Three Prospects who can make Nashville Predators debut next season

It's always exciting to see the prospect pool find success, and the Preds have a lot to be pleased with from the Milwaukee Admirals deep playoff run.
Teammates congratulate Milwaukee Admirals right wing Joakim Kemell (25) on his goal during the first period of their game Saturday, February 10, 2024, at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Teammates congratulate Milwaukee Admirals right wing Joakim Kemell (25) on his goal during the first period of their game Saturday, February 10, 2024, at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. / Dave Kallmann / Milwaukee Journal

Playoff fever hasn't subsided just yet for the Nashville Predators with their AHL affiliate Milwaukee Admirals currently in the Western Conference Finals of the Calder Cup Playoffs.

When you look at all of the talented prospects with high NHL hopes, you discover that it's not all that big of a surprise that the Admirals have made it this far. This is a testament to how much success the Predators have had in drafting over the past few years.

The Predators only had one prospect officially make their NHL debut last season, and that was defenseman Marc Del Gaizo. He played in nine games, tallied three assists while averaging 16:28 of ice time. He overwhelmingly received positive reviews from his first taste of NHL action before going back to the Admirals and capping off a regular season with 32 points and a +16 plus/minus rating.

Looking forward to 2024-25 for the Predators, they are once again going to be a mystery. No one really knows how General Manager Barry Trotz, going into his second season leading the front office, will approach this offseason.

Trotz has said in the past how important it is for him to make pathways forward for young talent to get more playing time to prove themselves. Judging by how free agency goes and if some veterans are either let go or traded away will determine how many prospects we see make their NHL debut next season.

Here are my top-three candidates to make the jump to the NHL next season, and at the very least, get a few games under their belt in a Predators sweater.

Zachary L'Heureux looks like a lock to make his NHL debut in 2024-25

I can't imagine L'Heureux not at least getting a few games under his belt at the NHL level next season. He's leading the Calder Cup Playoffs in goals with nine after scoring in Game 1 of the conference finals.

L'Heureux's first season in the AHL has been far more productive than anyone really expected. He had his troubles on the ice with misconduct and way too many penalties while letting his emotions get the best of him.

Now while the penalty minutes are still very high, he has kept his discipline in check. A player of his style is always going to see high penalty minutes, and you don't want to take away a facet of his game that is also a major strength, which is tenacity. Something that will seve him well in his NHL transition.

L'Heureux has two more years left on his entry level contract and will be waivers exempt, allowing the Predators to test him out on the NHL level at some point next season without worrying about losing him.

Even though I fully expect L'Heureux to make his Predators debut in 2024-25, I don't think he'll be fulltime. It will serve him much better to get another season mostly in the AHL, however if he gets a call-up and just explodes with success, then you obviously ride that wave and keep him in the NHL.

One thing is for certain, he'll be a prospect with probably the brightest spotlight on him in training camp.

Joakim Kemell is a fast riser through Preds prospect ranks

Kemell basically went straight to the AHL following his 2022 draft year, but also split some time playing internationally from his native country Finland.

This past season saw Kemell get fulltime AHL duty for the first time and he potted 16 goals and 41 points overall. His goal scoring is down in these current Calder Cup Playoffs, but overall in his two postseason appearances of 2023 and 2024, Kemell has 18 points in 25 career postseason games. Pretty damn good for a 20-year-old if you ask me.

Kemell was the 17th overall pick from 2022 and still has three seasons left on his entry level deal. There's no reason for the Predators to rush him at all, but much like L'Heureux, it wouldn't be a bad idea to test the NHL waters with him if the opportunity presents itself.

What you would be looking for in an NHL stint for Kemell in 2024-25 is how his offensive raw talent and skills translates to the NHL competition. How fast is his two-way game developing and see where his confidence level is at when making that big of a jump.

My confidence level isn't as high as it is for L'Heureux making his NHL debut next season, but I'd say I'm around 60 percent confident that Kemell plays his first NHL game next season.

Ryan Ufko is a dark horse prospect to make NHL debut sooner rather than later

I'm going out on a limb with this one compared to the first two, but Ryan Ufko's stock has been skyrocketing since making his jump from the NCAA ranks to the AHL ranks recently.

Ufko, a 2021 fourth-round draft pick by the Predators, played in nine regular season game for the Admirals and is playing vital minutes in the Calder Cup Playoffs. He hasn't shown any signs of being a slow learner in the process of making the difficult jump from the college ranks to the professional ranks.

As captain of UMass in the college ranks, Ufko put up 26 points in 37 games. He has also played a couple seasons in the USHL for the Chicago Steel. He just turned 21-years-old and is still a very raw talent, but he does play on the right side of the defense and that's an area for the Predators that is very thin right now.

You look at the uncertainty of Alexandre Carrier hitting unrestricted free agency this summer, plus Tyson Barrie likely being gone and that leaves you with Luke Schenn and Dante Fabbro on the right side. Jeremy Lauzon can move over, but he played on the left side with Carrier and the combo was arguably the most efficient pairing on the Predators this past season.

I'm not saying Ufko becomes an everyday NHL player in 2024-25, but just like the first two, he is a dynamic prospect who could get the call-up for a few games to see what he can do. A full season with the Admirals would benefit Ufko much more, however.

Ufko was signed to his three-year ELC contract this past March which thus gave him the opportunity to get this valuable playing time with the Admirals in their playoff run. Judging by how he has impressively performed under postseason pressure, it's not all that outlandish at all to think Ufko's number could be called for NHL minutes at some point in 2024-25.

Honorable Mention prospect to keep an eye on as well in 2024-25

The list of possible NHL debuts doesn't have to stop there, but those are just my top-three that I'm watching personally (L'Heureux, Kemell, Ufko).

Others to watch, how about the electric Tanner Molendyk who has similar playing qualities to Roman Josi? The 24th-overall draft pick from 2023 that was acquired in the Mattias Ekholm trade has high aspirations to be an excellent player for the Predators, but in due time.

Molendyk has yet to see the AHL and played the 2023-24 season in the WHL (56 points in 50 games and four total seasons in the WHL). It would take a rash of injuries and a down year where the Predators are out of the playoff race and calling up younger players to get experience for us to probably see Molendyk make his NHL debut next season.

Fedor Svechkov is also getting really close to cracking into the NHL, and he was my No.4 player to put on this list. He has gradually rounded out his two-way game. We know from the moment he was drafted that he's a great defensive forward with high hockey IQ. The offensive upside was the question mark.

After struggling to get his point totals very high in the Russian leagues, Svechkov made his Admirals debut in 2023-24 and somewhat surprisingly put up 39 points and 16 goals. Very positive returns if you're tracking his development for the NHL.

Svheckov turned 21 in April and has two years left on his ELC. I'm sure the Predators would like to see what they have in their former first-round pick at some point in 2024-25, but again there's no reason to rush, either.

Many of these decisions are hard to predict until we see what Trotz does in free agency. If he adds more veterans to the mix like he did in the 2023 offseason, then that will obviously make the path much more clogged up for any of these prospects to get to the NHL unless a lot of injuries happen.