The Nashville Predators begin rookie camp with two team practices at Centennial Sportsplex on Wednesday and Thursday before heading to North Carolina for a three-day prospect showcase featuring the Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers.
Unlike the last few seasons, the Predators have few spots in their lineup that need immediate attention. The top nine forward spots, all six spots on the defense and the two goalie spots all appear to be filled.
While it’s still unknown what Nashville’s fourth line will look like, there does appear to be an opening for a forward. Below are five players who with a solid showing at rookie and training camp could potentially sneak their way onto Nashville’s opening night roster:
1. Egor Afanasyev, LW
Afanasyev was in the same spot last year, and he came within striking distance of locking down a spot in Nashville, which eventually went to Philip Tomasino, but he was ultimately one of the final roster cuts of the preseason.
He looked like a much stronger, well-rounded player on the ice during development camp in June, although he sat out the team’s future stars game for an undisclosed reason.
On the surface, Afanasyev’s 12 goals and 33 points in 71 AHL games last year seems a bit concerning — especially after a 31-goal, 67-point season in the OHL in 2019-20 — but the 21-year-old Russian explained during development camp that the Milwaukee Admirals coaching staff had wanted him to play with more of an edge, working with him to add some physicality to his game.
Now that he’s worked through that, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him grab hold of a potential spot on Nashville’s fourth line. At 6-foot-5 and 211 pounds, Afanasyev plays the kind of power forward game that Nashville loves, and he has more of a scoring touch than a typical bottom-six forward.
2. Juuso Parssinen, C
Parssinen is a player who’s really come on strong over the last few months. A seventh-round pick in 2019, Parssinen has spent the last two seasons playing in the Finnish Liiga, tallying 17 goals and 74 points across 96 games.
He joined the Admirals for their Calder Cup Playoff run at the end of last year, scoring a goal and three points in nine games. He can play center or left wing, so if the Predators are looking for versatility on their fourth line, Parssinen could be their guy.
3. Markus Nurmi, RW
While not much is known about Nurmi, the 24-year-old Finn has the most pro hockey experience of anyone on this list. A teammate of Parssinen for four seasons, Nurmi has played in Liiga since 2017, where he was a consistent 15-goal, 30-point player over the last three years.
Last season, Nurmi led TPS in points (39), was second in goals (20) and fourth in assists (19) while helping his team reach the Liiga Finals for the second straight season. He tallied a league-leading 19 points (4 goals, 15 assists) in 18 postseason games, including four multi-point performances.
He signed a one-year, entry-level contract with the Predators in June, and he could be an under-the-radar name to watch as rookie camp turns to training camp.
4. Jimmy Huntington, LW
A mid-season acquisition for the Admirals last year, Huntington finished sixth on the team in scoring (35 points) and seventh in goals (13). The 23-year-old center added four goals and five points in nine postseason games for the Ads, and he really solidified his spot in Milwaukee’s top six in 2022.
An undrafted free agent, Huntington has bounced around the ECHL and AHL since 2019, including stints with the Orlando Solar Bears and Syracuse Crunch. He has 18 goals, 52 points and 52 penalty minutes in 122 career AHL games, and he’s the player Admirals head coach Karl Taylor believes could be the next Tanner Jeannot.
“I think someone that people wouldn’t know about is Jimmy Huntington,” Taylor told The Gold Standard podcast in June. “ … Fast player, very diligent, same mentality as Tanner as far as his approach and going to maximize what he has to offer. He still has a few more holes he needs to fill in, but he’s a guy that people won’t know about that I wouldn’t bet against him…getting some games at some point.”
5. Luke Evangelista, RW
With 55 goals and 111 points in 62 games with the OHL’s London Knights, it’s difficult to see how Evangelista tops his breakout 2021.
Playing his first full season in the AHL (he played 14 games in the league during the COVID-altered 2020-21 season as a junior leaguer), this year is all about whether the 2020 second-round pick can translate his game from the juniors to a professional league.
Evangelista stood out during development camp due to his keenly accurate curl-and-drag wrist shot, and he showed some solid stick handling, puck possession and offensive creativity during the Predators’ future stars game.
While the chances of him playing in Nashville this year are slim, if he has a highly productive season offensively for the Milwaukee Admirals, he could be a candidate for a late-season call-up if the Predators need to add some scoring punch for a potential playoff run.
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_