The Evolution of Taylor Beck

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Taylor Beck has played 192 games in his career with the Milwaukee Admirals. He is finishing off a season that, some might say, was his best to date. (Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

These last few weeks we’ve seen plenty of new players join the ranks of the Milwaukee Admirals. Some were drafted by the Nashville Predators or others recruited right out of college. There isn’t much time for them to get in games so most first impressions can speak volumes moving forward.

On April 10, 2011, Taylor Beck was playing in his fourth professional hockey game with the Admirals. What wound up happening in that game would become a sight we’ve been all too familiar seeing in Milwaukee.

Beck was playing right on net. Rather than bash a puck into the pads of netminder Jordan Pearce from close range he had the awareness to know where his linemates were on the ice. Cory Conacher was open. Beck fed him. And Conacher scored his second goal of the game. It was Beck’s first career point as a professional hockey player. He has gone on to produce 138 points between the Admirals and Predators ever since.

Beck was born and raised in St. Catharines, Ontario. It was his family that helped influence him to become a hockey player. His father played baseball. His brother played hockey. And, from a young age, he took to the ice. As far as sports go – he played lacrosse during the summer months and hockey when winter hit Canada. When it was time to decide which types of goals he was going to score and set for himself – it was always going to be on the ice.

“I played lacrosse and hockey very seriously when I was growing up,” said Taylor Beck. “I kind of got to an age where I had to decide between the two and hockey was always my number one passion overall.”

That decision came prior to his selection in the OHL Draft by the Guelph Storm. His first junior season came in 2007-08 where he would tally 21 points (7 goals, 13 assists) in fifty-six games. His follow up 2008-09 season saw him elevate his game by producing 58 points (22 goals, 36 assists) in sixty-seven games. That season he played with Michael Latta in Guelph and the two would be drafted at the end of that season in the third round – two picks apart – by the Nashville Predators in the 2009 NHL Draft.

After four-years with the Storm in juniors – playing 246 games and scoring 267 points (110 goals, 157 assists) – it was time for Beck to hit the ice as a professional hockey player. Destination: Milwaukee in the thick of the playoff season, 2010-11.

“That was good experience with Lane Lambert,” said Beck of his first taste of Admirals hockey. “We went pretty far that year in the playoffs. That was a great experience and that really ramped me up for my ’20-year old’ year – which was definitely a learning experience from the start.”

With the recent 2013-14 regular season in the books Beck now has a career total of 131 points (44 goals, 87 assists) from 193 games as a member of the Admirals. That puts him eighth on the Admirals AHL All-Time scoring list. While most are aware of his talents on offense it is his evolution on defense that has been the single biggest learning experience as a member of the team.

“Penalty Kill is really something I focused on,” said Beck. “Whatever I have to do to get to the NHL is what I’m prepared to do. Whether I have to Penalty Kill, be a fourth-line grinder, score, whatever I have to do. I just want to have a well rounded game so I can be [in the NHL] soon.”

This season has proved to be Beck’s best all-around season as a professional. While he may not have enjoyed much playing time at the NHL level this season, only seven games as opposed to sixteen last season, he has taken his time with Milwaukee seriously. There hasn’t been any sour grapes regarding a lack of NHL time from him – only what is it that can be done to better shape up his game. It’s something that teammates and coaches alike all have taken notice of.

Mark Van Guilder on Taylor Beck’s play this season:


1/6/14, Dean Evason on Taylor Beck:


He has been the team’s real workhorse this season. While plenty of acclaim, justifiably so, can be given to the great performances from young players such as Colton Sissons and Miikka Salomaki this season – Beck has been right there with them. He has been an instrumental figure on the forward lines adding skill on all areas of the ice. If you want a real slice of his improvement this season you need only look to his goal from the regular season home finale.

Speed. Power. Confidence. Skill. Finishing. He showcased everything about himself that he has honed in on this entire season on one play. And yet, as crafty as that goal was from this season there might be an even better example of his high level of play from 2013-14.

With a lengthy shift put in, all while getting chewed out in the defensive half of the ice, Beck proceeded to carry the puck as deep as he could as his linemates could get a change. Despite being on fumes he was able to skate around Dylan Labbe, change his angle of approach to square up Johan Gustafsson, get a shot off before Brad Winchester pressured him off his shooting lane, and beat the Iowa Wild single-handedly.

The Admirals open up the playoffs on Friday night. At 22-years old, Beck is among five other players on the team who have played in three-or-more AHL playoffs. Those other players by age: Francis Wathier (29), Joe Piskula (29), Bryan Rodney (30), Mark Van Guilder (30), and Scott Ford (34).

This will be Beck’s fourth playoff run with the Admirals. 2010-11, eliminated in the second round in game seven against the Houston Aeros. 2011-12, eliminated in the first round by the Abbotsford Heat. 2012-13, eliminated in the first round by the Texas Stars. There are big hopes from him that this year’s team proves to be something great.

“This is by far the best team that I’ve played on since I’ve been here,” said Beck. “We’ve got everything. We have four really good deep lines. We got great defense that can shut their top players down and get the forwards the puck. I’m really looking forward to the playoff run we’ve got.”

Full Interview with Taylor Beck:


How do you feel Taylor Beck has performed this season? Should he start in the NHL next season?

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Milwaukee vs. Toronto Matchup Preview

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The Milwaukee Admirals and Toronto Marlies face off in the opening round of the Calder Cup playoffs. Who has the edge? (Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

Toronto Marlies (3-Seed, 45-25-2-4, 96 points, 223 goals for, 202 goals against). vs. Milwaukee Admirals (6-Seed, 39-24-6-7, 91 points, 215 goals for, 199 goals against).

Prior Games:

Milwaukee leads 2-0. 3-2 at MKE on Jan. 21; 5-1 at TOR on March 22.

Schedule:

Game 1: Friday, April 25: Milwaukee vs. Toronto, 7:00PM; Game 2: Saturday, April 26: Milwaukee vs. Toronto, 7:00PM; Game 3: Thursday, May 1: Milwaukee at Toronto, 6:00PM; Game 4*: Saturday, May 3: Milwaukee at Toronto, 2:00PM; Game 5*: Sunday, May 4: Milwaukee at Toronto, 3:00PM. *If necessary.

Here is how I see the Milwaukee/Toronto matchup breaking down:

Offense:

Pick your poison, would you prefer the high-end scoring talent of Toronto or the four-line offense of Milwaukee? Spencer Abbott leads Marlies forwards with 69 points (17 goals, 52 assists). He has plenty of company in scoring threats: Greg McKegg 47 points (19 goals, 28 assists), Josh Leivo 42 points (23 goals, 19 assists), and Jerry D’Amigo 33 points (20 goals, 13 assists). The biggest threat is defenseman T.J. Brennan, the reigning Eddie Shore Award winner, who led the team with 72 points (25 goals, 47 assists) - good for third best in the AHL. Though the Admirals are slightly less potent, Colton Sissons 44 points (25 goals, 19 assists), Austin Watson 46 points (22 goals, 24 points), Calle Jarnkrok 45 points (18 goals, 27 assists), and Miikka Salomaki with a team-leading 50 points (20 goals, 30 assists). Advantage Toronto.

Defense:

Toronto’s blueline might be littered with bigger names, notably with Brennan and Korbinian Holzer (23 points, +5), and high-end prospects Kevin Marshall and Stuart Percy, but Milwaukee’s anchor is always its defense, which I see as deeper than the Marlies. Veterans Scott Ford and Joe Piskula (+20 rating) anchor one of the league’s best corps., even if Admirals like Anthony Bitetto (36 points), Bryan Rodney (34 points) and Joonas Jarvinen are a bit more unknown throughout the league. Advantage Milwaukee.

