Let Kevin Fiala Be Kevin Fiala

(Photo Credit: Stephanie Moebius)

(Photo Credit: Stephanie Moebius)

It caused a slight double-take on my part when the Nashville Predators reassigned Kevin Fiala to the Milwaukee Admirals on Tuesday morning. He had been performing really well at the NHL level this season and is beginning to show flashes of his capabilities on the grand stage. That there is the problem though. They’re only flashes and you hope for consistency. That’s when it is time for the AHL to become involved to let prospects going through the motions, slight as they might be, a chance to play maximum minutes and get a full head of steam en route to the NHL spotlight once again.

Fiala endured a day of travel that saw him journey from Vancouver to Minneapolis to Charlotte when he was reassigned from the Predators to the Admirals. He made it in time to play Tuesday night and he didn’t look like someone who had woke up at 4 AM and traveled for ten hours when he was on the ice. He was sensational. He followed that up with a repeated quality effort that was sealed with one of the prettiest worked solo goals of the AHL season to secure the win for the Admirals in overtime.

He was with the Admirals for barely two days, played two games, and looked like someone that was head and shoulders above so many outstanding players who were on the ice. He was skating with pace, he was active off the puck and being attentive to defensive assignments, and was buzzing around and creating offensively at a time when the Admirals desperately needed an igniter in that department.

Why is Fiala with the Admirals right now? Why is Fiala not doing what he just did in Charlotte against NHL opposition on a shift-by-shift basis? And is the Fiala who has had those flashes in the NHL just who he is always going to be?

Those seem to be questions on tons of peoples minds as comments floated on in after he scored last night’s game-winning goal in overtime. “We lost a one goal game to the Canucks Tuesday night and here is Fiala scoring a game-winning goal in overtime when we need him.” Those sorts of commentary chirps were raining in.

Listen folks. I understand the frustrations. I understand the magnitude of a first round selection’s potential to perform. But, Fiala’s current spot that he finds himself in – whether temporary or longer, I think that the expectations weighted on him have been blown way out of proportion. It’s time to stop thinking about what Kevin Fiala isn’t and start appreciating Kevin Fiala for who he is.

(Photo Credit: Stephanie Moebius)

(Photo Credit: Stephanie Moebius)

Fiala is still 20-years old and has taken great leaps forward this season for both on and off-ice approaches to the game. If expectations are “necessary” for a first round draft choice I kindly point people toward the season that Austin Watson is finally having in the NHL and the long path it took for him to get there – at now 25-years old. People can be foaming at the mouth for Viktor Arvidsson now but he is the player that he is by comparison to someone such as Fiala because he is three-years older and has played 115 games of pro level experience more. The polish to Arvidsson’s game and maturity come largely because of that experience.

(Photo Credit: Todd Reicher)

(Photo Credit: Todd Reicher)

During the 2013-14 season the Admirals had contributions for 47 games from a 19-year old named Filip Forsberg. He was placed in the AHL on the basis of sharpening his attention to detail and finding consistency in his all-around play. There was optimism that Fiala’s “Forsberg Year” was the 2015-16 season that saw him dip a toe in the NHL for 5 games but stuck around in the AHL for the season and was the Admirals leading scorer – as a teenager. Of the Admirals roster throughout the whole of this current season there are only three players to have played that are younger than Fiala: Anthony Richard, Alex Carrier, and Vladislav Kamenev. Only one of those names was a full-time pro a season ago and the other two are just beginning their pro careers this season.

In different circumstances Fiala is a first-year pro this or last season. He is then massively ahead of the curve as far as his developmental process goes for a 20-year old. Yet, do not let that fact detract from the very real nature that he is still a prospect destined for some speed bumps along the way.

(Photo Credit: Christina Shapiro)

(Photo Credit: Christina Shapiro)

The Fiala that I’ve had the opportunity to observe this season with the Predators is largely different than his past self. He is starting to fill into his frame as the kid becomes more of a man. Him getting stronger is allowing him to feel more comfortable getting into dirty areas as well as finding better success in those key places on the ice. Having talked to him during the Summer and in his brief time in Milwaukee this season – I’m talking to a different person than when he first arrived. He is by far and away more comfortable in his own skin in the North American environment than when he first showed up and he is also getting a far greater understanding of the different style game that this region of the world plays. He’s matured off the ice. Last season went a long way into seeing that become reality. He isn’t looking to shoot himself in the foot or be down on himself. That same treatment is given to his play where he seems to be far less recklessness the way he plays and he is starting to make savvy reads on both offense and defense.

(Photo Credit: Gregg Forwerck)

(Photo Credit: Gregg Forwerck)

That’s not to say there aren’t some bad turnovers that he makes from time to time or even offensive plays that he could bury – that he doesn’t. This is the breaking point that can get him pushed down the lineup or flat out healthy scratched. As the Predators begin to assemble a more layered approach to the way they attack a game these days, with more veteran minded or scrappy players like the line of Cody McLeodDerek GrantHarry Zolnierczyk, it makes having the risk-reward element of Fiala one that isn’t as tempting to go to at the moment. So, if you’re not playing him or don’t have intent to, why leave him in the cold when at 20-years of age he should be playing, developing, learning, and proving the Predators wrong in their decision to send him down. You should want a level of fire in Fiala’s game, shift-by-shift, and game-by-game. That is the exact result the Predators would have wanted. And it is the exact result they received in two games played for the Admirals on the road in Charlotte.

