Over the brief period of time Andrew Brunette has been the head coach of the Nashville Predators, he has been able to put forth a team that wasn't expected to be contenders and get them at least into the conversation of the wildcard race.
One of the most exciting things that all fans of the Predators were looking forward to this year was the emergence of the young talent that was in the AHL with the Milwaukee Admirals at the end of 2022-23 and then ended up making the Predators roster at the start of the 2023-24 season.
Luke Evangelista, Tommy Novak, Phil Tomasino and Juuso Parssinen all had phenomenal ends to their respective seasons last year, and hopes were that they would be able to keep up their production going into a new era with Brunette taking over with a much more aggressive offensive style of play.
Young Core of the Predators Still Trying to Find Consistency in NHL
Although we saw some pretty solid production around the quarter mark of the season, these young players have fallen off a bit, and as such, the team has been seeing quite a large goal scoring drought as of late. It’s time to start questioning how Brunette is managing the young talent on this roster that primarily includes Tomasino, Novak, Glass and Parssinen.
The Milwaukee Admirals, led by Head Coach Karl Taylor, went on a deep playoff run in the Calder Cup playoffs last season. Both Evangelista and Tomasino played leading roles for that playoff run, while Novak and Parssinen took on bigger roles for the Predators down the stretch after being sellers at the deadline and going through key injuries.
In the 2023 Calder Cup Playoffs, Evangelista led the Admirals with 15 points. He was a virtual lock to make the Predators roster out of training camp as a NHL rookie and he is currently seventh on the Predators in points with 22.
So why was Karl Taylor seeing better production from these players than Andrew Brunette is seeing through 51 games with the Predators?
Firstly, it comes down to the fact that the level of the NHL and AHL are extremely different. It is much harder to produce consistently in the NHL, and that is part of the reason why we are seeing waves in point production from the younger players.
Consistency and confidence comes with time, so over the course of the rest of the season, I wouldn’t be surprised if these players start producing more and more. Brunette has brought up numerous times about players rediscovering their confidence and putting them in positions that doesn't set them up for failure.
Finding the Best Spot for Tomasino, Evangelista & Glass Hasn't Been Easy
Another reason for this drought could be Brunette’s experimenting with line changes with these players. Tomasino specifically has been moved around quite a bit as of late. He was initially playing on the fourth line with Cole Smith and Michael McCarron, but he wasn’t seeing much point production with the pair.
In recent games, Tomasino was moved up to a line with Cody Glass and Tommy Novak, where he has now had two goals and an assist in his last two games with those two as linemates. There should be no reason to move Tomasino back down to this bottom line, as he is seeing production with Glass and Novak, and the line overall has had plenty of high danger scoring chances.
Evangelista has been moved around as well because of the changes in Tomasino’s game. Karl Taylor saw great production with Novak and Evangelista together, and the pair was one of the most dangerous duos in the AHL last season.
Hopefully Brunette is able to find a way for the two to work together again and get their chemistry back. Novak is also in need of a spark after not seeing as much production since coming back from his injury.
Denis Gurianov and Juuso Parssinen have switched places as well, with Gurianov getting the call up and Parssinen getting sent back down to the AHL. Parssinen has already seen a lot of improvement in production during his time in Milwaukee, as Taylor seems to really understand how to get him to find his game again.
It also might be in Brunette’s best interest to split up his top line. The line of Filip Forsberg, Ryan O’Reilly, and Gustav Nyquist has been very quiet lately, so splitting them up and putting them with some of the younger players might be helpful for the team. It could spark players like Glass and Novak who are so used to producing at high levels.
Overall, it is vital that Brunette figures out what parts of Taylor’s coaching is working for these players so that he can get the best out of each of them during this important stretch of games coming up after the NHL All Star Break.