Hello everyone! My name is Weston Demonbreun, and I am excited to introduce myself as a new member of the Penalty Box Radio team. I was a casual fan of the sport of hockey from quite a young age. I have fond memories of watching the Nashville Knights play hockey for a few years as a child when they were still around, and immediately gained a rooting interest in the Nashville Predators when they were created (I was about 10 years old at the time). Over the last decade, my enthusiasm for the sport has increased every season, and I can say without a doubt that, although I love sports in general, hockey is definitely my favorite. I certainly do not claim to be an expert, but I have watched a lot of hockey in my life, and I have dreamed of being able to analyze and write about it for many years now.
My goal as a member of this group is to discuss things that I notice while watching the Predators, provide you with my opinion and evidence to support it, and most of all, to learn more about how the sport and how to analyze it. I present to you my first assignment, in which I attended development camp practices on Wednesday and Friday, and specifically observed and wrote about what I saw from certain players. I would love to hear your opinions as well. Enjoy!
Rem Pitlick #16
University of Minnesota/Nashville Predators (signed) – 2016 3rd Round Pick
Pitlick, a Minnesota native and product of the Golden Gophers, had an all around impressive camp. He was a good puck handler all over the ice, and was particularly strong maintaining possession under pressure from a defender and in battles along the boards. What impressed me most was his decisiveness in the offensive zone. If he had the puck–and any space at all–he was going to the net hard without any hesitation. Once there, he buried his chances more often than not. None of this information should come as much of a surprise, as Rem left the college ranks at the end of last season to sign his entry-level contract with Nashville, and he did gain NHL experience last year, albeit in just one game. Still, I believe he has a chance to make it on to the Predators roster in some capacity. Whether it be as an extra forward initially, or as the club’s first call-up due to an injury, Pitlick will get opportunities to prove himself this season.
Eeli Tolvanen #28
Milwaukee/Nashville – 2017 1st Round Pick
Tolvanen has become quite the hockey story over the past couple of years. Watching him this week, there is still no question that the Finnish sniper has incredible talent. His puck skills and creativity made it evident that he has the ability to find the back of the net. But between those flashes of offensive brilliance, Tolvanen still appeared to be adjusting to the NHL game and occasionally trying to do too much. He always looked like he was going through drills slower than many of the other prospects. When he did try to speed them up, there were consistent issues keeping control of the puck, and sometimes even himself. Tolvanen also struggled to keep possession of the puck when under pressure, and lacked physicality against opponents.
This was evident in one particular drill: Each team was lined up on opposite walls at the blue line. To start the drill, the coach dumped the puck into the zone, and one member from each team battled for possession. More team members were allowed to enter the zone when the puck was passed back to them, and eventually the goal was to score. In one such rep, the puck had been sent to the boards and Tolvanen seemed to have an easy opportunity to chase it down without much pressure, when Rem Pitlick closed in quickly, poke checked the puck away, and then relatively easily bumped Tolvanen out of the play, reminiscent of Jamie Benn shrugging off Ryan Ellis in Game 6 of their first round loss to the Stars. Pitlick then charged the net, brilliantly faked a pass, and scored with relative ease. The people want to know, will Eeli Tolvanen break through to the NHL this season? I think it’s unlikely, barring some major strides made in AHL Milwaukee. He’s a talented young prospect, but he needs more time to develop his North American game.
Philip Tomasino #68
Niagara (OHL) – 2019 1st Round Pick
Nashville’s 2019 1st round pick definitely looked the part. His skating was fast and effortless, and his hands were impressive to watch. He maneuvered the puck through tight windows extremely cleanly, keeping it close to his stick blade at all times. Overall, he was simply able to do everything as smoothly as everyone else on the ice, but at a significantly higher speed. He had several nice goals to go with his crisp passing and puck handling. Tomasino could be a very good player for the Predators, possibly sooner than people expect.
Egor Afanasyev #70
Muskegon (USHL) -> Windsor (OHL) – 2019 2nd Round Pick
Afanasyev had automatic intrigue for the Predators as soon as he was drafted: he is here because David Poile traded PK Subban to the New Jersey Devils. In that trade, the Predators acquired New Jersey’s 2019 2nd round pick, originally 34th overall. After the LA Kings selected Arthur Kaliyev at 33, Nashville traded back to 45, and ended up with Afanasyev. If Rem Pitlick was the most steady and consistent forward of development camp, Egor Afanasyev was the one who stood out the most as someone who could one day be a stud. He was one of the more agile skaters I saw, especially for his size. He has a devastating wrist shot that seems to come from nowhere. He definitely has the shot and killer instinct to be a goal scorer. In my opinion, he was the most impressive new player at the camp.
Jeremy Davies #38
Northeastern University – Acquired in trade package for PK Subban
Davies had good speed, but seemed consistently right on the edge of actually being in control. A couple times when he needed to make tight direction changes (evading a man on the boards, for instance), he got a little wobbly and almost lost his balance. In a drill in which the defenders were supposed to pivot from skating backward to forward to guard a skater entering the zone down the wing, his pivots seemed a little wide, causing him to lose ground on his man. Some were able to get around him and get to the net cleanly, rather than being forced to the outside.
Did a good job getting his stick in shooting lanes, and was able to consistently knock the puck away from his man on the boards.
Reasonably accurate on slapshots, especially from the blue line, and was successful making contact on redirections on front of the net.
Dante Fabbro #57
Nashville – 2016 1st Round Pick
Undoubtedly the best player on the ice, whether forward or defenseman. This is how it should be, given the expectations placed upon him in the wake of PK Subban’s departure. He is an NHL defender, and will likely be in Nashville’s 2nd pairing quickly, if not right away. Simply put, he had BETTER be standing out this week amongst the other prospects. Still, he worked hard and was clearly a leader on the ice. He skated fast, but with great control. His passes were crisp and accurate. He controlled the puck well in the open ice and against pressure. He had excellent awareness behind the net in a particular drill in which players were tasked with getting the puck from the boards to a player at the blueline for a shot.
Offensively, he made several impressive moves to beat his man and scored a couple of eye catching goals on Connor Ingram, the goalie who the Predators recently acquired from Tampa Bay. Defensively, he was always in position, either forcing everyone he faced down behind the net or simply stealing the puck right off their stick blade.
There you have it! What are your thoughts? Who stood out to you at camp or the Future Stars game? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.