The path of getting to the NHL takes so many different forms. Frédérick Gaudreau and Mike Liambas were amazing stories for their long roads to Nashville. Others, even if a bit more direct like a 2015 NHL Draft selection such as Alex Carrier, can still be surprising given how fast they can push for the opportunity. Fiala didn’t get to the NHL too fast. He isn’t getting there consistently too slow. He’s just learning like the Forsberg, Watson, and the Anthony Bitetto‘s of the world before him.

Right now the Predators are allowing Fiala the freedom to learn in far greater capacity at the AHL level, for however long it might be, than they feel they have the flexibility to do now in the NHL. That shouldn’t be viewed as a negative of the Predators. And it certainly shouldn’t be viewed as a poor reflection of Fiala.

Be sure to keep updated with Admirals Roundtable through social media platform of your choice: follow along Twitter, like us on Facebook, get photo updates on Instagram, and listen along on SoundCloud.

Posted in Ramblings | Leave a comment

Fiala & Mazanec Steal Show; Ads Win 4-3 in OT

(Photo Credit: Charlotte Checkers // flickr)

(Photo Credit: Charlotte Checkers // flickr)

The Milwaukee Admirals won 4-3 in overtime against the Charlotte Checkers on the road Wednesday night at the Bojangles’ Coliseum.

This game had a little bit of everything tonight. The Admirals held a 3-1 lead but the Checkers rallied back with their net emptied and the extra attacker on to force overtime in the final three-minutes of regulation. That only set the stage for Marek Mazanec and Kevin Fiala to provide a true curtain drop on the evening. Fiala might have scored the goal of the season to win it in overtime.

It was a far better start for the Checkers tonight who played better out the gate than at any point last night. This paid off when Phil Di Giuseppe flew past Trevor Murphy down the left wing and won a wrap-around race against Marek Mazanec to record his eighth goal of the season.

The Checkers first period pressure had the Admirals firmly pinned into their own half of the ice for the majority of the frame. Perhaps Frédérick Gaudreau was simply trying to flip a puck up and out of his defensive zone at the time but what resulted in his clearance was setting up Anthony Richard for a breakaway. The speedster zipped in on Michael Leighton and beat him low to the stick side with a hard forehand shot to pick up his first AHL goal a day after recording his first AHL assist.

After a roughing call against Valentin Zykov the Admirals scored with seconds remaining on a power-play to go up 2-1 early in the second period. Pontus Åberg worked himself free down the left wing wall. After getting loose he skated in towards the face-off circle and fired a shot from the dot that snapped past Leighton for the Swede’s tenth goal of the season.

On an overlapping power-play the Admirals scored early in the third period to extend their lead to 3-1. Gaudreau passed back to the point where Trevor Murphy was all alone. He stepped up into the high slot and smashed in a trademark howitzer of a slap shot for his ninth goal of the season.

The third period would get nasty as a scrum broke out that saw dual fights take place. It is hard to do proper justice to all that occurred in the fracas but the net result was a fight between Adam Payerl and Keegan Lowe and a fight with Derek Army and Sergei Tolchinsky with game misconducts given to the latter brawlers and a boarding major to Payerl.

For all that occurred, the five minute major penalty kill as well as a misconduct that sat down Jimmy Oligny for ten minutes, the Admirals survived. Unfortunately, all that they had endured seemed to sting them with the repeated attacks of the Checkers coming wave upon wave to Mazanec’s doorstep.

With 4:38 remaining in regulation the Checkers brought Leighton off and the extra attacker on. They found a gap in transition when Andrej Nestrasil slid a pass from the right wing down towards the rushing Patrick Dwyer who finished on the backhand to get the game down to 3-2 from Dwyer’s sixth goal of the season.

The Checkers were continually pressing and Leighton made his way to the bench again with 1:13 remaining and the Checkers were able to tie things up at 3-3 with 19.2 seconds left in the contest. A shot from the high left point by Haydn Fleury redirected in the slot by Lucas Wallmark snuck past Mazanec to level the game. It was Wallmark’s twelfth goal of the season. And the Checkers went from being down 3-1 to tied 3-3 in the final three minutes of regulation.

It seemed as if the Checkers could have been destined for a monumental comeback victory tonight. They had two high quality breakaway chances in three-on-three overtime but Mazanec came to the Admirals rescue. He first denied Jake Chelios who beat a tripping Murphy at neutral ice. He then stayed grounded along the mouth of goal to stop Andrew Poturalski on both his initial and follow up chances.

That just simply wasn’t how this game was going to end. Kevin Fiala delivered one of the best goals scored this season to win it for the Admirals in overtime. He had the puck on a string attached to his stick as he guided around two Checkers defenders and then came to a completed stop once he reached the glove-side of Leighton who –at that point– completely sold out on Fiala’s speed to the net and laid out. Fiala stopped, yo-yo’d the puck back to a shooting position, and flipped it into the wide open net over the left pad for the game-winner and his third goal with the Admirals this season.

