Evangelista, Tomasino next up in Predators’ pipeline

Photos: Jonathan Kozub, Scott Paulus

📝 by Jason Karnosky | AHL On The Beat

With continued development, Luke Evangelista and Phil Tomasino know they are just a few years away from being key members of the Nashville Predators.

But for now the pair are the present in Milwaukee, and for the 2022-23 season Admirals fans get to watch the pair of talented forwards grow, develop and produce for one of the American Hockey League’s top clubs.

“They are both very good young players and very good prospects,” Milwaukee coach Karl Taylor said. “We are excited about their development and where we are heading with helping them. We are also impressed with how they are helping themselves get better.”

Evangelista has been a revelation in 2022-23 for a Milwaukee squad that through 30 games sits in third place in the Central Division with a record of 18-10-0-2 (38 points). The Oakville, Ont., native made a name for himself during Nashville’s training camp and ranks second on the Admirals with 23 points.

“First and foremost he’s a great person who is fun to be around,” Tomasino said of Evangelista. “He’s just so smart and he’s always making plays, so it’s really fun to watch him. I think he will continue to grow his game and continue to get better.”

With a fast start out of the gates Evangelista served notice that he was ready to stand out in the AHL. In just his third game on Oct. 22, the gifted playmaker recorded a pair of assists, and then had three helpers in a 6-5 shootout win over Texas the next night. On Nov. 11, Evangelista scored a pair of goals in a 4-3 win over Iowa.

“Luke has played very well and has exceeded expectations from my perspective,” Taylor said. “He’s a very skilled forward and has fit into the fabric of the room very well. He’s just a good young guy trying to learn and figure it out.”

Big things were expected out of Tomasino this year in the AHL. To date the 21-year-old has delivered on that promise and has 18 points despite playing in only 22 games due to an injury.

“Phil’s a really special talent, a first-round pick who played in Nashville all of last year and put up good numbers,” Evangelista said of Tomasino. “He’s got a ton of talent. I like to watch his game and see if I can take some things from his game and put them into mine.”

After spending all of 2021-22 in the National Hockey League, it would have been easy to worry about Tomasino’s motivations this season playing for Milwaukee. However, much like Cody Glass last season (who is now back with Nashville on a full-time basis), any concerns about Tomasino went away early when the forward got off to a blistering start.

In just his fourth game in an Admirals jersey, the Mississauga, Ont., native scored his first goal for Milwaukee. He then scored goals in four of the next five games — including a two-goal performance in a 4-3 overtime win over archival Chicago.

“Both guys have played well for us, but Phil has had a tougher go so far this season than Luke,” Taylor said. “He’s in a bit of a different spot a little bit because he was in the NHL for a full season. He also had the injury this fall and was out for about a month, so that set him back a little bit. Now he’s just starting to get back and running.”

While both Evangelista and Tomasino have yet to reach the age of 22, they are a huge part of the Admirals success this season, and their development is being closely watched by management in Nashville.

Through no fault of their own, it wasn’t the easiest road to Milwaukee. Back during the 2020-21 season, both players were expecting to play in the Ontario Hockey League. However, the OHL scrapped that season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving both forwards’ status up in the air.

Tomasino and Evangelista both found a home with the Chicago Wolves as part of a split squad that included Predators and Carolina Hurricanes prospects. Tomasino especially stood out and opened some eyes with an impressive performance, putting up 32 points in 29 games as a 19-year-old. He also helped Canada win a silver medal at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Evangelista, who is a year younger than Tomasino, was more of an afterthought on that Wolves squad, playing in 14 games and failing to record a goal. It was clear that Nashville’s 2020 second-round pick had plenty of skills, but still needed to grow into a professional prospect.

“Luke kind of joined us late in the season in Chicago, and Luke and Phil played together a little bit with Chicago,” Taylor said. “It was more of a struggle for Luke at that stage of his development. Because of that we had lower expectations initially for him this year, but fortunately Luke’s adjusted really well to being in Milwaukee and he’s had a great start to the season.”

In 2021-22, Tomasino impressed as a rookie with Nashville, scoring 11 goals and 32 points for the playoff-bound Predators.

“Playing last year in Nashville, I got to see how hard the game is and what I had to do to compete at that level, especially in the playoffs,” Tomasino said. “Right now, I’m focused on getting better every day, talking and learning, and continuing to develop because that is what the league is meant for. I want to continue to improve my game and get better day by day, so I can get back and be a big part of that team.”

With a year of junior eligibility left, Evangelista returned to the OHL in 2021-22 and set the league ablaze with a motivated season. He carried the London Knights to a division title, leading the league with 55 goals and finishing fourth with 111 points.

“Phil and I are really close in age, we are just a year apart,” Evangelista said. “Even before the year in Chicago we got to play against each other a little bit in the OHL too, so it is kind of fun to connect with him now and get to know him more off the ice and in the locker room.”

Fast-forward to this season, both Evangelista and Tomasino are top-line forwards for Milwaukee and getting plenty of opportunities to develop, perform and produce. Those opportunities are a big reason why both players are in Milwaukee this season, getting ice time in all situations with the hopes of reaching their full potential.

“It’s been a great first full year of pro hockey and it’s good to have a bunch of guys here to play with who are of similar age and have similar interests,” Evangelista said. “I think our team as a whole has a great mix of young guys, older guys, and guys who have played in the NHL for a while that can share their experience with us young guys. I couldn’t ask to be a part of a better group here and it has been a ton of fun.”

Predators coach John Hynes knows he has a couple of explosive young forwards in Tomasino and Evangelista that are just a phone call away. Whenever that call comes, both forwards should be ready to play big roles.

For now Evangelista and Tomasino are content to star on a Milwaukee squad right in the thick of the playoff race.

“[Luke] is one of the only guys still here from that Chicago team, and it’s been kind of fun to be back with him as well this year in Milwaukee,” Tomasino said. “It’s really cool to see him having fun and to play offense here in Milwaukee with him. He’s been great so far for us. Hopefully we will get the chance to play in Nashville together soon.”