It came as quite a shock on Monday when Nashville Predators beat reporter Emma Lingan announced that Head Coach Andrew Brunette decided that right winger and young star Luke Evangelista would be a healthy scratch for their game against the Colorado Avalanche.
After scoring nine points in the first 16 games with the Predators, Brunette decided to bench Evangelista to give him some time to reset with hopes that he will come as the player that he knows Evangelista can be.
After being called up at the end of the 2022-23 season, Evangelista scored seven goals and had eight assists in his 24 games with the Predators, and fans were quick to gain excitement for what he would do this season.
At the start of the 2023-24 season, it looked as though Evangelista would continue this production, but he seems to be having some trouble finishing on his scoring chances. He currently has only one goal, but already has eight assists as well, and has been assisting his linemates Tommy Novak and Kiefer Sherwood on their goals.
Andrew Brunette Making Difficult Lineup Decisions with his Young Talent
Throughout these games, Evangelista has had several different scoring chances. Between burning rebounds of his teammates’ shots, or from splitting the defense on his offensive zone entries, he has come quite close to putting the put in the back of the net, but has had trouble finishing these chances once he gets to the net. His lone goal came against the San Jose Sharks on October 21st.
Brunette has clearly noticed the lack of finishing from their young star, and decided to healthy scratch him on Monday. In an interview with team reporters, Brunette stated:
"“It’s just a little bit of a reset… I think it’s good to just take a step back. He’s a skilled smart hockey player. Sometimes you just need a little bit of refresh.”"
Brunette has definitely noticed the fight that Evangelista has, as he is always the first on the puck during battles along the boards, and he is quick to make chances available for his linemates.
Evangelista’s hockey IQ has certainly made quite the appearance, and what he has been able to do in recent games is impressive. The way he thinks the game is very similar to his linemates, and they have been able to bury some very impressive scoring chances throughout the season.
But with the loss of linemate Novak who is currently on IR, Evangelista hasn’t had that partner that he can constantly rely on. His lack of ability to finish his scoring chances at the moment is becoming quite evident, and Brunette wants him to be aware of that.
Although Evangelista hasn’t been playing poorly by any means, we all know that he can play better than he is at the moment. Evangelista is ninth in rookie points right now and is tied with Adam Fantilli and Matthew Knies in this category. It is clear that he is one of the most skilled rookies in the NHL and is a very smart and talented player, but Brunette might be right in the sense that he needs to take a step back and relax a little bit.
It might be beneficial for Evangelista to have sat out for the game on Monday to make him aware that he can do better. Brunette clearly didn’t bench him because he was playing badly, he just wants him to play like the star he knows he can be.
For young players like Evangelista, it might be really helpful for him to take a step back before jumping into the rest of the season. Although I think it might help him, I see no reason for him to be scratched for more than just this one game, as there are no major issues I’ve noticed in his game.
This isn’t the first time Brunette has benched one of his talented young forwards, as he has done the same with both Philip Tomasino and Juuso Parssinen. After Tomasino’s lackluster start to the season with one point in the first five games, Brunette also decided to scratch the young center.
Tomasino was replaced with a few different forwards, but seems to have found a spot for himself now. After scoring his first goal of the season against Winnipeg, Tomasino’s relief was quite evident after he saw the puck hit the back of the net.
The past few games, Tomasino has been playing with Michael McCarron and Cole Smith, and the line as a whole has been playing significantly better, but Tomasino’s improvements have been the most noticeable. He realized he had a lot to prove to his new coach, and he has done just that after being scratched.
Tomasino recorded his most time on ice this Monday against Colorado and has been playing with the fight that Brunette has wanted from him.
The same can be said for Juuso Parssinen, who has also had a very slow start to his season. Brunette decided to scratch him a few games ago, and since his return, he has looked more confident and aggressive on the ice, and although he hasn’t scored a goal recently, one will certainly come soon with the way he is playing.
Even though this “healthy scratch” method from Brunette might seem quite harsh at times for these young players, it has already worked so far this season, so we can most likely expect some great things from Evangelista upon his return.