For all the theatrics that this game provided you cannot take Mazanec’s performance in net for granted. He made a career high forty-three saves in net tonight. It is the second time in his Admirals career that he recorded forty-plus saves. The last time he accomplished the feat it came on 2/7/15 on the road against the Rockford IceHogs in a 7-5 Admirals win.

The next adventure on this four-game road trip for the Admirals just so happens to be the final games of the 2016-17 season at the Allstate Arena. The Admirals will face the Chicago Wolves on Saturday and Sunday. From there, the Admirals will finally get a little home cooking with a four-game homestand that begins Tuesday against the Cleveland Monsters.

Ramblings: Since the Milwaukee Admirals played last night there were pleasantly no roster moves made in the organization. Last night defenseman Alex Carrier made his NHL debut for the Nashville Predators in a 1-0 road loss to the Vancouver Canucks. Carrier played 10:49 of ice time from nineteen total shifts and recorded a blocked shot in his debut. Tonight’s line combinations and scratches were exactly the same as last night: Florek: Florek-Smith-Åberg, White-Kamenev-Fiala, Richard-Kirkland-Gaudreau, Liambas-Army-Payerl, Pardy-Murphy, Oligny-Pinkston, Diaby-Dougherty. Scratches: Cody Bass (lower-body), Shawn O’Donnell (healthy), and Max Görtz (healthy). Marek Mazanec recorded his tenth career AHL assist tonight. Since calling the Bojangles’ Coliseum their home last season the Checkers have now hosted the Admirals six times and lost every single game.

What is your reaction to all of what that game just was? What caused that melee in the third period and did that take enough of a toll on the remaining group to allow the Charlotte Checkers back in at the end of regulation? Kevin Fiala isn’t going to be here for long is he?

Be sure to keep updated with Admirals Roundtable through social media platform of your choice: follow along Twitter, like us on Facebook, get photo updates on Instagram, and listen along on SoundCloud.

Posted in Game Recaps | Leave a comment

Bounce Back; Mazanec and Ads Shutout Checkers 3-0

(Photo Credit: Charlotte Checkers // flickr)

(Photo Credit: Charlotte Checkers // flickr)

The Milwaukee Admirals won 3-0 against the Charlotte Checkers on the road Tuesday night at the Bojangles’ Coliseum.

If ever there was a time for a performance like this it was tonight. The entire group delivered but especially Marek Mazanec in net who was fantastic. The Czech goaltender stopped all twenty-three shots he faced and the Admirals have snapped their four-game losing streak in shutout fashion.

The way things have gone lately it was important for the Admirals to have a quick start. After seeing a goal waved off for being played in with a high stick the Admirals would get one that counted moments later. A horrible turnover behind the net by Roland McKeown went directly to the tape of Derek Army in the slot. The follow-up shot was swift and flew past Michael Leighton to his stick-side for Army’s third goal in seven games with the Admirals on PTO basis from the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL.

Midway through the second period a shot from the right wing wall by Phil Di Giuseppe somehow managed to sneak into the net past Marek Mazanec and go in. The signal was for a good goal but Mazanec was convinced that he had the near post covered firmly. After a lengthy video review the officials determined that Mazanec was absolutely correct. The puck managed to sneak underneath the net and the goal was waved off.

In a second period that saw several chances being brewed up by the Admirals it felt a reward was badly needed to separate them from the Checkers. After Levko Koper delivered an elbow to the head of Justin Kirkland the Admirals delivered a much more appropriate response: ending a power-play drought that lasted twenty-two chances without a goal.

Vladislav Kamenev was able to work a puck loose down the right wing for Adam Payerl. Once the puck was low right wing it became a two-on-one near the net and Payerl hit Matt White back post for a tap in past Leighton for his ninth goal of the season to make it a 2-0 Admirals lead. It was the Admirals first power-play goal since Anthony Bitetto scored on 1/3/17 against the Rockford IceHogs.

It was yet another dominant period of play in the last frame of regulation for the Admirals. It was also rewarded when Trevor Murphy blasted a slap shot from the right point into the top shelf past Leighton for his eighth goal of the season to make it a 3-0 lead. The man with the primary assist on the play was Anthony Richard who earned his first career AHL point in the process.

The Admirals in the final minutes were practically stationed in the attacking zone. They shut the door on the Checkers and Mazanec earned himself a twenty-three save shutout. It is his first shutout of the season and his ninth career AHL shutout. The Admirals in five games now at the Checkers’ new old barn the Bojangles’ Coliseum have won all five.

These two lock horns once again tomorrow night in Charlotte. We’ll see if the Admirals can extend this run in the Bojangles’ Coliseum but more importantly sustain all that was accomplished in tonight’s game. It was a solid effort from the group from start to finish. It really is just what the doctor ordered.