Goaltending:

The most obvious toss up is the goaltending. I expect veteran Drew MacIntyre to get the call to anchor Toronto (29-15-3, 2.53 GAA, .917 SP) vs. Milwaukee rookie Marek Mazanec (18-10-3, 2.44 GAA, .914 SP) and potentially Scott Darling (13-6-2, 2.00 GAA, .933 SP). MacIntyre has been one of the league’s best for a long time, and has six games of NHL experience with Vancouver, Buffalo and Toronto. Mazanec actually has 25 games of NHL experience now to his credit, plus a Czech League title last season with Plzen, winning Game 7 of the Finals in overtime. Plus the 22-year-old is hot as of late. Even.

Coaching:

As far as a professional record, Admirals bench boss Dean Evason has a huge advantage over Marlies coach Steve Spott. Evason spent seven seasons as an assistant coach with the Washington Capitals before taking the head coaching position with Milwaukee, where he guided the team to an average of 40 wins per season and a 2013 first-round playoff loss last year at the hands of Texas. Spott came to Toronto, via the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL, where he had plenty of success. Last fall Spott replaced the highly coveted Dallas Eakins who moved on to the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers. Advantage Milwaukee.

Intangibles:

When I look at intangibles in this series, I see Toronto’s three-pack of Division titles, home-ice advantage and a fan base that should show up in droves considering the same-town Maple Leafs did not make the playoffs. Meanwhile, Milwaukee is coming off of two straight early postseason exits, which lasted just seven games in total. However, this is an extremely deep Admirals club that can roll four lines and six defensemen without any significant talent drop off. Advantage Toronto.

Playoff Experience:

Though Toronto’s roster features only a few skaters left from the 2012 squad that advanced to the Calder Cup Finals, players like D’Amigo and Holzer know how to win in the playoffs. Last year the young Marlies swept Rochester, before falling to eventual champion Grand Rapids in six games. However, MacIntyre was shelled in that series. Meanwhile, Milwaukee is three seasons removed from its last series victory, a six-gamer against Texas that saw both Mark Van Guilder and Ford play key roles. The Admirals’ margin in the loss last spring to the Stars was razor thin. Advantage Toronto.

Final Verdict:

Much like last year against Texas, I expect this to be an extremely tight series. Despite the fact that Milwaukee swept the two game series this year, these two teams are comparable on paper. Toronto might have a little more flash, but Milwaukee is deeper and tough enough to handle the Marlies’ physical play advantage. In a series that could go either way, I predict Milwaukee to win in five games.

Visit MilwaukeeAdmirals.com to read my feature previewing the series.

Other First Round Thoughts:

East:  Manchester 3-0 over Norfolk; Providence 3-2 over Springfield; W-B/Scranton 3-2 over Binghamton; St. John’s 3-1 over Albany.

West:  Oklahoma City 3-2 over Texas; Chicago 3-2 over Rochester; Grand Rapids 3-2 over Abbotsford.

So Roundtable . . . How do you see this series shaking out? Any predictions? Ideas for shutting down Brennan?

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The Chatterbox, Vol. 33

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These guys are ready for Friday night. How about you? (Photo Credit: Daniel Lavender)

Today was “Media Day” for the Milwaukee Admirals ahead of this weekend’s opening playoff series against the Toronto Marlies. I attended practice and talked with plenty of guys on the team. Let’s dive in!

Firstly, all forwards are healthy. Mike Liambas participated in the full practice today and has been back in that cycle for the last two days. The lone man out with injury is Scott Valentine. I had the chance to talk with him briefly and it would seem that his season is over due to a shoulder operation he had done recently. He is in good spirits but, as you’d expect, disappointed to be out at this point in the season.

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Wathier-Van Guilder-Watson
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Those were the forward lines from this morning’s practice. It is worth mentioning that Joe Pendenza did flip places at center on the bottom line every now and then.

Of the newbies we heard about joining the team yesterday – both were on ice today. Jaynen Rissling was wearing the #5 and Garrett Noonan was wearing the #23. I don’t know what it is… Teddy Ruth or Michael Young… but that #5 is sort of this season’s Little Bastard. Luckily for Noonan – I’ve already discovered that he might have the best nickname on the team: Fozzie Bear.

There actually was a legit media group today that included more than just myself and Dave Boehler. WISN-12 and FOX-6 were on hand for the morning practice and scrums – so watch your local news this evening or later tonight to see your Admirals in fancy TV-land!.

I was able to get all requested players you readers asked for on Twitter or Facebook today. So this edition of the Chatterbox includes Dean Evason, Anthony Bitetto, Joonas Rask, Charles-Olivier Roussel, and Miikka Salomaki. Here is what all the guys had to say today.

Dean Evason discusses his preparations for Toronto:


Evason on facing Drew MacIntyre:


Evason on the first round playoff choice of starting at home vs. finishing at home:


Evason breaks down the upcoming special teams battle:


Evason provides an update on Mike Liambas:


Evason discusses the differences between this year and last year’s playoff teams:


Anthony Bitetto on facing the AHL’s top defenseman T.J. Brennan:


Bitetto compares Milwaukee and Toronto’s defense:


Bitetto talks about the playoffs:


Bitetto’s thoughts about starting the series on home ice:


Bitetto and I talk playoff beards:


Joonas Rask’s thoughts on his season:


Rask talks about the North American style game versus the European style:


Rask and I talk about some brother of his:


Charles-Olivier Roussel’s thoughts on facing Toronto:


Roussel assesses his regular season:


Roussel talks about his improvements last season to this season:


Miikka Salomaki speaks about playoff season:


Salomaki on how important Milwaukee fans have been on home ice this season:


Salomaki’s thoughts on his first pro season in North America:


Salomaki jokes about having a great mix of European players on the Admirals:


Comments on the comments? What are you expecting from these opening two playoff games in Milwaukee? Who will need to fill in for Scott Valentine’s role for the playoffs?

Posted in Chatterbox | 3 Comments

Rissling and Noonan Heading to Milwaukee

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The addition of Jaynen Rissling gives the Admirals one more big body defenseman in the ranks. I’m a fan of that. (Photo Credit: Calgary Hitmen/WHL)

This afternoon Jaynen Rissling and Garrett Noonan were signed to entry level contracts with the Nashville Predators. Both signed ATO deals to join the Milwaukee Admirals as well. Rissling’s entry level deal is for three-years and Noonan’s is for two-years.

Rissling was recently traded to the Predators from the Washington Capitals for a seventh round draft pick in the upcoming 2014 NHL Draft. He himself was a seventh rounder of the Caps in the 2012 NHL Draft – so it’s a pretty nice pick up in my book. He just finished his five-year playing career with the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL. In that time he played 273 games, scored 117 points (23 goals, 94 assists), had a plus/minus rating of +28, and 465 penalty minutes.

Noonan perhaps picks up where Kirill Gotovets left off. This 23-year old defenseman was the Predators fourth round selection in the 2011 NHL Draft and recently finished his college playing career at Boston University. In his four-year career with Boston he played in 144 games, produced 81 points (30 goals, 51 assists), had a plus/minus of +18, and recorded 289 penalty minutes.

Both of these d-men add to an already nice crop that we’ve had the chance to watch this season here in Milwaukee: Jonathan Diaby and Mikko Vainonen. I expect these four to compete for roles on the 2014-15 Admirals roster.

Thoughts on the new additions? What do you think our defensive core will look like next season? What players are going to need to give way to the future of the organization?

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The Stanley Cup Playoffs and the Impact on the AHL

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This is former-Admiral Chris Mueller. He has been in the Stars organization this season and, as of last night, played in his first ever Stanley Cup playoff game. (Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

I noticed a very cool sight while binge watching the Stanley Cup playoffs last night. Chris Mueller, long-time member of the Milwaukee Admirals and Nashville Predators, was playing his first ever NHL playoff game last night as a member of the Dallas Stars. It was fantastic to see that for him.

Then I heard another name I’ve heard plenty during this season at the AHL level, Colton Sceviour. Both have played a decent amount of NHL time this season, true, but the majority of their 2013-14 campaigns have been spent at the AHL level with the league’s top team the Texas Stars.

It got me wondering just how thin certain AHL playoff teams might be if their parent clubs are competing in the Stanley Cup playoffs. What players are competing in the Stanley Cup playoffs right now that spent some time at the AHL level this season.

