When tonight’s Nashville Predators game ends they will have nine games remaining in their 2013-14 season. Additionally, there are four home games remaining in Smashville. They are third from the bottom of the Western Conference and are set to miss the playoffs for a second consecutive season.
While the campaign has been a swing and a miss thanks to injury woes and offensive inconsistency – the optimism should be very high thanks to young talent that is surfacing to the NHL in the form of Colton Sissons, Calle Jarnkrok, and Filip Forsberg. Even players such as Marek Mazanec, Taylor Beck, and Simon Moser have had NHL time this season.
With players such as Miikka Salomaki, Brendan Leipsic, and Pontus Aberg also on the future radar – there should be plenty of reasons to feel happy with the years ahead in this organization. And that’s what makes me want to pose the following sentiment.
While plenty of attention is given to the future names above – names such as Scott Ford and Mark Van Guilder feel lost. Between the two of them they have played in 1018 games in their professional hockey careers. Neither of them has played a single shift in the NHL.
Van Guilder has played 385 professional games and 302 games as a member of the Admirals over the course of six professional seasons. Ford has played 633 professional games and 357 games as a member of the Admirals over the course of ten professional seasons. Both began their tenures with the Milwaukee Admirals during the 2008-09 season and have since become pillars of the team on and off the ice.
So here is what I want to ask you readers: why not them?
I suppose the cold, hard, and blunt answer to that question is that they’re not as talented, young, or as exciting as the likes of a Sissons, Jarnkrok, or Forsberg are. They’re window has passed and, despite their development within the organization, it just isn’t NHL caliber.
Here is the thing that makes them deserving of that one chance to play an NHL game: knowing this – they certainly never stopped working to get there.
This season, the Admirals had a defenseman by the name of Teddy Ruth who retired following a reassignment to the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL. Rather than stay in the game, work his way back into the fold, or seek a chance elsewhere in the AHL – he retired from the game of hockey at the age of 25-years old.
Compare that to fellow defenseman and Admirals team captain, Ford, who is now 34-years old and in his sixth professional playing season in Milwaukee. Prior to that, he played with: 2004-05, Cleveland Barons (AHL), Fresno Falcons (ECHL)… 2005-06, Bridgeport Sound Tigers (AHL), Trenton Titans (ECHL), Providence Bruins (AHL)… 2006-07, Dayton Bombers (ECHL)… 2007-08, Utah Grizzlies (ECHL), Bridgeport Sound Tigers (AHL).
After that, he joined the Admirals and played for four-straight seasons before taking a chance with the Peoria Rivermen (AHL) in hopes of a St. Louis Blues future. It didn’t happen. And, a trade involving Jani Lajunen later, he re-joined the Admirals.
Ford’s motor to play the game of hockey has never gone away. Even at the age of 34 he remains a strong defensive player at the AHL level. He has played 57 games this season, scored -not really his thing- 6 points (3 goals, 3 assists), has a plus/minus rating of +5, and has 79 penalty minutes with five fighting majors to his name. He hasn’t given up. And he hasn’t exactly slowed down much with age, either.
Van Guilder is a rather similar story of someone whose motor just keeps going. Having played four-seasons at the University of Notre Dame, and going undrafted, he found himself with Milwaukee and Cincinnati in his first professional season after college in 2008-09.
It seems as if Van Guilder gets better with each season he puts under his belt – something that the Nashville Predators organization did recognize with his efforts last season. During the 2012-13 campaign he had season highs in every major category in his AHL career log: 73 games played, 32 points (14 goals, 18 assists), +15, and only took 9 penalty minutes throughout the season.
Having enjoyed that new level of success – the Predators gave him his first career NHL contract this last off-season. It was a two-year, two-way contract that will come to an end following next season.
This season Van Guilder’s scoring total seems on pace to finish up rather well: 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists) in 64 games with 12 games remaining in the Admirals season. He is one of the most versatile centermen on the entire team – and it’s shown even better this season considering how many different wingers he has been paired him.
The most recent acquisition to the team, Francis Wathier, was put directly on Van Guilder’s line. It didn’t take long for Wathier to provide high praise of him.
3/14/13, Francis Wathier on Mark Van Guilder:
With forwards fluctuating between the NHL and AHL being the more often trend this season between Nashville and Milwaukee – I don’t see why a situation such as Van Guilder getting recalled doesn’t take place (if even for one game).
When Forsberg was recalled this past weekend – he played on the fourth line and played 7:59 of ice time. Prior to that, he played even less. During three-games for Forsberg in the month of October he averaged 7:12 of ice time. During these four game situations – he has more penalty minutes, 2, than points.
If playing Forsberg in the NHL means limited minutes while operating on a lower defensive line basis, why not Van Guilder? Van would provide a no-nonsense two-way veteran touch to those limited playing minutes – and the 19-year old Forsberg could continue sharpening up his game, playing double to triple those minutes in different capacities, until the right time for him to replicate a top-two-line role is available.
The case for Van Guilder is there. Yet, the case for Ford is a tough one to crack. Something even he joked about when we talked for his feature story back in January.
1/24/14, Scott Ford on what it would take to make it in the NHL:
Sadly, he might be right. If there is anything more gold than the Predators home jerseys it is their young and talented defensive core right now.
Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Seth Jones, Michael Del Zotto, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, and Victor Bartley are all up top. To boot, the only one of that group to not play in more than 40 games this season has been Del Zotto. It’s quite possibly the toughest system to climb, as far as d-men are concerned, in the NHL right now.
How does Ford get his one game? I could only imagine seeing him swap out forward roles with Richard Clune for one game – not much else. The likelihood of that happening is about the same as the Predators making the playoffs this season. And, hearing what it would mean to the long-time leader of the Admirals, makes that all the more sad to think about.
1/24/14, Scott Ford on what it would mean to get one game in the NHL:
The best qualities of Ford aren’t something that you’re going to get out of a stat sheet or a game log. While that may sound cliche, because it is, it is so very true with the incredible leadership values that he possesses. He is as humble as they come. And someone who still works hard, despite that limited window to make the NHL from Milwaukee to Nashville, because he is committed to his team and teammates.
I understand completely that the Predators are in a transition phase of sorts right now. The youth movement is underway. With that in mind, a nod to the likes of Van Guilder and Ford for their service time within the organization would provide a boost to so many people I feel like it would be a bright spot at the end of a roller coaster season for the Predators.
It’s great seeing Sissons, Jarnkrok, and Forsberg get their dues at such a young age. But, seeing guys such as Ford and Van Guilder get there for the first time in their careers, would be even better.