“It’s a really important part of our development and what we’re able to do with our prospects in getting that hands-on time with these guys,” Preds Assistant General Manager and Director of Scouting Jeff Kealty said. “Our development guys do a great job all year in terms of staying in touch with them and breaking down clips and all those sorts of things, but the week of development camp is really a special week… There’s a lot of different [players who have never been to this camp], and it’s another thing that we’re cramming into this hectic summer, but it will be well worth it.”
Each of the 14 forwards, eight defensemen and four goaltenders – many of them making their first appearance to a Preds Development Camp following the hiatus – will be eager to show Predators coaches and management what they’re capable of while facing their peers.
All but five of the participants have been drafted by Nashville in recent years, and while they’ve all got something to prove, some of the prospects have especially high hopes.
Here are five skaters who could make notable impacts in the years to come.
Philip Tomasino, Forward – Selected 24th Overall by Nashville in 2019 NHL Draft
6-0, 181 lbs. – Chicago (AHL)
July 28, 2001 – Mississauga, Ontario
Of all the Development Camp attendees, Tomasino is expected to have the best chance to make Nashville’s Opening Night roster in October.
The 20-year-old, who scored 40 goals and 100 points in the Ontario Hockey League after being drafted by the Preds just two years ago, had another impressive season in 2020-21 with some added competition.
With the OHL shut down due to the pandemic, Tomasino skated in 29 games with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League and recorded 13 goals and 32 points, noteworthy numbers for a teenager at the time. Tomasino also represented his country at the 2021 World Junior Championship and tallied four goals and six points in seven games as Canada earned silver at the tournament.
Now, Tomasino’s focus has shifted to the next challenge, and the Predators can’t wait to see what the centerman can do.
“He had a really good year,” Kealty said of Tomasino’s play in the AHL during the 2020-21 season. “It was a really good step in his development. Although it was a little bit of a scaled down American Hockey League, it was still pro hockey and a good league with all the players and everything like that you really find there. You saw that the offensive talent that he has, but also the real competitiveness, drive and the will to succeed. His development process has been right on line with what we would have projected when we drafted him, if not better.
“He played very well at the World Juniors for Canada this past winter, and we know that he’s knocking on the door, but like we always say, we want to do what’s right for his long-term development in his career. We’ll manage that the right way, but we feel that he’s right there and are certainly hoping that he can make a good impact on our team here in Nashville this season.”
Zachary L’Heureux, Forward – Selected 27th Overall by Nashville in 2021 NHL Draft
5-11, 196 lbs. – Halifax (QMJHL)
May 15, 2003 – Montreal, Quebec
When Zachary L’Heureux was still available at pick No. 27 during last month’s NHL Draft, the Predators sent a pair of second-round selections to Carolina to ensure they could snag the 18-year-old – and we soon found out why.
Following Round 1 of the 2021 Draft, Preds North American Amateur Scout J-P Glaude provided some insight as to why Nashville did what they had to do in order to call L’Heureux’s name.
“He said, ‘You should draft me because, take anyone in the Draft, if you put one puck in the corner, I’m going to [come out with] the puck. I’m going to win the battle,'” Glaude recalled of L’Heureux’s Draft interview with the Preds. “There’s not a lot of kids who would say that. That means a lot of Zach, and I trust the kid. I know he’s going… to bring something to our organization [and make a] difference.”
L’Heureux, who has drawn comparisons to Boston’s Brad Marchand for his mix of skill and grit, was second among team skaters in points (39), goals (19) and penalty minutes (47) with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL during the 2020-21 season.
The 18-year-old L’Heureux is expected to return to the Mooseheads for the upcoming season, but the Predators are eager to have a first look at one of their newest prospects.
“I’m a strong power forward, and I’m an extremely competitive guy, a guy who always wants to win his 50-50 battles, be first on the puck,” L’Heureux said shortly after being drafted. “Around the net is where a lot of my success comes from because that’s where I get most of my opportunities. I think I’m a guy who can play in a lot of situations – the beginning, end of the period, power play, [penalty kill]; I’m a team-first guy.”
Egor Afanasyev, Forward – Selected 45th Overall by Nashville in 2019 NHL Draft
6-4, 201 lbs. – CSKA Moscow (KHL)
Jan. 23, 2001 – Tver, Russia
He impressed in his first Development Camp showing two years ago, and since then, Egor Afanasyev has signed his entry-level deal with the Predators and remains an intriguing prospect.
Afanasyev tied for second on Russia in points at the 2021 World Junior Championship with five (2g-3a) in seven games, helping his country to a second-place finish in Group B and an appearance in the bronze-medal game. The 6-foot-4 forward appeared in 16 KHL games for CSKA Moscow this season, posting six points (2g-4a), including two points (1g-1a) in his professional hockey debut on Nov. 14 vs. Sochi.
Now 20 years of age, the Preds will be looking for Afanasyev to take another step in his development this season, and the upcoming week will provide a perfect opportunity to continue that trajectory.
Luke Evangelista, Forward – Selected 42nd Overall by Nashville in 2020 NHL Draft
5-11, 166 lbs. – Chicago (AHL)
Feb. 21, 2002 – Oakville, Ontario
One of those players who has yet to step foot – or skate – in the Music City, Evangelista will take care of that this week.
Selected in the second round of the 2020 NHL Draft by the Preds, Evangelista signed a three-year, entry-level deal last November and got a taste of the AHL last season. With the OHL shut down due to the pandemic, the 19-year-old registered four assists in 14 games for the Chicago Wolves after being assigned there by the Preds at the end of March.
Prior to being drafted by Nashville, Evangelista played in 62 games for the OHL’s London Knights in 2019-20, tallying 61 points (23g-38a) – 57 of which came at even-strength – and six game-winning goals, the second-most on his team. Compared to his rookie OHL campaign in 2018-19 (two assists in 27 games), he posted a 59-point improvement and was a key contributor to London’s league-leading penalty kill, chipping in two points (1g-1a) to a unit that operated at an 83.8 percent success rate, tops in the league.
David Farrance, Defense – Selected 92nd Overall by Nashville in 2017 NHL Draft
6-0, 190 lbs. – Boston University (Hockey East)/Nashville (NHL)
June 23, 1999 – Victor, New York
One of just two Development Camp attendees who saw NHL action last season (Cole Smith is the other), Farrance arrives as the most seasoned blueliner among his fellow prospects.
After finishing his four-year collegiate career at Boston University, Farrance inked a two-year, entry-level deal with Nashville and joined the Preds to make his first two NHL appearances, one on April 8 at Detroit, the other in the regular-season finale on May 10 against Carolina.
Now 22, Farrance led the BU Terriers to the first round of the NCAA Tournament, where they fell to St. Cloud State. He recorded 16 points (5g-11a) in 11 games during a senior season that was capped by being named a Top 10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award for the second consecutive campaign, a Hockey East First Team All-Star and a semifinalist for the Walter Brown Award, which is presented annually to the best American-born Division I player in New England.
Farrance tied for first on his team in points, and his 1.45 points per game mark ranked first among NCAA defensemen and third among all Division I skaters at the time of his signing last March. He also was named the Hockey East Player of the Month for the month of January, tallying five multi-point efforts and scoring in four straight games from Jan. 9-12. Despite skating in just 11 games, Farrance finished his final season with the Terriers tied for 12th among all NCAA defensemen in goals (5) and tied for 20th in points (16).