Boston Bruins, NHL. Providence Bruins, AHL.

The Bruins are both in the playoffs so that’s just the sort of example I’m looking at. A man who has found himself out of the AHL and into the thick of the Stanley Cup playoffs is Justin Florek. He played sixty-nine games in the AHL this season and scored 38 points (19 goals, 19 assists). For those who watched the Bruins/Red Wings game on Sunday afternoon you’ll have seen him score a goal. He played four NHL games in the regular season and two games in the Stanley Cup playoffs. He is the Providence Bruins sixth best scorer on the team.

Detroit Red Wings, NHL. Grand Rapids Griffins, AHL.

Can you believe that Gustav Nyquist actually played fifteen games in the AHL this season? Me either. That said, the Red Wings have had plenty of yo-yo action between the NHL and AHL this season. Just look at the following list to see who has made the trip back-and-forth and where they currently stand.

Riley Sheahan (NHL), Jordin Tootoo (AHL), Cory Emmerton (AHL), Tomas Jurco (NHL), Landon Ferraro (AHL), Petr Mrazek (AHL), Luke Glendening (NHL), Alexey Marchenko (AHL), Ryan Sproul (AHL), Adam Almquist (AHL), Teemu Pulkkinen (AHL), Mitch Callahan (AHL), and Xavier Ouellet (AHL).

The bulk of that list consists of their young pool of talent – many of whom won last season’s Calder Cup. Mostly, the AHL team isn’t stretched too thin.

Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL. Syracuse Crunch, AHL.

This one, and the next one for that matter, is easy to diagnose because HEY their AHL affiliate isn’t in the playoffs! There’s a few in that respect in the playoff list here – and the opposite end of that spectrum as well.

Players who were recalled just prior to the Lightning’s playoff run included Cedric PaquetteKristers Gudlevskis, and Andrej Sustr.

Montreal Canadiens, NHL. Hamilton Bulldogs, AHL.

As I said in the last one – the AHL affiliate is not in the playoffs. So, who did the Canadiens bring on up to the Stanley Cup playoffs from Hamilton? None. In fact the last player that was recalled by Montreal who seemed to stick was Michael Bournival on 3/23/14.

Pittsburgh Penguins, NHL. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, AHL.

Similar to the Red Wings and Griffins – there has been plenty of activity up and down this season. As someone who is a Pens fan, sorry about that, I can tell you first hand that injuries sure come in abundance out of Pittsburgh – which lead to this sort of high traffic up, down, and around affair.

Current players that are in the Stanley Cup playoffs, who could well be competing in the Calder Cup playoffs if not for injury issues, are Chris ConnerBrian Gibbons, and Jayson Megna. Players that were added to the AHL roster recently include Simon Despres and Chuck Kobasew.

Columbus Blue Jackets, NHL. Springfield Falcons, AHL.

Both are in the playoffs and two players were recalled ahead of the Stanley Cup playoffs: Wisconsin-native Jack Skille and former-Admiral Jeremy Smith. The last player to be reassigned to the from Columbus was Tim Erixon on 4/11/14.

New York Rangers, NHL. Hartford Wolf Pack, AHL.

The next few teams feature NHL sides who made the playoffs with AHL teams that didn’t. The Rangers recent recalls, ahead of the playoffs, include J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast.

Philadelphia Flyers, NHL. Adirondack Phantoms, AHL.

The only name I see in recent record being recalled by the Flyers is Chris VandeVelde. Yet, I do not see him actually listed on most website’s NHL roster. There wasn’t too much to pull from the Phantoms roster in the first place. So, for all I know, he was instantly told to enjoy his off-season.

Colorado Avalanche, NHL. Lake Erie Monsters, AHL.

When the Monsters’ AHL season ended the Avalanche raided them with recalls: Sami AittokallioKarl StolleryJoey HishonDuncan SiemensColin SmithCalvin Pickard, and Andrew Agozzino. With just how ridiculous their playoff series is getting with Minnesota, who knows, they might need all of them.

Minnesota Wild, NHL. Iowa Wild, AHL.

The only Minnesota recall in April that has really lasted was a move to reinforce the goaltending woes. John Curry was brought up on 4/2/14. No other members from Iowa have been recalled and maintained.

St. Louis Blues, NHL. Chicago Wolves, AHL.

Depending on how long the Blues last – this could be one of the more interesting watches as far as NHL/AHL depth is concerned. The Blues were pretty banged up heading into the playoffs and saw the likes of Ty Rattie getting a call up. For the most part things are stable. The Blues haven’t ransacked their AHL team or anything (dagnabbit) so both are in a decent place as far as their rosters go.

Chicago Blackhawks, NHL. Rockford IceHogs, AHL.

The IceHogs aren’t up to much these days. The Blackhawks certainly are so they decided to recall just about everyone when the AHL season ended.

Adam ClendeningAlex BroadhurstTerry BroadhurstBrad MillsBrandon MashinterBrian ConnellyDrew LeBlancGarret Ross, Mark McNeillMathieu BriseboisPhillip DanaultRyan HartmanKlas Dahlbeck, Mac CarruthJason LaBarbera, and Kent Simpson.

Hey, you never know when you need to change from a Stanley Cup contender to a line-brawl squad right?

Anaheim Ducks, NHL. Norfolk Admirals, AHL.

The Evil Admirals and Ducks are both in playoff mode right now and there were a few moves made at the end of the AHL season: Sami Vatanen (AHL), Mark Fistric (NHL),  John Gibson (AHL), and Emerson Etem (NHL).

Dallas Stars, NHL. Texas Stars, AHL.

The teams that started off my whole idea behind this story. I already mentioned Mueller and Sceviour. Truth is, that’s just about it in regards to who Dallas has pulled from the AHL squad ahead of the playoffs. Sceviour has been up for awhile now -but- think of how much more lethal the Texas Stars would be having him link back up with Travis Morin.

San Jose Sharks, NHL. Worcester Sharks, AHL.

San Jose, in. Worcestershire Sauce, out. That meant very Rockford levels of activity. The San Jose Sharks recalled all of the following players to the NHL at the conclusion of the AHL season.

Dylan DeMeloEriah HayesFreddie HamiltonMatt PelechMirco MuellerTaylor DohertyTravis OleksukTroy GrosenickHarri Sateri, and Matt Tennyson.

Los Angeles Kings, NHL. Manchester Monarchs, AHL.

Both are in the playoffs and, honestly, I feel it is the Monarchs who have a better chance to do playoff damage this season. Perhaps it is just such a reason as to why Andrew Campbell and Linden Vey had such short recalls late in the season.

The Other Guys

In terms of the opposite, there are a decent number of AHL teams that made the playoffs whose parent clubs did not make the playoffs. Yeah, that’s us. So who might be seeing added pieces join the Calder Cup playoffs who spent some time in the NHL this season?

Ottawa Senators, NHL. Binghamton Senators, AHL.

Towards the end of the season the Sens sent the Sens: Mark StoneJean-Gabriel Pageau, and Cody Ceci. It’s also worth noting that they have signed two ATO deals: Vincent Dunn and Chris Driedger.

Winnipeg Jets, NHL. St. John’s IceCaps, AHL.

A mass from Winnipeg was reassigned to St. John’s this month: Ben ChiarotCarl KlingbergEric O’DellMichael HutchinsonPatrice Cormier, and Zach Redmond. They have a combined fifty-six NHL games played this season.

New Jersey Devils, NHL. Albany Devils, AHL.

In April, Albany signed two ATO deals: Graham Black and Ben Johnson. Additionally they received reinforcements from New Jersey: Adam LarssonJon MerrillMike SisloTim Sestito, and Eric Gelinas,

Edmonton Oilers, NHL. Oklahoma City Barons, AHL.

 The Barons received a lot of their players back from the Oilers prior to the final AHL weekend: Oscar KlefbomRoman HorakSteve PinizzottoTyler PitlickWill Acton, and Anton Lander.

