The temperature is (thankfully) starting to drop, football has returned, and that can only mean one thing… NHL hockey is almost back! For the Nashville Predators, the winds of change have calmed a bit and everyone has had a chance to take a breath. It’s a new era in Nashville and the next step is the first training camp for GM Barry Trotz and coach Andrew Brunette which is now just a few short days away. A significant portion of that training camp will be focused on what is likely the greatest collection of prospect talent in team history.
Even without 2023 15th overall pick Matthew Wood (college) there will be seven former 1st round picks under the age of 23 in attendance and that doesn’t even include top forward prospect Luke Evangelista who was a 2nd round pick, Juuso Pärssinen who was a 7th round pick or Cody Glass who turned 24 earlier this year. While these aforementioned names will be some of the most talked about, there are a few prospects that have just as much intrigue around what they can become. So while we wait for the real hockey to get started, let’s muse on a few Predators prospects who will enter training camp with plenty of intrigue.
The recent first round pick that Predators fans probably know the least about, Svechkov is a bit of an enigma. Drafted in 2021 when the world was dealing with not only the continued outcomes of a pandemic but also an ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine made visibility into Svechkov’s progress for the average fan pretty difficult. He was hailed as a complete player with a skilled, if not flashy, offensive game and a very solid defensive acumen for a skater at such a young age. Following a promising ‘21-22 season spent mostly in the VHL, the KHL equivalent to the AHL, Svechkov struggled to find a consistent role at the KHL level in ‘22-23 which hampered his production, resulting in him spending more time back at the lower levels. Additionally, it’s just more difficult to get a clear view on what is happening among Russian players in the KHL system lending to more uncertainty about what kind of player Svechkov will be. Predators training camp will be the first glimpse for many fans at the potential he brings to the table as a future top level center.
The story of L’Heureux continues to be the question of, “which version are we getting?” When he is on, Zach L’Heureux is a highly talented scoring forward who plays with an edge that can get opponents off their game which is a skillset that is tantalizing when matched up with the rest of the Predators’ forward prospects. However, the lapses in judgment leading to repeated suspensions have cost him and his teammates enough to continue as a major concern from his draft year in 2021 until now. The hope must be that with time, maturation and work with the Predators development staff Zach will learn how to avoid those moments of seeing red and channel that emotion into his play. The progression from rookie camp into training camp will start to reveal where L’Heureux is as he transitions from the junior ranks into life as a professional hockey player. If he brings his best version then Zach will be an exciting addition into the fold at forward.
One of the primary returns in the Mattias Ekholm trade to Edmonton, Schaefer enters his first camp in Nashville as a relative unknown to Predators fans. What he brings is an exciting blend of size (6’ 4”, 218 lbs) and production (28 goals, 61 pts) at the junior level on a stacked Seattle Thunderbirds team. The downhill play style and goal scoring are intriguing for sure but as Penalty Box Radio’s Eric Dunay noted earlier this summer, “he’s been perplexing, committing turnovers, struggling in transition, and taking frustrating penalties.” Schaefer will need to show he can play at NHL speed with his size and contribute to a full-ice game. It will be interesting to see if he can stand out in camp among such a talented group.
In opposite of Svechkov and L’Heureux, Nolan Burke was not a highly drafted forward prospect. Instead he signed with Nashville as an undrafted free agent early in the 2022-23 season. Burke was off to a blistering start with the Sarnia Sting in a season that would see him crack the 50 goal mark and finish second in the OHL in goal scoring. He has good size and can play either center or wing so there is plenty of interest in what his ceiling could be. Given the Predators’ recent success finding undrafted players with NHL potential, Burke could be the next in line. Unfortunately he enters training camp with a lingering injury which will prevent him from participating in on-ice activities, at least at the start, but once healthy Burke will be one to watch.
Player information and statistics courtesy of Elite Prospects