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Preds Impressed by Rookies, Looking for Continued Impacts Next Season

Nashville's "Youth Movement" Underway Thanks to Impressive Showings from Young Players in 2020-21 Campaign

by Brooks Bratten @brooksbratten / Senior Communications & Content Coordinator

Players like Eeli Tolvanen, Alexandre Carrier, Tanner Jeannot - they've all uttered a similar version of the same phrase during the 2020-21 season when asked how they view their future with the Predators: never too high or too low, just taking things one day at a time while trying to establish themselves here in Nashville.

One probably wouldn't expect an NHL rookie to say anything different as they find their way in the League and discover how they fit on this Preds team, but after their impacts over the past five months?

They may just be told to find a permanent residence in Music City sooner than later.

The Predators knew they would need contributions from more than just the 20 players who dressed for opening night way back on Jan. 14, but General Manager David Poile never would have imagined using a total of 35 different skaters during a 56-game season, tied for the fourth-most in the NHL and the team's most since 37 different skaters suited up in 2016-17.

Twelve of those participants were rookies, the most to feature in a single season in franchise history and the most rookies used by an NHL team this season.

The Predators skated eight of those rookies in their regular-season finale on May 10 vs. Carolina, the first time in team history they had done so and their most in a game since dressing seven on April 15, 2013.

Nine of those 12 rookies found the scoresheet over the course of the season, with Carrier, Jeannot and Mathieu Olivier scoring their first career NHL goals and Tolvanen tallying 11 times, six of which came on the power play.

Prior to the season, Poile had discussed a "youth movement" coming for the Preds, and while that migration may have been necessitated earlier than anticipated, the newbies certainly didn't disappoint.

"We found out we had some good, young players, some good depth, guys that could step in and contribute," Poile said following the season. "Our younger players just gave us a huge, huge boost."

In addition to Tolvanen, Carrier, Jeannot and Olivier, forwards Yakov Trenin, Rem Pitlick, Cole Smith and Sean Malone, as well as defensemen Jeremy Davies, Frederic Allard, Tyler Lewington and David Farrance all appeared as rookies for the Preds during the season.

Additionally, defenseman Ben Harpur, no longer a holder of rookie status, still qualifies as another young player who made a contribution with 34 games played on the backend.

"Trenin jumped in there with five goals and six assists; Tanner Jeannot came up from [AHL Chicago] and got five goals for us; Tolvanen was a huge, young player coming to our team that helped change the dynamics, especially in our power play where he ended up scoring 11 goals for this year," Poile said. "Mathieu Olivier plays 30 games for us in his first [full] season in National Hockey League, Alex Carrier became a regular on our defense playing 19 games, Ben Harpur played his first regular season [with us], Jeremy Davies played 16, Pitlick played 10, [they all made notable contributions]."

"From a coaching perspective, it was great," Hynes said of Nashville's youth. "I think we all saw how much impact the younger guys had on the team, and it's nice when…you have a very good track record of developing players, and now when players are called upon, like they were this year, to get opportunities and try to help the NHL team win games. We had guys come up, and they didn't just survive in the NHL, they were impact players for our team and they helped turn the season around. They did help us get back to the identity, or get to the identity that we expect our team to be able to play with, so it's encouraging."

Video: GM Poile, Coach Hynes discuss lessons from season

Hynes and Poile weren't the only ones who took note of the new contributors either. Often skating with rookies in key situations, many of Nashville's veteran players praised their younger teammates and the roles they took in helping the Preds to a seventh-consecutive postseason berth.

"I thought it was great," Preds forward Filip Forsberg said of the rookies. "They got experience, but at the same time, they earned it. You look at guys…who basically just worked their way into the lineup and played key minutes, and then in the playoffs, it's really been a great season for that… It's something that I've definitely been impressed with, [and they] definitely push everybody. You see the depth and you see the quality that's coming in from underneath, and it definitely makes you want to work harder and you want to keep your spot because there's guys coming from [the AHL]."

Tolvanen led all of Nashville's rookies with 22 points (11g-11a), Trenin added 11 points (5g-6a) in 45 games and Jeannot recorded five goals and seven points in just 15 appearances. Carrier, who was drafted by the Preds back in 2015, skated in a career-high 19 games, most often alongside either veterans Mattias Ekholm or Roman Josi, and then appeared in all six of Nashville's postseason contests against Carolina. Like many of his forward counterparts, Carrier established himself as a reliable member of the roster and showed he has what it takes to be a full-time blueliner in the NHL.

That growth can only be a good thing for the Predators, and Hynes and his staff are already anticipating what's to come in training camp this fall.

"[The young players contributing] also creates internal competition," Hynes said. "I think it helps some guys, the veteran players that are here, to [know] there are guys coming and there are guys that can play well. I think anytime you can have internal competition, and when you have young prospects, young players in your organization come in and play and make impacts, it's always a positive."

Now, the evaluations can begin, and just as they do every summer, Poile will continue to work with Nashville's development staff and minor-league coaches, as well as the NHL decisionmakers, to determine who is ready to stick with the Preds.

"We'll have the coaches here in Milwaukee and [Director of Player Development] Scott Nichol, who would run the meeting, and all of our development guys do the talking and go over all the players that we have in our pipeline," Poile explained. "What we would do is give John and his staff an opportunity to see who they think…would deserve games, and training camp and preseason games, who they think would be call-up guys this year and who they think will be full-time NHL players.

"So, just as an example, it would be my belief that [forward prospect] Philip Tomasino…he's on my list, and I would think from Milwaukee and our development guys. He deserves a real good chance to try to make our team next year, and that's the kind of information that we would like to pass along to John and then the coaches to get them thinking about what opportunities we might make available for our squad and to for any change that we're contemplating maybe making for next season."

Who impresses in camp and finds their way onto the Opening Night roster will be determined in due time, but no matter who makes an impact, the Predators have more than just an idea of who is capable of skating at this level thanks to a season that gave management and fans alike a glimpse into a bright future - and that's reason for optimism.

"It's a very good situation for the organization," Hynes said. "I think we're all really excited about the young guys coming in and some of the impacts that they can make. Now, it's on the players, and it's also on the coaches and our development coaches to make sure that we help them and guide them through the summer in the direction that they should go to get better as players. Then, they have to buckle in and put the work in to be ready for training camp."

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