Ramblings: Since the Milwaukee Admirals played on Friday night there have once again been a chain of roster moves made within the organization. The Nashville Predators claimed defenseman Brad Hunt from waivers off of the St. Louis Blues and placed defenseman Petter Granberg on injured reserve. The Predators then reassigned forward Kevin Fiala to the Milwaukee Admirals. Tonight’s line combinations for the Admirals were: Florek-Smith-Åberg, White-Kamenev-Fiala, Richard-Kirkland-Gaudreau, Liambas-Army-Payerl, Pardy-Murphy, Oligny-Pinkston, Diaby-Dougherty. Tonight’s scratches were: Cody Bass (lower-body), Shawn O’Donnell (healthy), and Max Görtz (healthy). By securing a shutout tonight, Marek Mazanec joins fellow Admirals goaltenders Juuse Saros and Jonas Gunnarsson in having a shutout this season. It is the first time since the 2006-07 season that the Admirals had three goaltenders record a shutout in the same season: Pekka Rinne, Karl Goehring, and Scott Reid. Tonight marked the NHL debut of Alex Carrier. The Admirals 2017 AHL All-Star debuted on the road with the Predators against the Vancouver Canucks.

What is your reaction to tonight’s game? How impressed have you been by the addition of Derek Army? Is this recent run with the Milwaukee Admirals the best that Marek Mazanec has played?

Be sure to keep updated with Admirals Roundtable through social media platform of your choice: follow along Twitter, like us on Facebook, get photo updates on Instagram, and listen along on SoundCloud.

Posted in Game Recaps | 1 Comment

Predators Claim Brad Hunt; Reassign Kevin Fiala to Admirals

(Photo Credit: Stephanie Moebius)

(Photo Credit: Stephanie Moebius)

The Nashville Predators ever changing roster landscape keeps on keeping on. Today they officially claimed defenseman Brad Hunt off waivers from the St. Louis Blues and placed defenseman Petter Granberg on injured reserve. The Predators then reassigned forward Kevin Fiala to the Milwaukee Admirals.

Both teams are in action tonight across North America as the Admirals play on the road against the Charlotte Checkers and the Predators are on the road facing the Vancouver Canucks.

The acquiring of Hunt is a move that makes me smile for two reasons. The obvious being that it avoids him from joining the AHL ranks with the Chicago Wolves where he was a destroyer of worlds offensively this season: 29 points (9 goals, 20 assists) in 23 games. The second reason being that he can really fit in perfectly for the Predators system on defense.

At 28-years old it feels as if Hunt is beginning to play the best hockey of his career. He was always a great offensive minded defenseman from the moment he turned pro and his 0.73 points per game average across 287 career AHL games speak to that. Yet, this season had been his best and it has pushed him into 9 games with the Blues in the NHL where he has delivered 5 points (1 goal, 4 assists).

Fiala being reassigned today is a small shock to the system but one that doesn’t feel entirely down to performance. This recent run in the NHL for Fiala has seen him take a large leap forward. The problem might just come down to consistency of his production and work rate shift-to-shift. Fiala has 9 points (6 goals, 3 assists) in 32 games for the Predators and 8 points (2 goals, 6 assists) in 7 games with the Admirals this season.

Given the way that the Admirals have performed recently, with a struggling offense, the addition of Fiala will be a much welcome boost. The offense has been desperate for goals during a now four-game losing streak with all defeats coming in regulation. Fiala could be the igniter that this group needs to get the fire burning once again.

Be sure to keep updated with Admirals Roundtable through social media platform of your choice: follow along Twitter, like us on Facebook, get photo updates on Instagram, and listen along on SoundCloud.

Posted in News | 5 Comments

Checkers: Scouting the Enemy

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

If you were to ask me what the worst game of the season was so far it would be an easy answer. When the Milwaukee Admirals lost 5-1 to the Charlotte Checkers at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena a week ago I’d say that was the new rock bottom. The Checkers looked awful, shaky, sloppy, and they were still outplaying the Admirals on sheer effort.

These last two efforts for the Admirals have been good. They just haven’t had any offensive production to reward some pretty good defensive performances. The offense right now is a big issue for the Admirals. They have recorded only two goals from their last 249:43 of ice time and are on a power-play drought of nineteen straight without scoring. Things need to change.

This losing streak of four defeats in regulation was the first of its kind since the 2011-12 season. On that occasion the group lost five straight games in regulation (1/22/12–2/3/12). If the Admirals are to avoid matching that they’re going to need that offense to snap out of it.

As for the Checkers, they are entering this two-game set on a three game winning streak and are no longer at the bottom of the Central Division or Western Conference standings as was the case a week ago. They hold a record of 16-20-2-0 (34 points, 0.447 points percentage). Only the Rockford IceHogs (0.410 points percentage) are worse off now.

The Checkers and Admirals are at the bottom of the league when it comes to playing games at home as of this date. The Admirals are starting a four-game road trip. Meanwhile the Checkers are two games into an eight game homestand. Once all games are completed this Saturday night – no team in the AHL will have played fewer home games than the Admirals.

Good news? C.J. Motte, the goaltender who stopped 30/31 shots against the Admirals last week, isn’t with the team. Bad news? Michael Leighton, the AHL’s all-time shutout king, is.

