Meet The New Predators Prospects: 2022 NHL Entry Draft Edition

The NHL Entry Draft is a starting point for many teams’ ability to rebuild, recreate, and restructure their organization to become contenders in the near and distant future. Nashville Predators general manager David Poile entered this year’s draft with one fewer pick than usual, having traded their second-round pick to the Seattle Kraken for defensemen Jeremy Lauzon. Their sixth-round selection was part of a deal involving defensemen Korbinian Holzer two years ago, leaving the Predators with five picks total.

Related: 2022 NHL Draft Tracker

With 65 selections between the first two picks, it was important for Poile to hit the nail on each choice. Every prospect called upon had to count, and the overall consensus after Day 2 appears to be cautiously optimistic for the most part. Let’s look at the six new faces in the Predators’ pipeline, what they bring to the table, and when fans can expect them to make an impact at the professional level.

Joakim Kemell – 1st Round, 17th Overall

After a disappointing first-round exit in this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, Nashville had little time to put the bitter taste of a series sweep by the Colorado Avalanche behind them. Selecting in the middle of each round is never easy, as the cream of the crop is gone and uncertainty with many of the remaining names on the board. Often enough, some players may fall lower than expected, and that’s what happened with their 17th pick, Joakim Kemell.

Joakim Kemell Nashville Predators
Joakim Kemell, Nashville Predators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Kemell was the second-highest-ranked European prospect entering the draft and brought an impressive resume to the table. He recorded 15 goals and 23 points in 39 games during his rookie season, twice as many points in the same league as first-overall selection Juraj Slafkovsky, and demonstrated excellent poise as an 18-year-old. He also put up five goals in five games at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and followed it up with five goals in six games at the U18 World Junior Championship.

Goalscoring has followed Kemell throughout his career in every league he’s played in, and that’s unlikely to change when he turns pro. Kemell has good acceleration and explosiveness in his skating, and his shot is NHL-ready. He’s slightly undersized, but playing on the wing in a pure goalscoring role won’t hinder his abilities. The Predators made an excellent play with this pick and potentially got one of the biggest steals of the first round. It turns out that this organization sure knows how to find gems out of Finland.

Adam Ingram – 3rd Round, 82nd Overall

Day 2 of the draft started with a bang for Poile and the Preds when they took centre Adam Ingram off the board. As one of the older players of his draft class, Ingram holds good value in this spot, considering he was projected to go mid-to-late second round. He led the Youngstown Phantoms in scoring during his rookie season in the United States Hockey League (USHL), completing the year with 26 goals and 55 points in 54 games. Ingram is committed to St. Cloud State University for at least next season.

He bodes no relation to Predators’ goaltender Connor Ingram, although he comes from a family involved in sports, with his father being a professional golf coach. He has size and can be intimidating when he uses it to his advantage, often being a pain to knock off the puck. His skating is a work in progress that will require some attention, and his consistency issues often led to him being a non-factor some nights. He does have the tools to become a successful player in the pros, but it’s all a matter of proper development and continuing his drive to make the NHL.

Kasper Kulonummi – 3rd Round, 84th Overall

Switching gears, Nashville turned their attention to a defenseman with the selection of Finnish-born Kasper Kulonummi. The 18-year-old blueliner represented the Jokerit U20 squad as an alternate captain and led all defensemen on the team in points with 29 in 40 games. He was one of five players on the squad to hear his name called upon and will be committing to Tappara of the Finnish league for next season.

Related: Nashville Predators Draft Joakim Kemell 17th Overall

The first thing that will blow Predators fans away is his smooth skating. He’s fluid in his forward and backward motions, often switching speeds on a dime and using his cutting-ice edge work to stay with opposing players. His gap control often keeps him in every play, leading to forced turnovers and guiding the puck quickly up the ice. He’s an extremely intelligent player that will be fun to watch out for in the upcoming years.

Cole O’Hara – 4th Round, 114th Overall

Although the road Cole O’Hara took to make it to the NHL is slightly unconventional, hearing his name called on Day 2 was well worth the wait for the 20-year-old forward. Having foregone a chance to play in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), O’Hara joined the Tri-City Storm of the USHL, but his point totals in his rookie season weren’t convincing enough to get drafted in his first year of eligibility. Fortunately, a return to Tri-City for a second season saw his point totals nearly triple, finishing third on the team in scoring.

In the last year, O’Hara has packed on some weight and is using it well to engage in physical play. The refreshing result is that his foot speed hasn’t taken a hit with the extra weight, and he continued to beat players to the outside with an excellent first few strides. O’Hara is a right-handed shot who plays on the right side and showed improvement in his decision making and two-way play. He’s committed to UMass for next season as he continues his slow-burn development that Predators management hopes will pay off in the long run.

Graham Sward – 5th Round, 146th Overall

As another undrafted player in his first year of eligibility, Graham Sward made good in his fourth season in the Western Hockey League (WHL) with the Spokane Chiefs. He finished the year second in scoring on the team, behind Bear Hughes, with 43 points in 57 games, and looked like a new player at both ends of the ice compared to his results one year ago. He has good size and could probably stand to add a bit more muscle to his frame, but he has some interesting tools to work with. Sward was listed as one of the WHL’s 10 underrated players heading into this year’s draft by our very own Adam Kierszenblat.

Nashville’s management group seems to prioritize puck-moving defensemen who can skate well, and that’s what they’re getting with Sward. He reads and anticipates plays to another level, often using his stick to break up passing lanes and jump up to intercept pucks. He has excellent vision, and his pass-first mentality often saw him feeding stretch passes for odd-man rushes. A smart, responsible defender is always welcomed on any team, and it’ll be interesting to see what he does when he gets an opportunity to play in Milwaukee.

Ben Strinden – 7th Round, 210th Overall

With their final pick this year, the scouting team went back to the centre position and snagged 20-year-old Ben Strinden from the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL. Entering the third and final year of eligibility, he became one of three over-age players taken by Nashville this year. He saw growth in his playing time and point totals, serving as one of the team’s alternate captains and registering 56 points in 61 games.

Ben Strinden Muskegon Lumberjacks
Ben Strinden, Muskegon Lumberjacks (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

At his best, Strinden can be an offensive contributor with a good shot and excellent passing tendencies. He has quite a few technical flaws that will need immediate improvement if he hopes to continue an upward trajectory when he reaches the pro level. His skating is a work in progress that was taken advantage of last year, and at times he was careless with the puck, turning it over when trying to do too much instead of taking the safe route. He’s committed to the University of North Dakota for next season, and their hockey program can be fit to help him with his shortcomings.

Overall, the Predators did a stand-up job spreading out the picks to address a lack of depth at both the forward and defense positions. The Kemell selection at 17th could be the steal of the draft, and any of the three over-agers could pan out with the proper guidance. Nashville tends to find defensive gems outside of the first round, like Roman Josi (second round, 2008), Mattias Ekholm (fourth round, 2009), and Alexandre Carrier (fourth round, 2015), so anything can happen with Kulonummi and Sward.

The Predators also finalized a trade involving forward Luke Kunin to the San Jose Sharks for prospect John Leonard and a 2023 third-round pick. The move clears up one of the restricted free agents Poile had to decide on and leaves him with just over $18 million at his disposal. We’ll see how much of an impact this has on negotiating a new deal with star forward Filip Forsberg.

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