Based solely on his performance during development camp, rookie camp, training camp and the preseason, Nashville Predators forward Egor Afanasyev sure looked to be NHL ready.
At 6-foot-3 and 203 pounds, Afanasyev is hard to miss when he’s on the ice. He’s also difficult to ignore when he parks himself in front of the net and uses every bit of his frame to take away an opposing goalie’s ability to see the puck.
Afanasyev finished the preseason with three goals, four points, five shots, four hits, 13:09 of average ice time while playing 3:28 on the power play in three games. But the unfortunate reality is the 20-year-old was simply the victim of a numbers game that favored Nick Cousins, Rocco Grimaldi and Mathieu Olivier over him.
But General Manager David Poile stated the decision to send Afanasyev back to Milwaukee instead of finding a spot for him somewhere for Thursday’s season opener against the Seattle Kraken was not an easy one.
“I would say he surprised us for sure,” Poile told 102.5-FM. “We set our opening night lineup, but that’s all it is, an opening night lineup. If we learned anything from last year, we’re going to need a lot of players. … Egor is a guy based on what we saw in training camp, he should certainly get some games (in the NHL) this year.”
There wasn’t much Afansyev didn’t excel at during training camp. He flew around the offensive zone, showed he is capable of being effective on the rush, won several 50-50 puck battles, hit defenders with the physicality of a true power forward, and most importantly — he scored.
Of course, his offensive prowess is nothing new. Afanasyev scored 31 goals and 67 points during the 2019-20 season with the Windsor Spitfires in the OHL, and the season before that, he had 27 goals and 61 points with the Muskegon Lumberjacks in the USHL.
"Egor had a really good camp," Predators coach John Hynes told 102.5-FM. "He's really competitive, (he's got) good hockey sense for the game, great scoring...He's a great kid, he loves the game, he's really coachable, good around the room. He's a big, strong, fast highly-competitive player that has a scoring touch and he really made a good run. He's a guy that's not too far off (from making it to the NHL)."
Added Poile: “One thing we probably didn’t take into consideration was last year with the COVID season, so many players had partial seasons and some junior players didn’t even play. Egor got to play part of the year in Russia and got to play in the KHL, and I think that gave him a huge head start on a lot of different players.”
Had Afansyev made the NHL roster, he likely would have played somewhere in Nashville’s bottom six. The argument can be made that the regular playing time he will get with the Admirals will be better for his development than the 8-10 minutes per game he likely would get with the Predators.
However, Poile did concede that with a full 82-game season and the injuries that surely will come with that, Afanasyev is at the top of the list of the players he would call up first.
“I’m very confident that he’s going to be an important player for the Predators in the not-too-distant future,” Poile said. “You’ve got to like his size, his skating, he can score. … I think there’s a few details of the game [he needs to work on] to make sure that he’s trustworthy defensively, but he was really close.”
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