Leighton’s 2016-17 season has been a bit of a scramble. That said, he signed with the Carolina Hurricanes in the hopes of more NHL time and he has logged three games this season up top. The bulk of his work has been in the AHL: 8-5-2-0 record from 16 appearances with a 2.17 goals against average, 0.923 save percentage, and 2 shutouts. In mid-November he lost to the Admirals in overtime stopping 26/29 shots.

During the Checkers current three-game winning streak they have seen great contributions by their top two scorers this season, Andrew Poturalski and Lucas Wallmark. They have combined for 7 points (4 goals, 3 assists) during the streak.

Poturalski has 24 points (8 goals, 16 assists) and Wallmark has 21 points (11 goals, 10 assists). Meanwhile, they man with the best points per game average on the team is Phil Di Giuseppe who has tallied 16 points (7 goals, 9 assists) in 22 games for the Checkers this season.

Something else to keep an eye on tonight and tomorrow is the Checkers composure. This team on this three-game run hasn’t allowed for multiple opportunities on the power-play. These three games that they have won have seen one power-play chance afforded to their opponent in the entire course of a game. The Admirals will want to use their speed and create hustle plays to see if they can cause some havoc and change that trend.

Expectations for tonight’s game? Is this the right opponent for the Milwaukee Admirals to get that offense reignited? Considering how few home games that the Admirals have played do you consider this road heavy start to their season to be a negative or a positive?

Be sure to keep updated with Admirals Roundtable through social media platform of your choice: follow along Twitter, like us on Facebook, get photo updates on Instagram, and listen along on SoundCloud.

Posted in Scouting | Leave a comment

2016-17 Mid-Season Report Card

(Photo Credit: Stephanie Moebius)

(Photo Credit: Stephanie Moebius)

We’re actually two games away from the official middle of the Milwaukee Admirals 2016-17 season. Once the road games against the Charlotte Checkers are played on Tuesday and Wednesday evening the Admirals will be at the exact midway point of 38-games played of their 76-game regular season. Yet, with a little break and a this four-game road trip due up, why not tackle our Report Card sooner rather than later?

~The Road So Far~

The Admirals currently have a record of 20-12-2-2 (44 points, 0.611 points percentage) and are third in the Central Division and sixth in the Western Conference standings. Things started off astonishingly well. The Admirals had a record of 12-2-2-1 through November. In that month they didn’t lose a single game in regulation.

Once once the Admirals reached the month of December it all started to pitter-patter into the current state the team is in now. The Nashville Predators injuries this season have caused massive fluctuations at key positions. In December it felt like the defensemen the Admirals relied on were all recalled. In January the forwards have been getting recalled. It has resulted in a record of 8-10-0-1 since the start of December and the current run of form is losing four consecutive games in regulation for the first time since the 2011-12 season.

For all the chaos there is serious optimism for what this team can be. Even when the Admirals were doing what they did to start the season they weren’t really playing their best hockey. Now, paired with all the recalls and reassignments, it seems that has caught up with them a little bit. The leadership group of this year’s team was hailed by head coach Dean Evason as the strongest he has had since arriving to Milwaukee. And he isn’t wrong. This is a team fully capable of a deep playoff run this season.

~Mid-Season Awards~

Most Impressive Player: Juuse Saros

Least Impressive Player: Max Görtz

Best Forward: Matt White

Best Defensemen: Alex Carrier

Best Goaltender: Juuse Saros

Best Rookie: Alex Carrier

Most Improvement: Adam Payerl

Least Improvement: Max Görtz

Player to Watch in the Second Half of the Season: Vladislav Kamenev

Player Who Needs to Step Up in the Second Half: Max Görtz

Player Who Will Step Up in the Second Half: Frédérick Gaudreau

~Report Card~

Considering just how many players have dressed this season I feel it is necessary to clamp down the Report Card and make things a little less word heavy while also managing the grades differently. The Admirals have had ten players play five games or less this season. There have only been three players that have played in every single game to this point.

Grades are always purely of my own opinion and choice. With so many players who’ve registered less than 50% of the games played this season for the Admirals it would seam almost pointless to dish out “Incomplete” grades. That rule I tend to use generally doesn’t include goaltenders. If I were to stick to that there would be almost 40% of the roster earning no grade.

This time around I will be giving grades to all players with a few exception: those who were in on a Professional Try-Out Contract basis and those who appeared on Conditioning Assignment. Those lone players will receive an Incomplete. I also then kindly ask you take the grades of those who played minimal game time for the Admirals with a grain of salt. Again, it’s purely my own interpretation and I’d rather give a grade – than have that many not receive a letter grade.

In short: Letter grades will be given to all minus those on PTO Contracts or Conditioning Assignments. Please take into account that some of these grades can also reflect how little the players did play this season. Not many have played even half the games available to this stage of the season.

For the sake of convenience the players are listed in the manner of their uniform numerals for the Milwaukee Admirals this season.