Buffalo Sabres, NHL. Rochester Americans, AHL.

The Amerks, as they call themselves very Russian-ly, may have had the most busy transaction feed in the AHL during April. They have seen the returns of Chad RuhwedelAndrey MakarovConnor KnappMark PysykNick Deslauriers, and Rasmus Ristolainen this month.

Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL. Toronto Marlies, AHL.

Did you just creep forward on your seat? Good, because this is the team that we’ll be playing against in the first round of the playoffs. The Maple Leafs reassigned Drew MacIntyrePeter HollandPetter GranbergTrevor Smith, and Jerry D’Amigo at season’s end.

Out of all the players that will make a massive dent – former-Admiral and Marlies number one netminder MacIntyre outta top the list. The Admirals haven’t had the opportunity to play against him this season. And that should make a big difference having him in net for Toronto.

Nashville Predators, NHL. Milwaukee Admirals, AHL.

Finally a team I don’t have to do a full investigation on! With the NHL season winding down the Admirals, that’s us, saw the return of Colton Sissons and Calle Jarnkrok. The two combined for twenty-nine NHL games in Nashville this season.

Calgary Flames, NHL. Abbotsford Heat, AHL.

The Heat added three players on an ATO basis at season’s end: Coda GordonDoug Carr, and Eric Roy. They also added Ryan Culkin - who was recently signed by the Calgary Flames to a three-year entry level contract. In addition, the Flames sent them Ben HanowskiChad BillinsChris Breen, and Markus Granlund.

What teams are being impacted the most from one-another’s playoffs? Who is benefiting? Who is hurting? What is the single biggest addition that can make a serious difference?

Posted in News | 4 Comments

2013-14 Milwaukee Admirals: Regular Season Grades

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Many players have made the walk out of the Milwaukee Admirals locker room and onto the BMO Harris Bradley Center ice this season. Which have shined the brightest in 2013-14? (Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

Now that the playoff season is approaching – it’s time to reflect on everyone’s performance from the 2013-14 season. The grading system is all conjured up from my mind. No fancy calculations, or anything special, just my own personal thoughts and opinions – to which I would be excited to hear all of your own in the comments section, on Twitter, or on our new fancy Facebook page.

Also, I feel that those who have played in less than twenty games this season should be given an incomplete grade. I don’t think it would be right to grade their body of work to those who have played more games than that.

This will cover everyone who wore an Admirals jersey this season. Let’s dive right in.

Hannu Toivonen
Grade, Incomplete

Hannu Toivonen joined during the midst of our own goalie injury woes. Nashville had problems of their own this season but, in Janurary, the Admirals lost both Scott Darling amd Magnus Hellberg in rapid succession.

Toivonen didn’t have to do much. What he did, while playing his role as a stopgap, was decent. He played in four games, picked up a win, had a 2.50 goals against average, and a 0.909 save percentage.

Admittedly, I feel his highlight/lowlight probably came the moment after he was released from his PTO with the Admirals. He played opposite Pekka Rinne and allowed 8 goals against his former team on 2/28/14 as a member of the Iowa Wild. Might not have been a great night for him or the Wild – but we sure loved every moment of it.

Anthony Bitetto
Grade: B

This has been a real breakout season for the 23-year old New Yorker. Anthony Bitetto played in seventy-three regular season games with the Admirals and scored 36 points (11 goals, 25 assists). Sadly, his really hot start to the season seemed to dip at the change of the calendar. He only scored two goals in 2014 despite scoring nine goals, six of which came from the power-play, in 2013. It may have been a dip but he still finished off this year as the Admirals top scoring defensemen.

Bitetto might still be a work in progress as far as his defensive is concerned. He has a plus/minus rating of -14. His speed and strength still make up for some of those glitches to his game. And those attributes still bode very well for further improvement.

He made a massive commitment last off-season to get in great shape and earn his place in Milwaukee after a year that he saw some action in the ECHL. I am excited to see where his upcoming off-season takes him – because he certainly has the work ethic to take more leaps forward.

Jonathan Diaby
Grade: Incomplete

The Predators third rounder in the 2013 NHL Draft joined the Admirals late this season. Jonathan Diaby entered after his junior playing time for the Victoriaville Tigres of the QMJHL were eliminated from the playoffs. He played in four games with the Admirals and, depending on summer moves, will more than likely start his season here in the AHL for the 2014-15 season.

Diaby is a mountain of a man – standing 6’5” at the age of 19-years old with room to fill out his already powerful frame. With how big he is I was very impressed by how well he could move around on the ice. He was far more mobile than I expected him to be and could skate very well. I think he should be a fun defenseman to watch develop in the coming years.

Scott Ford
Grade: B

What can be said of the Sheriff that isn’t already public knowledge with Admirals fans at this point? Scott Ford is a leader through and through. He isn’t known much for his scoring prowess, 6 points (3 goals, 3 assists), but more-so for being a stay at home defenseman. With the puck movers the Admirals have featured this season his veteran defensive touch has been a boost. One better, having him from start to finish this season -knowing the locker room leader that he is- has impacted this team far more than any statistical chart could ever tell you.

Ford broke his foot back in December. He was supposed to miss four to six weeks worth of games. He was back four games after the injury citing it felt better in a stiff boot than it did in a shoe – so why not play? That’s the work tone he establishes. And it becomes a major factor at this time of the season.

Teddy Ruth
Grade: Incomplete

I don’t know which is more sad. The fact that Teddy Ruth retired from the game of hockey at the age of 24-years old or that he will probably only ever be known as that one guy traded for Sergei Fedorov.

Ruth played in six games with the Admirals this season. He didn’t do anything spectacular – either positive or negative. Which is why, when it all boils down, you can see why the team chose to stick with Charles-Olivier Roussel over him. I wonder if just such a factor was enough for him to call it quits.

Michael Young
Grade: Incomplete

While most really never had the chance to see this 25-year old defenseman – I had the chance to see him at practice the first day he joined on an ATO.

Michael Young looked quick, was a smooth skater, had good hands, went to the final round of a team shootout drill with Francis Wathier, and wasn’t too bad at keeping the play in front of him on game-situation style drills.

Young made his professional debut as a member of the Admirals against the Toronto Marlies. He was injured very early in that road game. And that’s all we ever ended up seeing from him.

Joe Piskula
Grade: A-

Joe Piskula has been nothing short of brilliant for the Admirals defensive core this season. Similar to Scott Ford – he has never exactly been known for his offensive abilities. More than anything it is his calming defensive presence that comes to mind.

Piskula’s season ended with seventy-three games played, 23 points (3 goals, 20 assists), and a plus/minus of +20. He did so well at the start of the season that the Nashville Predators decided he was the man they wanted up for a two-game period. It was his first NHL action since the 2011-12 season while playing with the Calgary Flames.

I think that Big Joe from Antigo can fly under the radar for some people. It’s never flashy from him. It’s just smooth. I’ve been really impressed with all the work that I’ve seen from him this season. For such a role on the team, surrounded by a group of young defensemen, I feel Piskula showed many the example of how it should be done this year.

Filip Forsberg
Grade: B+

The man that has everyone frothing at the mouth in Nashville has spent the majority of his 2013-14 season here in Milwaukee. Filip Forsberg had some playing time with the Predators – thirteen games. He captained Sweden in Sweden to a silver medal at this year’s World Juniors. For those that need reminding – he is still only 19-years old – and there is still plenty to be learned.

For those still frothing – good news! I think that Forsberg has been one of the most improved players, start of the season to the end of the season, on the entire team.

At the start of this season there were some occasions that reminded me heavily of Alex Ovechkin’s defensive work rate: sitting in space, looking distracted, and waiting for the offense to start itself up. As games picked up so did his ability to work hard defensively. He became more and more involved – more and more efficient – and more and more trusted with his presence on defense. To see him evolve from Ovechkin levels of frustration to a trusted penalty killer this season has been a far bigger delight than his end season scoring total of 34 points (15 goals, 19 assists).

