Another Predators development camp has come and gone, which means it’s time for our annual Penalty Box Radio development camp awards.
The best part of this year’s camp was the influx of new faces. For the past few years, fans have been treated to a steady diet of Pontus Aberg, Freddy Gaudreau, Alex Carrier, Anthony Richard and Justin Kirkland.
This year, the Preds broke in several new players, including most of their 2019 draft class with Philip Tomasino, Egor Afanasyev, Isak Walther, Alex Campbell, Juuso Parssinen and Ethan Haider.
Tomasino, Afanasyev, Walther and Campbell all scored a goal in the Future Stars game, further confirming just how strong the 2019 draft class was, something Predators Director of Scouting Jeff Kealty stated after the draft.
With that being said, here are our 2019 PBR development camp awards:
Breakout prospect: Egor Afanasyev
While several players stood out during camp, Afanasyev by far made the biggest impression.
He scored plenty of goals, showed offensive prowess, and displayed some stick handling and hockey IQ far beyond his years.
What stood out most about his game was his ability to follow up his shots. Afanasyev not only drove to the net and buried shots, but he stayed near the net and waited for rebounds.
Tallying 27 goals and 62 points in the USHL last year, I fully expect Afanasyev to be a 70-80-point scorer with the Windsor Spitfires this year.
Most improved: Jachym Kondelik
The thing that stood out about Kondelik in development camp was how much his confidence grew. He seemed like a seasoned veteran instead of a college sophomore.
Kondelik finished his freshman season at UConn as the team’s second-leading scorer, posting four goals and 26 points. While you’d like to see more goal scoring from center ice, that should come as Kondelik becomes more comfortable in his second year in the Huskies’ system.
Just 19 years old, the 6-foot-7 center already has a wealth of experience, playing in the Czech league, the world junior championship, the USHL and the NCAA.
Biggest surprise: Niclas Westerholm
When you’re under the lights with Tomas Vomacka, it’s difficult to stand out. But Westerholm really turned some heads, making several acrobatic saves during offensive drills.
At just 21 years old, Westerholm still has plenty of room to grow. Splitting the last four years between the SM-Liiga and Liiga leagues, Westerholm should compete for some playing time in Milwaukee, although he will have to edge out Connor Ingram if he wants the starting job.
Best forward: Philip Tomasino
Tomasino showed all week why the Preds selected him with the 24thoverall selection in the draft, getting off crisp passes, scoring goals when given the chance, and displaying some offensive skills that should have the Nashville fan base excited for the first time in years about a center prospect.
Tomasino tallied two goals in the Future Stars game and showed an ability to elevate the level of play of the players around him. He easily becomes Nashville’s No. 2 prospect behind Eeli Tolvanen.
Best defenseman: Jeremy Davies
The other “big” piece in the P.K. Subban trade, Davies really stood out as the best defenseman during camp not named Dante Fabbro.
Several were high on Davies coming out of Northeastern University, where he tallied 22 goals and 94 points in three seasons. He displayed some offensive upside, but also showcased his strong defensive abilities against some strong offensive players like Tomasion, Tolvanen and Afansyev during camp.
At just 22 years old, Davies is young and can serve as a powerful boost to the Milwaukee blue line to start the season should the Preds decide he’s not quite ready for the NHL, but it also wouldn’t be a surprise to see him slide in on the Preds third pairing opposite Dan Hamhuis.
Best goaltender: Tomas Vomacka
Much like defense, Nashville is known for always having a bona-fide goaltender prospect in the system. Vomacka almost won this award by default, due to the lack of goaltending depth in the system, except for Connor Ingram.
Vomacka was named to the Pro Ambitions All-Rookie team with a 7-7-1 record, 2.32 goals-against average and a .922 save percent. Vomacka really came on strong at the tail end of the season, outplaying junior goalie Adam Huska, perhaps even playing himself into the starting job next year.
If the saves he made at development camp are any indication, 2019 should be a breakout year for Vomacka.