The first paragraphs of the next chapter of the Nashville Predators will be written this week.
After an offseason overhaul—new general manager, new coach, and many new players— Preds’ rookie camp opens on September 13th. Twenty skaters and three goaltenders are slated to check into Centennial Sportsplex on Wednesday, then gear up for their first practice Thursday the 14th.
After that, they will head to Florida for a three-game rookie showcase over the weekend, facing off against rookies from the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, and Carolina Hurricanes. Full Preds’ training camp is expected to open the following Wednesday, September 20th.
While most of the story of this year’s Nashville Predators will be written by players we won’t see until the 20th (just being realistic!), there are some interesting storylines to follow heading into rookie camp.
Here’s three questions that will be on my mind this week.
Does Spencer Stastney continue his ascent?
Stastney impressed a lot of people in his late season eight game debut with the Preds last season. He scored two assists in those games and looked like an excellent NHL skater, albeit in a low risk role on a fading, “sell-everything-you-can” non-playoff team. And it’s important to remember, he was only called up due to injuries to Roman Josi and Alex Carrier.
Following the end of the Preds’ season, Stastney was a huge part of the Milwaukee Admirals’ run to the Western Conference Final in the Calder Cup playoffs. He had six points in 16 playoff games for the Ads, including this dramatic late game winner over Manitoba.
Stastney has a lot of momentum going into the 2023-24 season. He already knows he can play at the NHL level, he’s come up big in clutch moments for Milwaukee, and his skill set would be an instant asset to a young NHL team trying to redefine its identity.
The problem for Stastney is there are at least seven defensemen (eight if you count Jake Livingstone, who the Preds just signed to a two-year contract) ahead of him on the overall blueline depth chart.
Looking at the rookie camp roster, Stastney should be far and away the best defenseman on the ice for the Preds this week. If he plays like it, and then shows out in full training camp as well, he has an outside chance to make the Preds’ roster. Anything less and he will start in Milwaukee.
Is Joakim Kemell ready to jump to the NHL?
Speaking of players with a lot of momentum, Joakim Kemell made a ton of noise for the Admirals last spring.
Coming over from JYP, Kemell immediately made an impact in Milwaukee, scoring six goals and seven assists in his first 14 games on North American ice. He continued that pace into the playoffs, scoring eight goals and two assists in 14 playoff games for the Admirals.
His blistering shot from the right circle became routine on the Ads’ power play. Just look at this:
If Kemell continues to light it up from “the Ovi spot” over the next few weeks, it’s going to be impossible for the coaching staff to ignore. Who wouldn’t want a shot like that on a young team looking for offense?
Watch his progress this week against his fellow NHL rookies. If he makes some noise, it’s going to become a huge storyline in full training camp.
Want to see Yaroslav Askarov this season? Here’s your chance
With as good as Juuse Saros was last season, and as solid as Kevin Lankinen was as his backup, don’t expect to see Yaroslav Askarov in Nashville this season.
Askarov enters the 2023-24 season as the starting goaltender for Milwaukee. Last year, he finally got a full season of professional work in net, winning 26 games in 48 games behind a .911 save percentage. He also got his NHL debut out of the way, stopping 31 shots in a 4-3 loss in Montreal. In the postseason for the Ads, he stopped more than 30 shots in four games, but his “all or nothing” approach to goaltending got him trouble at times.
Still, Askarov has progressed nicely in his development. He’s still only 21 years old. We will see him handed a major role in Nashville before long… just not yet.
He’s an exciting prospect, an incredible athlete, and a fascinating personality all rolled into one. If you want to see him in action, be on the lookout this weekend for highlight reel saves like this one or this one:
Also, don’t forget to watch his interviews. His English is improving every day and he’s been known to let some personality show in his postgame thoughts (gasp!).