I expect him to hit Nashville camp in the summer and pre-season with a new found confidence in all areas of the game. At day’s end that is precisely why he needed this season in Milwaukee – and he has delivered.

Patrick Cehlin
Grade: B-

“The Curious Case of Cehlin” continued this season. In the first half of the season he looked off and, on some occasions, in over his head. Then he missed two solid months of game action due to a concussion. He has been outstanding ever since: 19 points (4 goals, 15 assists) in thirty games.

The question, beyond health issues that have shown up the last two seasons, is just what sort of player do you get with Patrick Cehlin? As was the case this season, first half or second half? Should he deliver a full-season of work to the tune of his 2014 run with the Admirals there is something to be rather excited about from him. He is quick, smart, creative, and has really minimized mistakes over the course of a season. Plus he facepunched Jon Blum – something everyone in the organization can admire! There are plenty of things to like about Cehlin. I think we all just want to see it done consistently for a full-season.

Paul Crowder
Grade: Incomplete

The man with the longest neck on the team, guessing, spent four games with the Admirals this season and scored no points. Last season he played one extra game than this year and picked up two assists.

The 29-year old is a fixture of the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL mainly. He had a really great year for them in 2013-14 actually: he played in sixty-four games, scored 48 points (16 goals, 32 assists), had a plus/minus rating of +7, and 46 penalty minutes. That’s all well and good but it wasn’t done right here in the AHL – nor would I have expected it to.

Mikko Vainonen
Grade: Incomplete

The 20-year old Finn joined the Admirals after his junior playing time with the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL came to an end. Nashville’s fourth rounder of the 2012 NHL Draft made his professional debut with the Ads and played in two games. He looks calm and confident from the time I’ve seen him playing and practicing with the team. I expect to see much more from him in the next few years.

Joe Pendenza
Grade: Incomplete

One of the members of this season’s “ATO” gang – he joined the Admirals out of a successful college playing career at UMass-Lowell. He made his professional debut and played five games this season. He played with great energy, was a very fast skater, and could do plenty of creative things in all three zones of the ice.

I’m not sure where his future will be, if he stays or goes, but I can easily see him sticking around the AHL level at the start of the 2014-15 season beyond our organization.

Kevin Henderson
Grade: D+

I would hate to use the term disappointing to describe Kevin Henderson’s 2013-14 season. Instead, I would prefer to describe his 2012-13 as miraculous.

A lot of weight was put on his performance last season: scoring 29 points (17 goals, 12 assists), getting an NHL call up, and scoring his first career NHL goal. The expectation was for more of the same or quite possibly another improvement.

The truth is that Henderson is your typical grinding lower-line winger that has a better sense for defense than he does offense. Last season he blurred the lines between where his strengths were: offense or defense. That meant lofty expectations this season to keep the hammer down. I would have been shocked to see him repeat that level of play up this season. Sadly, I’m surprised he wasn’t even able to deliver to the tune that he did in years past.

He was loaned to the Texas Stars and has fared well with their high-powered squad. Would he have been able to fit in and done as much with the Admirals the rest of the regular season? I’m not all that sure that he would have – and I doubt that the Admirals would have been as strong as they were with him as they are with Francis Wathier.

Braden Pimm
Grade: Incomplete

Braden Pimm is the man with all the connections. He attended Northeastern with Anthony Bitetto and Vinny Saponari. Pimm grew up in Fort St. John, British Columbia just like Scott Ford – whose hockey camps he would attend and help instruct. It’s not so much these great ties to the team that surprised me, which they do, but his incredibly smooth playing style.

Of all the additions to the team on an ATO basis Pimm played the most amount of games out of the bunch: nine games. I feel as if the reason for that is his attention to detail and mistake free style of hockey. It lends itself well to playing lower-line defensive hockey.

Were he to stick around for longer than this year you would only hope to see him elevate his offensive game. He joined the Admirals after his most productive college season at Northeaster where he scored 37 points (20 goals, 17 assists) in thirty-seven games. Playing mistake free and safe versus playing in attack with aggression are a fine line job but it is something he’ll need to push should he play AHL hockey versus ECHL hockey next season. Whether or not that is with our organization will be an off-season question mark as well.

Mathieu Tousignant
Grade: B+

Who would have thought at the start of the season just how impactful the chirp-o-matic Mathieu Tousignant would be? It isn’t necessarily scoring with him: 21 points (8 goals, 13 assists). It isn’t about his willingness to drop the gloves: 14 fights this season and, possibly, zero wins. What it is about Tousignant that makes him so impactful is that he works, works, and works.

He is a center that can bring so much to the table: speed, strength on forechecks, keen eye for defense, getting to the dirty areas, talking, more talking, talking in French, and talking some more. With all the flash that the upper lines can deliver – Tousignant has allowed for good two-way play all season long on the bottom lines of the Admirals. He has allowed balance in that respect. And he is the sort of player who perfectly sums up the Pesky Ads nature that we all know and love.

Mike Liambas
Grade: B-

Mike Liambas is the Milwaukee Admirals top enforcer. He fights people – lots of people. He broke Jordin Tootoo’s 2004-05 Milwaukee Admirals AHL record for penalty minutes in a season.

Now here are my other favorite things about Liambas’ 2013-14 season. He works so incredibly hard on the small details of the game. He is so much more than some knuckle dragging thug looking for a fight. This season, with plenty of teaching from coaches and teammates, he has taken a step away from that side of the game to focus on the rest of it. And it shows.

The Mike Liambas we saw join the team last year versus this year are two completely different people. Last season it was more about the physical elements of the game: fighting, checking, and big hits. This season he played very measured, structured, and sound two-way hockey for the team. The offensive numbers may not back that up, 8 points (3 goals, 5 assists), but time and time again the line combination of him with Mathieu Tousignant and Joonas Rask found themselves in the offensive zone or starting games. It was about the tone that they set for the rest of the game. They worked and worked hard – shift after shift.

I’ve loved seeing the evolution of Liambas’ game this season. We all know what his fists can do and how big his heart is when it comes to being loyal to his teammates. What I hope doesn’t go unnoticed is just how well he has performed beyond those attributes this season.

Colton Sissons
Grade: A

From the opening games of the season, to his selection on the AHL All Star roster that would face Färjestad BK, to his first NHL call up, first NHL goal, and return in time for the playoffs – what is there to not like about Colton Sissons’ first professional playing season?

It seems like nothing really phases Sissons. He has a maturity level for his age that is astonishing. It’s hard to watch him play, speak to him, and then remind yourself that he is 20-years old. He never makes the flashy play but he always seems to make the intelligent and correct play that needed to be made.

In some ways I find him to be the opposite of Filip Forsberg. One is very flashy, skilled, and flamboyant. The other is very mechanical, simplistic, and refined. Both need to learn what the other possesses. And Sissons has the stuff coaches have the hardest time teaching players – maturity. We’ve seen plenty of great things from him this season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him maintain NHL playing time next season.

Calle Jarknrok
Grade: A

I know, I know. Calle Jarnkrok was only with us for six games. Should he really get a grade? Well, having played fifty-seven games with the Grand Rapids Griffins prior to being traded – yes.

In every single game Jarnkrok has played with the Admirals this season he scored a point: 9 points (5 goals, 4 assists). He nearly carried that same level of performance into his first career NHL call up: 9 points (2 goals, 7 assists) in twelve games with the Nashville Predators.

I’m not even expecting to see him again whenever the Admirals finish up this year’s playoffs. He is an NHL caliber center that plays with speed: physically and mentally. He just seems to process the game quicker than most. He makes his linemates around him better because of his mind for the game. Some could point at his size and say he needs to beef up to take the punishment of an NHL season. I point to his age, 21-years old, with glee. David Poile may have traded away the team’s first ever draft pick – but he replaced him with someone who can prove to be just as special to the Nashville Predators.

Miikka Salomaki
Grade: A

If there were one player from the Admirals this season who probably deserved an NHL call up but didn’t get one – it was Miikka Salomaki. In his first season of professional hockey in North America he finished as the team’s top scorer with 50 points (20 goals, 30 assists) while playing all but one game of the Admirals entire regular season.

