It's fair to say that Egor Afanasyev is a little behind schedule on his journey to being a full-time NHL player for the Nashville Predators, but that doesn't mean it's time to give up on the heavy shooter.
Afanasyev was drafted in 2019 by the Predators in the same draft that Philip Tomasino was taken. Afanasyev was taken in the 2nd round at 45th overall, and came in with a lot of upside and viewed as a potential steal.
Since then, Tomasino has made the full-time jump and did so rather quickly. He has now already played in 133 NHL games and racked up 64 points, while Afanasyev has just briefly saw some NHL time towards the end of 2023-24.
Afanasyev Showing Out for Admirals in AHL, Ready for Next NHL Opportunity
Afanasyev has taken on the leadership role for the Admirals in 2023-24. He's leading the team in goal with 13 and is tied for third on the team in points with 19. He's also boasting an impressive 16.7 shooting percentage and scored three of his 13 goals on the power play.
First off, I don't think it's entirely fair to judge Afanasyev's offensive output in his first 17 games with the Predators. That team was nowhere near full strength, and while they were giving a valiant effort to qualify for the playoffs, it was also about to move on from Head Coach John Hynes.
Afanasyev has come out of two consecutive training camps with hopes of making the final roster cut, but instead starting off in Milwaukee. The first time wasn't a major surprise, but a bit of a letdown because he was the candidate many thought could play his way on.
In 2023 the time felt like it was then for Afanasyev to make the full-time NHL jump. At least to open the season, but again that wasn't the case. The Predators stuck with their rugged veterans of Michael McCarron, Kiefer Sherwood and Cole Smith, whle also making waiver claims of wingers Samuel Fagemo and Liam Foudy.
Fagemo and Foudy have since been waived. Fagemo was reclaimed by the Kings, and Foudy is now playing in Milwaukee, but has only appeared in two games so far.
After the NHL roster freeze is lifted, the Predators should start to explore finding a way to get Afanasyev back into the starting lineup. They have to see what they have in their 2019 draft pick now, and get a better sample with a full strength and more offensively incline squad for Afanasyev to be a part of.
We're not talking about a 20-year-old prospect that was just drafted. We're talking about a 2nd-round pick four years into his pro experience scattered across playing in Russia and in the AHL. Time to see what he can produce in the NHL.
Preds Need to Know What they Have in Afanasyev Before 2024 Offseason
Obviously there is a logjam of forwards for the Predators, so making room for Afanasyev won't be straightforward. It will mean making a healthy scratch of a regular in the lineup. Maybe that player is Yakov Trenin, who I have my doubts will be retained by the Predators as a UFA this offseason.
Maybe the Predators finally scratch Cole Smith or Kiefer Sherwood to give Afanasyev an opportunity. As much as Sherwood and Smith have been quality bottom-six players, they're not necessarily a part of your long-term plans like you hope Afanasyev still is.
A couple important notes to remember regarding Afanasyev's current entry level contract; he's going to be an RFA this offseason, and he's waivers exempt. So you can call up Afanasyev for a stint, see how he performs with a more offensively structured team around him, and see what results he gives you. If the individual results are underwhelming and hurting the team, then you can always send him back down. Obviously we don't want that.
We'll have to see if General Manager Barry Trotz makes some roster subtractions as the 2024 trade deadline approaches in March. That will signal if Afanasyev is going to get the green light again to the NHL, and preferably stay up for good.
The Predators front office needs to know if Afanasyev is ready for the NHL long-term and can be an everyday contributor before he hits restricted free agency this summer.