 2019 second-rounder they received in the P.K. Subban trade to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for this pick and the 65th selection. He drafted Russian winger Egor Afanasyev from of the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks. Interestingly, The Hockey News actually had him ranked higher (34th) than Tomasino (41st). In 58 games this season, Afanasyev posted 27 goals and 62 points in his second USHL campaign. He led the Lumberjacks by six goals and nine points.

Egor Afanasyev Muskegon Lumberjacks
Egor Afanasyev, Muskegon Lumberjacks. Jan. 2019 (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Although listed as a winger, he has the skillset and IQ to play center. He’s big (6-foot-3 and 203 pounds), which will help him survive the physicality he’ll encounter at the next level, yet he still possesses great hands. This combination made him a lethal goal scorer in the USHL and he drove the Lumberjacks offense all season. He’s a good skater, but if there’s one downside to his game, it’s his lack of top-end speed, which will stand out as the pace increases with each level he climbs.

How he develops this skill will go a long way in him realizing his potential, which is a future top-six winger in the NHL. Originally committed to Michigan State in the NCAA, he’ll play 2019-20 with the Windsor Spitfires in the OHL. This change in league will test him while simultaneously help his development.

Round 3, 65th Overall – LW Alexander Campbell, Victoria Grizzlies (BCHL)

This pick was the second one Poile acquired from the Flyers and he used it on winger Alexander Campbell. Campbell spent 2018-19 with the Victoria Grizzlies team, a Junior A team in the British Columbia Hockey League. In 53 games, he had 21 goals and 67 points and added 15 points in 14 playoff games. There are a lot of questions surrounding Campbell: how does his production translate against tougher competition, how much of his success was the result of playing with 16th-overall pick Alex Newhook, and can he add some muscle to his slight 5-foot-11, 154-pound frame? He’s a great skater and uses his speed to evade checks, but when the opposition gets better, he’ll need more strength to survive.

Alex Campbell of the Victoria Grizzlies
Alex Campbell of the Victoria Grizzlies (courtesy BCHL)

According to Steven Ellis of Dobber Prospects, “Campbell is a pure goal-scorer.” That’s something the Predators need, but again, it’s difficult to tell how much of his production in 2018-19 was of his own accord and how much was the result of playing with Newhook. Regardless, even if Newhook was responsible for a large portion of it, Campbell still displayed the ability to play with ultra-skilled linemates. Because he has yet to play above Junior A, it’s tough to determine his ceiling, but a lot of scouts liked him: TSN’s Craig Button had him ranked 49th while Future Considerations ranked him 56th. Both indicate he fell to the Predators at 65. Having just turned 18 in February, he’s several years away from turning pro and will play for Clarkson University in the NCAA in 2019-20.

Round 4, 109th Overall – D Marc Del Gaizo, UMass-Amherst (Hockey East)

This pick was originally possessed by the Colorado Avalanche and the Predators acquired it in the July 2017 trade that sent Colin Wilson to Colorado. Poile used it on Marc Del Gaizo from UMass-Amherst of the NCAA. Del Gaizo just completed his freshman season of college hockey after playing parts of three seasons in the USHL with Muskegon, which concluded with him being named USHL Defenseman of the Year in 2017-18. In 2018-19, he posted 13 goals and 29 points in 41 games, leading all college freshmen blueliners in points and helping UMass get to the Frozen Four. He even scored the overtime winner to send the Minutemen to the Frozen Four. 

Del Gaizo is undersized (5-foot-9, 170 pounds), but is effective at using his stick to defend. His positioning needs work, but his offense is already well developed. He brought a lot of production from the blue line in 2018-19, and most of it was at five-on-five as Cale Makar received the majority of power-play minutes. Del Gaizo should play a larger role for the Minutemen in 2019-20 now that Makar is in the NHL. THW’s own Larry Fisher listed Del Gazio as one of his sleeper defensemen, so there’s a chance the Predators have a steal on their hands. 

Round 4, 117th Overall – D Semyon Chistyakov, Tolpar Ufa (MHL)

Poile went after another defenseman with his other fourth-round pick, this time Russian Semyon Chistyakov. He played the 2018-19 season in Russia’s junior league, the MHL. There he had one goal and 11 points in 32 games, which doesn’t sound like much production until you consider he was 17 the entire season and doesn’t turn 18 until August. He also represented Russia at the U18 World Championship, netting two goals in seven games, wearing an ‘A’ and helping the team win a silver medal.

Chistyakov isn’t big (5-foot-11, 168 pounds), but is strong on the puck with a low center of gravity. This makes him tough to move off the puck and he is willing to engage in board battles as a result. He’s good at transitioning the puck, but relies on passing the puck as opposed to skating it out of the offensive zone. His defensive tools are a plus and he maintains good gap control. It’ll be curious to see how long he stays in Russia and whether he gets into the KHL next season. It’s likely he takes a couple more years before leaving for North America, but he has the potential of a future NHL defenseman who’s comfortable in all situations.

Round 5, 148th Overall – G Ethan Haider, Minnesota Magicians (NAHL)

Despite not needing to add a netminder to the system, Poile went after one in the fifth round, selecting Ethan Haider from the Minnesota Magicians of the North American Hockey League. The 2018-19 season was his first full one in the league, and he was great with a 2.35 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage in 37 games. That was actually his highest save percentage while playing in the most games since at least 2016-17 when he played bantam hockey. At 6-foot-2, he has decent size, but isn’t large by any means. He’ll join Campbell at Clarkson University in 2019-20 and doesn’t turn 18 until September.

Round 6, 179th Overall – W Isak Walther, Södertälje SK J20 (SEL)

Isak Walther is a Swedish winger who played the majority of 2018-19 in the nation’s J18 Allsvenskan league, totaling six goals and eight points in 14 games. He also played five games in the SEL, Sweden’s top junior league, posting two goals and four points in five games with Södertälje. At 6-foot-3, he’s bigger than most forwards in the Predators system and is a left shot, something the team needs. He’ll start next season in the SEL, where competition is higher than in the J18 Allsvenskan. 

Round 7, 210th Overall – LW Juuso Pärssinen, TPS (Liiga)

Poile loves his European forwards, and he took one with his last pick, selecting Finn Juuso Pärssinen in the seventh round. He played 2018-19 in two leagues, the Jr. A SM-Liiga and the Liiga, all for TPS. In 36 junior games, he had 13 goals and 22 points, and in the Liiga, he netted one goal in seven games. He also contributed a goal and an assist in five U18 World Championship games. He can play all three forward positions and plays a strong two-way game. He had good size (6-foot-2, 203 pounds), but has limited offensive upside. If he makes the NHL, it’ll be in a bottom-six role.

Poile’s Draft Strategy

David Poile, Nashville Predators, NHL
Predators general manager David Poile (Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It’s clear that Poile and his front office had a strategy entering the 2019 Draft. They recognized the franchise’s need for scoring and used five of their eight picks on forwards. Most of these forwards have high upsides, with Tomasino seeming like a pretty sure thing. Even Del Gaizo, one of the two defensemen drafted, has offensive upside. Early returns are that the Predators had a solid draft, and if all goes right, they should have an infusion of scoring talent in the next few years. 

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