There might not be a better example of the word “relentless” than Salomaki. He never takes a shift off – ever. He finishes his checks. He races to compete on the backcheck just as hard and aggressively as he would to join an odd-man rush. Best of all, he has performed this way consistently throughout the entire season. There really has never been a dip in his compete level. He has been a blast to watch play this season. Were he to get games in the NHL next season – it would be because of all of the reasons above. Relentless.

Simon Moser
Grade: B-

The Swiss Olympian was highly rated out of Nashville’s pre-season camp. In fact, Simon Moser was one of the final names cut at the end of the pre-season. He plays strong two-way hockey and really appeared to get more comfortable as the season went along. His performance in the Olympics was incredibly fun to watch – so active in all areas of the ice for his Team Switzerland. Then he earned an NHL call up and scored his first career NHL goal.

It was very unfortunate that a rowdy bunch from Rockford injured him after his return to the Admirals following a successful run for himself. Moser missed one month due to a left shoulder injury but has healed up just in time for the playoffs. He seems to be back physically but, since returning, has only scored an assist. He could still be working out the kinks skating forward but I feel his best asset to the wing position is his polished defensive game. To me, his defensive skill set is his bread and butter. It can be a boost for the playoffs ahead – and the Predators in the near future.

Scott Valentine
Grade: C+

There are a few players that seem to be in the grey with me: Bryan Rodney, Patrick Cehlin, and -every now and then- Marek Mazanec. They are the type of players that you just don’t know what kind of game they’ll deliver. Good? Bad? Both? I think Scott Valentine fits right into this group as well.

What I like about him is his physicality and grit on defense. He checks people hard and plays very well along the boards. His defensive pairing with Ford is one of the better “pure defense” lines that the Admirals can roll out. Then there will be circumstances that seem as if he tries to break that defensive mold and gets caught out for doing too much: turnovers at the blueline or, worse, right in front of his own net.

I still ponder how Valentine would fair at the wing spot rather than defense. While he certainly isn’t a buzz kill by any means in defense – I think his abilities really shine brighter whenever he finds himself filling in on the wing. Think Mike Liambas but with a little more agility and a stronger shot. That could easily be him and, with time, perhaps more.

With all the defensemen coming down the pipeline I don’t know where his future is with the team. It seems like his natural replacements would be Vainonen or Diaby. If he were to stick around I question whether we’ve not already witnessed his ceiling as opposed to those names.

Kirill Gotovets
Grade: Incomplete

Kirill Gotovets is the only player this season who I had to personally ask how he says his name. Poor guy. Just as well, he is someone who I’m still not certain who owns his playing rights. He was drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2009. He was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks at the end of the 2012-13 season. And then joined the Admirals after requesting the Blackhawks organization to allow him to play elsewhere. Perhaps you guys know that ordeal better than me!

What I saw out of the Belarus Kid – I liked. He could move around real well. Appeared to have a nice shot and could make crisp passes. I saw him play his one and only game with the Admirals, his first ever as a pro, and a few practices. At 5’11” he was the shortest d-man the Admirals fielded this season. Add that in the memory bank with the skill set and I think of him as Ryan Ellis Lite. Take that as you will.

Zach Budish
Grade: D+

Selected in the second round of the 2009 NHL Draft by the Predators – this was Zach Budish’s first full-season of professional hockey. He joined late last season and played nine games while scoring 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists). This year he played in forty-one games with the Admirals and scored 9 points (3 goals, 6 assists). He mainly played on the fourth line – with an occasional leap to the third line. He played fairly defensively as a forward and never did too many things that leapt out at me. I may not have been alone in that feeling. He spent sixteen games in the ECHL with the Cincinnati Cyclones where he tallied 9 points (3 goals, 6 assists).

I feel as if the mold of player Budish could and should aspire to play like is Simon Moser. Both are big, strong, and defensive minded wingers. The difference between them, away from quality and effectiveness, is the offensive nature to Moser’s game to add to his defensive skills. Budish is a player who has a track record of injuries from his earlier playing days. If there was a true positive this season it was that he didn’t have a set back and has something to build on next season. I, for one, would really like to see that happen.

Josh Shalla
Grade: D

ECHL versus AHL performance. That is the eye twitch inducing issue with Josh Shalla the last two seasons. 2012-13: ECHL, 37 games, 28 points (21 goals, 7 assists)… AHL, 32 games, 12 points (3 goals, 9 assists)… 2013-14: ECHL, 29 games, 30 points (14 goals, 16 assists)… AHL, 26 games, 4 points (2 goals, 2 assists).

The scoring talent and eye for goal is there. It just isn’t there in Milwaukee. I’m not sure if that’s a matter of playing on a lower-line, being asked to perform a different role, or a lack of consistent playing time. The numbers in Cincinnati the last two seasons don’t lie, though. He can produce. I just want to see that ability to turn up when he gets his chances to play as a member of the Admirals in the AHL.

Mark Van Guilder
Grade: B+

I don’t think there was a better story this season than when Mark Van Guilder finally received an NHL call up and played his first career NHL game at the young age of 29. Like Ford, everyone knows just what Van Guilder brings to the table. He can play every aspect of the game. He is fantastic on the penalty kill. His work on faceoffs can make big differences in games. He does it all.

He may have regressed statistically last year to this year but I don’t pin that down to him. His effort this season has been as strong as it always is for the Admirals. And his guidance and leadership for a player like Colton Sissons, and undoubtedly more, do wonders for this team and the future of the big team in Nashville.

Marek Mazanec
Grade: B

At the start of the season, on media day, Scott Ford told me that Marek Mazanec would push Magnus Hellberg hard this season. I laughed at that. And I think I stopped laughing somewhere around his opening five-game winning streak with the Admirals. He would go on to replace Hellberg’s brief stint in Nashville, win the NHL’s Rookie of the Month award in November, and continued his success at the NHL level for quite a few games after that.

When he returned to Milwaukee, primary assist to Devan Dubnyk, Mazanec was the work horse for the team. Hellberg and Darling were both injured. It had to be Mazanec or it had to be Hannu Toivonen. Who would you pick? I actually think it was this highly taxing stretch of the season that wore Mazanec down for a good chunk of games. You almost forget his track record. This is his first North American season. Before this year the most games he had ever played in one season was twenty-one games in 2012-13 for Plzen HC. This season, taking the new territory of the North American game as well, he has played a combined fifty-six games between the NHL and AHL. That is a staggering increase in work load.

Fortunate for him and the Admirals – I feel as if he found a second wind entering the playoffs. He finished the season off with a CCM/AHL Player of the Week award and four-straight wins where he has only allowed 1.00 goals against average with a 0.965 save percentage. Wouldn’t you know it. Another quality European goalie in the system.

Bryan Rodney
Grade: B

I like to call Bryan Rodney the Thunderdome. People don’t really like him much and he can provide fans plenty of ammunition to back those feelings up. While he can be a mess on defense at times, can make blunders holding the point, or creating turnovers in the neutral zone that lead to breakaways… he is the Admirals second best d-man in the scoring department: 34 points (5 goals, 29 assists). He actually finished third on the entire team in assists.

There is some good. There is some bad. There is even some ugly. And that’s why I call him the Thunderdome.

Pekka Rinne
Grade: Incomplete

I think this kid has a bright future. Pekka Rinne may have only played for two games in net this season for the Admirals but he won them both.

I can’t even keep up that up for a joke. We know who Rinne is, where he belongs, and how incredible he is. It may have been a conditioning assignment for him but it also seemed to massively propel the Admirals season. Including the games that he featured in the team went 16-5-0-1 (33 points) in twenty-two games. The team was in a five-game winless skid prior to Rinne joining. Perhaps we needed him to get our bearings just as much as he needed us to get his.

