Last week when talking with Philip Tomasino after a particularly long practice at Centennial Sportsplex, I half-jokingly referred to him as a “veteran” on the team.
He immediately rebuffed the notion.
“I definitely wouldn’t [call me] a veteran,” he laughed.
Still tired from the practice, Tomasino explained.
“Last year, I had that first camp experience, because I’ve never really had something like that before. Now I kind of know the ropes, but it’s been tough for sure,” referring to Nashville’s 2022 training camp, the team’s 2nd full camp under John Hynes and also Tomasino’s 2nd as a full time NHL player.
This year’s training camp has featured many position battles. Who will step up and claim the fourth line center role? And who will play wing next to that center? How will the right side of the defense shake out? And the backup goaltender… will it be Connor Ingram, who played that role in the playoffs last spring, or newcomer Kevin Lankinen?
Almost all of those battles have been resolved. Cody Glass will center the 4th line, likely with either Zach Sanford or Mark Jankowski on his wing. Mattias Ekholm is switching to the right side to play with Ryan McDonagh. Kevin Lankinen is the clear favorite to backup Juuse Saros.
But one battle many had assumed was settled was who would play on the right side next to Ryan Johansen. With Nino Niederreiter on the left, it seemed obvious that Philip Tomasino, who collected 11 goals and 21 assists in a bottom six role last year, was the favorite to take that spot.
After a grueling training camp in which several role-hungry forwards are fighting for very few spots, that no longer seems the case.
Philip Tomasino not a lock for top six
Tomasino has had chances this preseason to show he deserves a top six role. He played next to Johansen and Niederreiter in the Preds’ first preseason game on Monday September 26th against the Panthers. Then, in the Preds’ third preseason game, Tomasino was paired with Juuso Parssinen and John Leonard as part of the Preds’ 2nd line. In his place on the top line, Kiefer Sherwood played with Johansen and Niederreiter.
The very next night, Tomasino was bumped all the way down to the 4th line with Mark Jankowski and Zach Sanford.
And while Tomasino was among the final 27 players selected for the Global Series (it would have been quite a shock had he not made it), he was not in the lineup for Monday’s game against SC Bern. Sherwood again took his place next to Johansen and Niederreiter.
From top line forward to healthy scratch in barely a week. Not a great trend.
Could this be a product of a “tough” training camp (as Tomasino put it) where many players are vying for few spots? Is Tomasino is feeling the heat of competitors trying to take a spot that’s technically not his yet? Are other players like Kiefer Sherwood outplaying him?
When asked about the top six role in question after Nashville’s 2-0 win over Tampa last Thursday (where Sherwood played in Tomasino’s spot) John Hynes was brief, but clear.
“We’re still looking for a winger to add there,” Hynes said.
That, perhaps, says it all. Tomasino hasn’t captured the role, but neither has Sherwood or anyone else. It’s still up for grabs.
“My goal is to be a top six guy”
Clearly, earning the role of “top six forward” has been more work than perhaps anticipated for Tomasino. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t still suited for it. It’s just a matter of “trust” from the coaches, as he put it.
“Heading into the year, that’s my goal,” Tomasino said. “I want to be a top six guy for our team but, you know, it’s also an aspect of having that role. I’m trying to do everything I can to earn that trust from our coaches.”
Tomasino didn’t specify what kind of trust he was referring to, but one can assume, given Hynes’ focus on defensive structure, it’s likely something to do with the defensive end of the ice. Hynes rarely benches players for lacking offensive output (ahem, Luke Kunin) but is very quick to pull guys out of the lineup if their defense is not up to par.
Some have guessed Tomasino could be dealing with an injury. There is no evidence to support the claim, and he appeared in full health at the most recent practices in Nashville. But it’s possible something happened between then and the SC Bern game, or that he’s nursing a minor injury that’s previously undisclosed.
Either way, the lack of time he’s spent with his predetermined linemates suggests we won’t see Tomasino in the top six to start the season on Friday.
“I’ve played with Johansen and Niedderreiter a little bit, so it’s been nice to kind of get that chemistry going,” Tomasino said last week. “But just getting back into the groove of things and just starting to start our season out… whether I’m in the top six or wherever I am, I think I’ve just got to take it, do the best that I can. But that’s my goal, to be a top six guy. That’s what I’m striving for.”
Right now it seems the most likely role for Tomasino is on the 4th line with Cody Glass until Sherwood proves one way or the other he can take the top six job. A poor showing for Tomasino in a bottom six role (especially one that leads to a healthy scratch) would be an inauspicious start and likely hurt this “veteran’s” chance at anything more.
— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —