Spotlight Will Be on Egor Afanasyev in Nashville Predators Training Camp

Egor Afanasyev #70 of the Nashville Predators skates against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on March 19, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Egor Afanasyev #70 of the Nashville Predators skates against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on March 19, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

It figures to be a wild and intense training camp for the new-look Nashville Predators, and perhaps no player will have more to gain than Egor Afanasyev.

Afanasyev, who made his highly-anticipated NHL debut back in March, is a former second-round draft pick from 2019 that the organization is hoping is following the same successful path that other recent prospects have proven to show.

After General Manager Barry Trotz somewhat shocked us all by adding veterans Ryan O’Reilly and Gustav Nyquist to the forward corps, Afanasyev has work to do to make the initial squad out of training camp.

Afansyev’s First Taste of NHL Action was Promising, but Limited for the Nashville Predators

Despite only registering one point in his first 17 NHL games, it really isn’t entirely indicative to how he looked in those games. I saw a player who looked comfortable and aggressive out there, kept the rookie mistakes to a minimum and has something to build off of entering another Nashville Predators training camp.

From that same 2019 draft class, Philip Tomasino and Juuso Parssinen join Afanasyev as the three players who have logged an NHL game for the Nashville Predators.

Afanasyev is a highly-touted prospect that the organization wants to find space for on the NHL level. It seems imperative that you find space for him out of training camp, even if it’s on the fourth line.

To dive more into Afanasyev’s very limited first taste of NHL action, he averaged just 10:51 of ice time but still managed to put up 21 shots on goal. That’s the most positive number that stands out from his first NHL stint on a roster that was fluid and going through a challenging transition period.

In no way can you justify being overly-critical of Afanasyev’s fist stint of NHL action. The team was a mess, the head coach was on his way out, and veterans were either being traded or knocked out with injury. The only reason he got the call-up to begin with.

However, projecting the Nashville Predators forward lines is no easy task at this quiet point in the offseason. Fellow Predlines contributor Max Greenberg has Afanasyev on the outside looking in from the starting lineup, at least to open the 2023-24 campaign.

Who Takes a Spot Away from Afanasyev in Starting Lineup?

I’m just not so sure how heavily invested the front office is on Kiefer Sherwood, who would seem to be the primary competition for Afanasyev to get a starting spot on opening night. He too, like Afanasyev, will be a free agent in 2024, and unrestricted at that.

I don’t see Yakov Trenin or newcomer Denis Gurianov being in any real danger of being benched to open the season. Perhaps if the route is choosing Sherwood over Afanasyev to open, it would be due to not wanting to see Afanasyev’s continued development blunted with minimal minutes on a fourth line.

But you have to ask yourself; who really gives you more upside in a Andrew Brunette offensive heavy system? This is no offense to Sherwood who showed a lot of grit and toughness last season, but it’s unequivocally Afanasyev for me.

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Playing another 11 minutes of ice time per game is certainly a genuine concern, but on the flip side, how much more does Afanasyev have to gain from playing in the AHL? He’s got 131 regular season games and 21 playoff games for the Milwaukee Admirals over the past two seasons.

Unless the coaching staff sees a glaring issue with Afanasyev’s NHL readiness, then the right call is to give him a fourth line opportunity with veteran Colton Sissons centering the fourth line. Either Trenin or Gurianov will take the other wing in my humble opinion.

If Afanasyev can take the next big step forward in his development and become an NHL regular this season, it makes next offseason a little easier to navigate with so many free agents coming up on the books.

And there’s always opportunity to move up the lineup if Afanasyev’s play justifies that, or someone’s else’s poor play justifies a demotion.

Nashville Predators Forwards that will be Free Agents in 2024

  • Yakov Trenin (UFA)
  • Denis Gurianov (UFA)
  • Tommy Novak (UFA)
  • Mark Jankowski (UFA)
  • Kiefer Sherwood (UFA)
  • Cole Smith (UFA)
  • Philip Tomasino (RFA)
  • Juuso Parssinen (RFA)

Holy crap look at all those free agents. Some of them are probably traded beforehand at the 2024 trade deadline, but either way, you’d really like to see Afanasyev show out for the front office and get himself a nice deal after his current ELC expires.

I realize the minutes might be low, but at some point, Afanasyev has to get an extended opportunity to show you he can be a consistent NHL player. He gave us no alarming reason to think he’s not ready for that chance, but of course his training camp performance will be vital into confirming that important decision.

John Hynes always seemed reluctant to turn to young talent, so let’s see how new Head Coach Andrew Brunette approaches the situation. Hopefully much better than rolling out recycled fourth liners with low ceilings.