Joonas Jarvinen
Grade: B+

When people ask me what I want most from a defensemen I tend to say, very bluntly, defense. Offensive flair, speed, goals, and a creative touch with passing are great skills to have. At day’s end though a defensemen has to hold his own zone first. I don’t think there is a better defensive defensemen on the entire Admirals team than Joonas Jarvinen.

This is his second season in North America. Injuries may have taken him out of the lineup for a chunk of the season but whenever he played the team just seemed to play more responsible hockey. I would like to think we see another step forward from Jarvinen next season.

Scott Darling
Grade: A

Don’t let that regular season finale change your mind. Scott Darling has had an unbelievable season with the Admirals. If he had the games and minutes to qualify he would have the AHL’s best goals against average (2.00), best save percentage (0.933), and probably would have passed Jake Allen for most shutouts this season. Allen played in fifty-two games and recorded the league high seven-shutouts. Darling played in exactly half the games and earned six-shutouts. It has been a ridiculous season for Darling.

Taylor Beck
Grade: A-

Taylor Beck has been extremely consistent this season for the Admirals. The team can count on him to provide his skills on the power-play, penalty kill, even strength, and -a few times- to double up on forward lines when the team needs a spark.

While Nashville fans might ask when a serious ETA for him would be in regard to playing and staying in the NHL – I just think he needs the chance to really sink his teeth into a two-way third line role and get in a groove at that level. He is well versed to play in all three areas of the ice. He might make a lapse here and there with an extra pass but, with a team best 32 assists, you can tell why he thinks about the set up rather than the trigger.

I feel like Beck has been NHL ready this entire season. He’s played to that standard all season and I wouldn’t expect that to change moving into 2014-15.

Magnus Hellberg
Grade: C-

If there is one player who I truly felt the worst for this season it is Magnus Hellberg. His numbers aren’t too bad but the win/loss record is what matters the most at days end – not the save percentage.

He was injured the first day of Nashville’s pre-season camp where he hoped to follow up his incredible rookie season with the Admirals with a back-up gig to Pekka Rinne. That went away. Then he was recalled in the wake of the Rinne news, was swapped out for Marek Mazanec, and then seemingly outplayed by Scott Darling in December.

His injury in January proved to be a real low point. Just when a window opened for him to really start games on a consistent basis, due to a practice injury that would sideline Darling for a month, Hellberg was injured in the first game of a road trip that he seemed destined to start each and every game. He never played with the Admirals again the rest of the season.

While he was able to get some games back under his belt with the Cincinnati Cyclones in the ECHL there is still no hiding from it. This season is one to forget for Hellberg.

Francis Wathier
Grade: B-

Similar to Calle Jarnkrok, we’ve only had Francis Wathier for a little amount of time in the grand scheme of things. He played in forty-eight games with the Texas Stars and then seventeen games with the Admirals. Small sample, but he has added a great presence to the team that they didn’t have before. In my eyes Wathier is a veteran bulldozer at the forward spot. He can play center or wing and has fared well at both positions since his move out of the Stars system.

When we acquired him on loan, nearly like a trade in the way we loaned the Stars Kevin Henderson, a lot of you readers made a comparison to him being like Brad Winchester to our roster last season. It’s a nice comparison, too. Veteran leadership. Calm demeanor on and off the ice. Strong on the wall and on defense. He’s the sort of player that you just want on your team specifically for the playoffs. We may not have seen his best games in an Admirals sweater just yet.

Austin Watson
Grade: B+

It has been an impressive sophomore season for Austin Watson. At the start he seemed to be missing a gear but really gathered himself and finished this season on fire.

I think a lot can be said about how he handled the move from center to wing. With Sissons jumping him on the Nashville totem pole and then the acquisition of Jarnkrok – he needed the move to the outside for more than just a spark to his game in Milwaukee. Since his move to the wing in March he scored 16 points (8 goals, 8 assists) in twenty-one games.

I’m hoping this sort of move becomes permanent from him. His defense is great, probably the team’s top penalty killing forward, but allowing him the freedom of movement on the wing really added something dynamic to his offensive game. He scored two more goals and seven more assists than he did last season. There is an extra dimension that just opened up for Watson and I think Nashville should take notice of him as a winger.

Charles-Olivier Roussel
Grade: B-

Charles-Olivier Roussel’s work rate was so impressive this season that he took Teddy Ruth’s job and often forced head coach Dean Evason to include him in games and dress seven defensemen. He played sixty-six games and scored 17 points (4 goals, 13 assists). His all-around game really took a massive step forward. To think he spent the bulk of last season in the ECHL and worked his way consistently into games for the Admirals. It says more than I can as to the level of play he has shown this year.

Vinny Saponari
Grade: B+

Vinny Saponari started this season off with fourteen games in the ECHL. He joined the Admirals in late-November and never looked back. He scored 33 points (15 goals, 18 assists) in fifty-eight games in the AHL. He has plenty of tricks up his sleeve on offense, toe-drag specialist, and backed up that scoring with a plus/minus of +11.

It has been a fantastic story seeing Saponari come out of practically nowhere to be one of the Admirals top scoring forwards. I would really like seeing him stick around just so I can see if his game can continue to excel.

Joonas Rask
Grade: C+

The far more famous and successful member of the Rask family joined late last season after his time with Jokerit came to an end. In his one and only game with the Admirals in 2012-13 he scored a goal and an assist before getting two games with the Nashville Predators – where he scored his first career NHL point – an assist.

I caution people who look at Joonas Rask’s speed and stickhandling and instantly think offense and turn them to his ability at the other end of the ice. His speed and active stick work really make it frustrating to play against. He can disrupt a pass on one side of the ice and have the lightning speed to turn defense into offense instantly.

That offense might not be all that there yet, 14 points (4 goals, 10 assists) in fifty-eight games, but he does have the tools to do damage with some time and guidance. He doesn’t deliver the boom like his fellow Finn Miikka Salomaki. He doesn’t have the offensive upside like a Filip Forsberg. But, all in all, he has a lot of talent that I could still see as impactful at the NHL level. His speed and defensive maturity are a good foundation to build on. He just needs to take the next step that sees him become a bit more threatening on offense.

Agree? Disagree? Please feel free to provide your own grades, thoughts, or opinions below in the comments!

Posted in Feature, News | 7 Comments

A Very Roundtable Easter

BL-Sissons-1

Remember that one time when there were like teddies and hats raining from every which way? That was awesome. (Photo Credit: Sara Stathas)

Happy Easter Sunday, everyone! Hope all of you have been doing very well and can kick back and enjoy yourself today.

I am working on a few stories for the start of the work week. I have my 2013-14 Regular Season Player Grades, a feature story on Taylor Beck, an Admirals story for our friends at Smashville 24/7 that will turn up on Monday, and I’m sure I will venture to a practice or two ahead of the Admirals home playoff games this coming weekend.

What’s that? You didn’t know the games were already scheduled? Fear not. I gotcha:

Friday, Apr. 25 vs. Toronto: 7:00 pm CST
Saturday, Apr. 26 vs. Toronto: 7:00 pm CST
Thursday, May 1 @ Toronto: 6:00 pm CST
Saturday, May 3 @ Toronto: 2:00 pm CST
Sunday, May 4 @ Toronto: 2:00 pm CST

The opening round is of course split as such: two games – three games. It is up to the top seeded team to determine whether they would like to start at home for two games or finish the best-of-five at home for three games. Typically, quite possibly every time, the top seed chooses the final three. That’s was announced as the case last night. Games in Milwaukee on Friday and Saturday. Games in Toronto next week Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. The final two games are, of course, if necessary.

What I would like to ask you all for a “Question of the Day” is what do you feel was the best of the best this season? What was the best goal, play, game, moment, or story that you think came up during the Admirals 2013-14 season?

For me, there are plenty of things that come to mind: Scott Darling or Vinny Saponari’s surprise performances this season, Colton Sissons and Miikka Salomaki’s fantastic rookie campaigns, Mark Van Guilder’s first career NHL call up and game, and much much more.