2, Petter Granberg: While is time at the NHL level this season has been up-and-down I’d say his work in the AHL has been pretty good. He never tries anything flashy. He’s a stay at home defenseman with serious strength around in net and on the wall. As for the actual system that the Predators like to play, with active and pinching defenseman, I don’t think it fits Granberg’s game. (Grade: C)

3, Jonathan Diaby: I’ve seen more strides taken this season from Diaby than the past two seasons combined. His skating still badly -badly- needs work but his defending has greatly improved from a tall and lanky guy that would get turned inside out on a near shiftly basis. He’s learning a lot right now. And there is plenty to keep learning towards overall improvement. (Grade: D)

5, Jack Dougherty: As far as the first year pro defensemen go I feel like Dougherty has had the tougher go of things with all of the roster turn-over. He’s just about played with every possibly defensive permutation available to him outside of pairing with other right-shot d-men. He’s become far more comfortable all-around as this season has progressed. At times, you nearly forget that he is a 20-year old for how big he plays the game. There is a lot to like for his future. He’s starting to get rolling the more this season progresses. (Grade: C)

6, Adam Pardy: I don’t think the Predators or Admirals could have anticipating the injury woes hitting them as hard as they did this season. The veteran depth defenseman that the organization had entering this season was Irwin. He did outstanding. And then he stayed up for good. The Admirals acquired Pardy from the Springfield Falcons to get veteran depth back. Pardy was on an AHL deal after failing to earn an NHL contract from the Florida Panthers. His phenomenal work not only earned him the NHL deal that eluded him in Florida but he ended up logging game action for the Predators. He’s been a fantastic addition for the organization. (Grade: B+)

7, Matt White: I am still in shock that it took until December of last season for the Admirals to be the first team to give White a chance to play in the AHL. All he has done since joining the organization has been to produce 52 points (20 goals, 32 assists) in 87 games. He is currently the Admirals leading scorer and operates across the board on special teams. He is to the Admirals this season as Gaudreau was last season. The Predators should consider penning him to a two-way contract if he continually produces as he does. (Grade: A)

8, Trevor Murphy: It was a very slow start for Murphy this season. Perhaps things were more between the ears than anything but -thankfully- that’s in the past. Murphy is having a real good sophomore campaign. The Admirals really missed out on having offensive minded defensemen over the years. Murphy has brought that since his arrival and he’s also polishing up defensively. He, like Dougherty, has been cycled around a ton with the defensive cycle between Nashville and Milwaukee. Through it all – he’s handled it pretty well. He can be a crucial part of the Admirals getting to another level in pursuit of a Calder Cup this season. (Grade: B)

10, Max Görtz: This one really hurts me to grade and to say but Görtz has been the most disappointing and frustrating player to watch this season. And, at times, I’m not even so sure it is all his fault. I’ve joked with him after games or practices this season that there has to be something that the Hockey Gods have against him this year. He was the Admirals second leading scorer a season ago. He has less goals scored than Diaby this season and Mazanec is an assist shy of trying him in that department. Görtz has had the misfortune of being kicking around to tons of different lines that have been a little jarring at times – pair that with a scorer gripping his stick a bit tighter and awaiting those pucks finally getting through for goals and it never happening – and you have Görtz’s sophomore slump in a nutshell. He can be so much better. He can still be what he was. Perhaps it just takes that next goal for him to explode. For the Admirals’ sake? I hope it is soon. The team misses having him do what he did a year ago. (Grade: F)

11, Adam Payerl: I was impressed by what Payerl provided the Admirals out of the blue last season. He has played every bit the part of a guy who earned a contract from the Predators after his 2015-16 season came to an end. He is fully capable of coming up and serving a solid role for the Predators if needed. He can play great two-way hockey, be physical, go to the dirty areas, score, set-up, and run both sides of special teams. He has been great. (Grade: A-)

12, Kevin Fiala: If he were here longer? I’d have tabbed him as the “Most Improved” player I’ve watched this season. It isn’t even the scoring aspects where I say that, either. Everyone knows Fiala can be a highly flashy and skilled player. It is the shift-to-shift work rate and attention to detail that has me excited for what Fiala has accomplished this season. He has really matured and started playing a more complete game. He is still only 20-years old but has 144 games of North American pro experience under his belt between the AHL and NHL. People might forget that in a different situation he’d be a first year pro this season or last season. He is way ahead of the learning curve and is still getting better. (Grade: B+)

13, Tylor Spink: I really liked what I saw of this-half of the Spink Twins when they both participated in Admirals Training Camp. He’s a really smooth player. I would be surprised to see him battle up to the AHL level more down the road. Either that or a good European future could be ahead for him, too. (Grade: Incomplete)

13, Blake Kessel: The younger brother of Phil. The older brother of Amanda. Blake arrived to the Admirals under unique circumstances for himself. He had been the top scoring defenseman in the ECHL as part of the Atlanta Gladiators. He was then traded to the Kalamazoo Wings and decided to never report to the team. The Admirals, needing defensive help, snapped him up. He didn’t look out of place. He just wasn’t as much a fit as others that would swing in. He was released from his PTO and continues to not report to Kalamazoo. (Grade: Incomplete)

13, Garrett Meurs: The definition of how crazy the month of January was for the Admirals was when Kamenev received his first call-up. The Russian had traveled with the Admirals to San Jose ahead of their road games in California. He then needed to travel cross-country to make it for his NHL debut against the Florida Panthers. The Admirals needed a body to fill out a roster – and that’s where Meurs stepped in to join fellow PTO forward and Wheeling Nailers teammate Army. He played a lone game. And that’s almost all there is to say. (Grade: Incomplete)

15, Reid Boucher: For someone who plays as well as Boucher it is just sad that he finds himself in the gray area of great for the AHL – but not completely NHL ready. He went from the New Jersey Devils to the Nashville Predators to the New Jersey Devils to the Vancouver Canucks. He has been a waiver wire sensation this season. It’s unfortunate. Everywhere he has ever played he can really produce. (Grade: Incomplete)

15, Rick Pinkston: Where Kessel on PTO was neither bad nor good – I’ve been really impressed by Pinkston. There have been some communication blunders on the ice, which I could expect with joining a team on PTO with no real familiarity to the group, but there have also been smart and no-nonsense work on his part that has him still with the Admirals as the depth filters back in. I like what I see. If he goes back to the Manchester  Monarchs? They have themselves a solid defenseman. (Grade: Incomplete)

16, Félix Girard: What was toughest about seeing Girard get traded away wasn’t something you could point to on a list of stats. He was a heart and soul player for the Admirals since he arrived. He was one of the more vocal leaders in the group and was the best face-off winners that I’ve ever covered. His efforts on the Admirals grind lines and -especially- the penalty kill will be greatly missed. (Grade: B-)

17, Mike Liambas: It has been fantastic to have Liambas back in the fold here in Milwaukee. He grew so much as a player under the guidance of the coaching staff here and continues to do so. This evolution as a player earned him his first career NHL game back on 12/3/16. With the AHL’s Fighting Major policy he isn’t wracking up penalty minutes left and right as he would in years past. That rule has actually allowed the improvements he has made over the years to shine. He is a great defensive minded player who can punish the opposition. He isn’t the biggest guy on the ice but he can always deliver the most pain. Best of all? He is yet another incredible leader of this Admirals team and serves a great role in the locker room. It has been like he never left. (Grade: C+)

19, Eric Robinson: Last season looked to be Robinson’s breakout year. Instead it became one to forget. After a hot start he blew out his knee and needed season ending surgery. When he returned to the fold for the Predators Rookie Tournament he looked better than ever. He could well have taken a great part of the Admirals efforts as the roster was depleted this season. But, he was the central piece to acquiring Pardy from Springfield. He hasn’t done the level of damage I know he would be capable of in Milwaukee since arriving to his new team. It’s a bummer. Hopefully things turn for the better for the Dartmouth grad. (Grade: D)

19, Justin Kirkland: It has not been the start to Kirkland’s pro career that he can be all that happy about. That said, he has taken it all in stride and continually works hard. I feel like whenever I watch the Admirals practice Kirkland is among the best at all drills he gets thrown into – including winning almost every shootout drill I’ve watched the team do. He’s started slow. He has. Perhaps playing at the center position isn’t the most ideal position for him as was the case with Watson. Time will tell on that. For now, he is slowly starting to ratchet things up. With Girard now gone it might afford him even more chances to open up his game. (Grade: D+)

20, Miikka Salomäki: I feel so gutted for Salomäki. In recent years he had a shoulder injury that ended his 2014-15 season. Now it appears that a lower-body injury might end or completely stall his 2016-17 season. It would be one thing to say his “bull in a china shop” mentality needs to be dialed down but that hasn’t been the real issue. It’s all just unfortunate stuff that has taken him out of action this season. He’ll turn 24-years old in March. I would really hope that he can be back by season’s end. He has only shown a taste of what he can do on the NHL stage. (Grade: Incomplete)

20, Derek Army: I said it in recent games and I will say it here. Army is the sort of player you see come in on a PTO basis and wonder why he wasn’t already an AHL talent to begin with. He works incredibly hard. Goes right to the net. Scraps it out hard. He can play center or wing well. And has shown a knack for offense with some heads-up defensive reads to go with it. He’s 25-years old. I think it would be great seeing him staying around for the Admirals. He is versatile and can probably perform better as he gets comfortable with the team. (Grade: Incomplete)

21, Harry Zolnierczyk: I always hear from players that “Z” is the funniest player they’ve been around in the game. His vocal leadership skills have been great to have around the Admirals this season. He skates insanely fast and is a true spark plug player that has now shown that ability for the Predators at the NHL level. His constant work rate is something that sets a tempo for a group to match. Whether it has been for the Predators or the Admirals I can only say that I’ve loved watching him work this season. (Grade: A-)

22, Shawn O’Donnell: Yet another of the “PTO” brigade, O’Donnell originally came into the mix in Admirals Training Camp as part of the lucky Cincinnati Cyclones that get an AHL look prior to the start of the season. That “interview” process, if you will, had a lasting image for the Admirals coaches as they enjoyed seeing his tough and aggressive style. He’s played five games for the Admirals. I can’t think of many moments where he had a negative impact on the game. (Grade: Incomplete)