Posted in News | 5 Comments

Wolves Shutout Admirals 6-0, Playoff Picture Set

(Photo Credit: Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune)

The AHL’s top goalie has delivered the goods against the Milwaukee Admirals all season long. Jake Allen’s seventh shutout wasn’t even the true bright spot for the Chicago Wolves in their 6-0 win tonight in Rosemont. (Photo Credit: Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune)

The Admirals were shutout 6-0 by Jake Allen and the Chicago Wolves Saturday night in Rosemont. The Admirals sat out a few of their top players for this game, held things together through the first period, and were promptly throttled the rest of the night by the Amtrak Rivals.

“That’s obviously not the way we wanted to end [the regular season] with the outcome today,” said assistant coach Stan Drulia following the game on 1250 Sports Radio WSSP. “But, we’ve had a really good finish here. The guys are playing really good hockey. The regular season is now behind us and we have to move forward.”

In the first period the Wolves came out with speed. They had their chances, outshooting the Admirals 17-6 in the opening frame, but goaltender Scott Darling made some incredible saves to keep things scoreless through the first period. You can consider that, all things considered, as a small victory for the Admirals – who sat out some top players in tonight’s contest.

The Wolves eventually got their reward from a shorthanded goal. A poor exchange between Anthony Bitetto and Taylor Beck in neutral ice led to a Sebastian Wannstrom breakaway. The Swede went backhand-forehand and managed to reach around the outstretched body of Darling for his fifth goal of the season. That was the Wolves twelfth shorthanded goal of the season and the thirteenth shorty that the Admirals have allowed all season.

Ty Rattie continued his impressive rookie campaign by reaching the thirty-goal plateau. Admirals d-man Jonathan Diaby had a puck knuckle up on him in the attacking blue line. Rattie poked it free and was off to the races with Charles-Oliver Roussel in pursuit. Rattie stayed to the right wing and fired to the short-side to beat Darling. Rattie becomes the first member of the Wolves to hit thirty goals since Mark Mancari did it in the 2011-12 season.

Rattie wasn’t done there. A great transition by the Wolves led to a one-two played about between Christian Hanson and the stellar rookie. When Hanson’s pass reached the tape of Rattie – there wasn’t much space between himself and Darling but still found a move to beat him five hole for his second goal of the game and thirty-first of the season.

In the third period the bounces just kept falling right for the Wolves. Roussel’s attempted clearing attempt fell to Eric Selleck. The moment that puck appeared in front of him he was letting a shot loose. That rapid choice to fire surprised Darling and a puck went sailing past his mask and in for Selleck’s fifth goal of the season.

The rout continued when Shane Harper picked the pocket of Joonas Rask on the backcheck. His lead pass to the center-lane drive of Michael Davies was pinpoint. All Davies had to do was flip it up and over the big frame of Darling, which he did, for his thirteenth goal of the season.

With Scott Ford just exiting the box following a successful Admirals penalty kill – Selleck scored his sixth goal of the season and second of the game. The initial point shot by Jani Hakanpaa was kicked out by Darling right to the net front presence of Selleck. The net was open, Darling couldn’t recover, and it became a massive 6-0 scoreline for the Wolves.

The game would end there and meant that Jake Allen, this year’s Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award winner as the league’s most outstanding goaltender, took the lead for shutouts this season with seven. Entering tonight’s game he was tied with Darling at six-shutouts. Allen may not have needed to do too much tonight but he stopped all twenty shots he faced tonight. His performances against the Admirals this season have just been lethal.

The win for the Wolves, paired with a shootout loss by the Griffins, meant that the Amtrak Rivals won the Midwest Division tonight. Grand Rapids led the division for 167-days until tonight’s decisive switch in the standings.

The loss by the Admirals meant their streak of consecutive forty-win seasons ended at ten-straight. The loss also meant they will be the sixth seed in the Western Conference standings and are going to play against the Toronto Marlies in the first round of the playoffs. The first two games will be played in Milwaukee on Friday and Saturday.

“We’ve been preparing the last week for three teams that we thought we could possibly play,” said Drulia. “Now we have it narrowed down. We know exactly what’s going on. We know what our schedule is. There is no easy match up. But we’re excited. We are really looking forward to it. I thought our young guys and our group have come a long way this year. They’ve played all seventy-six games to get this opportunity to get to the playoffs. We’re excited about that.”

Ramblings: After rolling out the expected playoff line combinations last night we saw a different look tonight in Chicago: Beck-Sissons-Moser, Wathier-Van Guilder-Watson, Salomaki-Tousignant-Saponari, Pimm-Pendenza-Rask, Bitetto-Piskula, Vainonen-Ford, Diaby-Roussel. That meant no Forsberg, Jarnkrok, Cehlin, Liambas, Jarvinen, Rodney, or Valentine tonight.

Does this loss concern you? Would the result have been different with the Swedes and top defensemen playing? What are your expectations for an opening round playoff match-up against Toronto?

Posted in Game Recaps | 3 Comments

Regular Season Home Finale In Pictures

Rather than do a “Scouting the Enemy” on the Chicago Wolves, something we have done a fair bit this month, I want to give a shout out to Milwaukee Admirals lead photographer Scott Paulus. There are typically a few good photos for me to choose from for my game recaps and other stories that follow. Last night? Every photo he took was stunning.

This post is for you readers, who can get a new Admirals desktop in time for the playoffs, and for Mr. Paulus – who is just great.

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What do you anticipate from tonight’s game? Can the Admirals top the Wolves in Chicago? Is the five-game winning streak going to extend itself into the playoffs?

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The Chatterbox, Vol. 32

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The Milwaukee Admirals hit center ice and salute the crowd following their 5-1 victory over the Charlotte Checkers Friday night. (Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

My title from yesterday’s game story was “The Power of Power.” What was I referring to? Well, the almighty words of Jeremy Clarkson of course. POWER! … I digress. Actually, the Admirals last night went full-strength with their playoff arsenal of forwards and simply blew the Charlotte Checkers to smithereens.

The Checkers were in full playoff survival mode last night. They entered the game as the ninth seed of the Western Conference needing to win out their season, and get some luck, to stand a chance of passing the Oklahoma City Barons for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Checkers were in last night’s game for about the first three minutes or so. Then the Admirals tilted the ice, rolled the freight train of four talented forward lines, and grinded the Checkers playoff hopes to nothingness. You would never have known, having watched that game start to finish, that the Checkers were the ones playing desperately for their spot in the playoffs.

The Admirals have now won five-straight games. In eight April games they have only lost once. Players returned from Nashville, from injury, and have all been crafted into the lineup with time to knock off the rust and become a well oiled machine as the playoffs arrive this coming week.

There is so much to be excited about with this Admirals team right now. Need some sort of proof? Last night the Admirals had nothing to play for and their opponent was in a must win scenario. It looked systematic for the Admirals in their 5-1 victory over the Checkers. Imagine how the Admirals can play when they are the ones in the must win scenario that is playoff hockey.

After the game I had the opportunity to speak with Dean Evason, Anthony Bitetto, Taylor Beck, and Joonas Jarvinen. Here is what everyone was talking about following the regular season home finale.

Dean Evason speaks about the Admirals success on home ice:


Evason on how Marek Mazanec has improved of late:


Evason’s thoughts of having four solid forward lines to call upon:


Evason’s impressions of Taylor Beck’s goal and more:


Anthony Bitetto on scoring his second goal of 2014:


Bitetto’s thoughts about the Admirals:


Bitetto talks about the team’s depth:


Bitetto’s thoughts in regard to scoreboard watching:


Taylor Beck on his highlight reel goal:


Beck’s thoughts about how well the team has played at home this season:


Beck speaks about the team playing its strongest hockey at the right time:


Joonas Jarvinen’s thoughts on the 5-1 victory against Charlotte:


Jarvinen talks about how he has felt since returning from injury:


Jarvinen on the recent run heading into the playoffs:


Comments from the comments? Was Taylor Beck’s goal last night the top Admirals goal scored this season? Who has been an underrated performer during this recent run of form for the Ads?

Posted in Chatterbox | 2 Comments