23, Trevor Smith: I’m not sure what impresses me more. What Smith does on the ice or what he does off of it. Smith is already having one of the best AHL seasons of his career offensively. Yet, what doesn’t get seen in broad daylight as the puck drops and the game plays out is the reason why he is the Admirals captain this season. I’m not sure I’ve seen someone who gravitates to the leadership responsibilities better than Smith.The only other one who comes close is the man who became an assistant coach for the Admirals last season. After almost every game, win or lose, Smith gathers up the group to have a team talk. He is the captain. He is the leader. And he has been consistent throughout the entire season on the ice on top of those off-ice qualities. (Grade: A-)

24, Anthony Bitetto: Some of the worst luck this season has happened surrounding Bitetto. I’d say the man can’t get a break – but he did right after his initial comeback following a conditioning assignment. After that, we are where we are today and I greatly hope that 2017 treats Bitetto better than 2016. He has always been the type of player to process the previous season and better himself from it. He was fully set to do that this season in a big way for the Predators. It may have gotten off on the wrong foot but he’s back now. He can still really provide the Predators great two-way hockey from the blueline. (Grade: Incomplete)

29, Mark Visentin: Speaking of bad luck, these past few seasons for Visentin have featured some of the worst of that. While he has had some ups and downs as part of the Cincinnati Cyclones in the ECHL this season -the biggest key for him- is that he gets a healthy run. That’s all that I would hope for him to have so he can move forward and really get a run going for himself. He has great abilities between the pipes. He can be real quick and play in net bigger than he appears. Ankle injuries derailed the last few years. But, with a clean bill of healthy, who is to say this guy couldn’t show off what made him a twenty-seventh overall selection in the 2010 NHL Draft? This year is all about regaining confidence. So far he has played more games in the AHL and ECHL than the past two seasons combined. That’s a start. (Grade: C-)

31, Marek Mazanec: This looked to be the season that Maz was playing for from his arrival to North America in 2013. He was going to be -the- back up for the Nashville Predators. Unfortunately, the inconsistency of playing time trickled into his form and it made for frequent changes to who is the back up in Nashville. That situation now seems to be resolved. And Maz isn’t the choice. That is not to say Maz has played himself out of the role at all. Saros simply played his way in. Since his last reassignment to the Admirals I don’t think I’ve seen a better Maz in net for the team since he showed up. He has looked and played so calm, square to shooters, and smooth around the net. Results fluctuate for him in the win column as the team has hit a snag but that isn’t a reflection of how he has played. He’s been great since returning. And his attitude has been first class given how easily it could be for him to be down on himself about this season. He hasn’t at all. And he continues to work extremely hard in case the Predators need him again. (Grade: B+)

36, Cody Bass: Indirectly, I feel the reason for Watson’s emergence in Nashville this season has a lot to do with Bass starting his season there while Watson started in Milwaukee. Bass was the hard hitting scrapper. Watson, at that point, wasn’t. Someone got the hint though and Watson has since really opened up his game. As for Bass? He suffered a lower-body injury in late-December and it is unclear whether or not he will return this season. It would be a shame if that is the case. Bass, like Maz, returned to the Admirals with no ill will and simply wanted to be as good of a team player as he could be. He was doing well for the Admirals. If he could return it would be a great boost for both what he provides on and off the ice. He’s a leader and a warrior. (Grade: C)

37, Jonas Gunnarsson: If you were to look at Gunnarsson’s stats this season you would assume he has struggled massively in his first pro season in North America. That isn’t true at all. He has had the misfortune of finally getting rare starts at times when the Admirals completely bombed in front of him. All that came early in the season when the Maz/Saros flip-flopping by Nashville really held Gunnarsson as a hostage to the NHL team’s own indecision. Now that it feels set that the combo for the Admirals is Maz and Gunnarsson the two can really start to work better and get game time. I’ve enjoyed seeing Gunnarsson’s work in net. He seems really comfortable in net and has never really looked out of place for someone new to the North American style of play. He is only on a one-year contract through Nashville. It would be smart for them to give him more time after this season, too. I think he can be serviceable down the road if they needed him. (Grade: C+)

38, Justin Florek: Admirals Training Camp often provides some unique storylines. Payerl last season showed up on a Cyclones’ ECHL contract. Florek this season showed up almost as a job interview. He made a solid impression and has had himself a relatively nice start to the season. There are times in which I feel Florek can get caught out overplaying the game on offense. His offensive numbers are almost better than they were a season ago with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers but they certainly have fallen off a cliff from the Florek that was part of the Boston Bruins organization. I think there is even more to his game than what I’ve seen. I’d love to see it. I just don’t know if he’ll be on the similar level or qualities that Payerl has been providing. The two could be equal in the way that they play – but they just aren’t. (Grade: C)

46, Pontus Åberg: A detail that can get overlooked is the approach that a player has to the game after becoming a father for the first time. Åberg became a dad in the off-season. And I feel as if the maturation process off the ice trickles into the man and player that he has become on it. Åberg has been really solid for the Admirals this season. At the start of the year he was becoming the sort of player worthy of being doubled up for shifts. It put him into the NHL and his work earned him his first career NHL goal – which wasn’t a cheap one, either. Åberg continues to blossom these past two seasons. He really exploded at the ended of last season which put him in the fold for an NHL debut during the Predators playoff run. Should he return to such a scenario it will be heavily relied upon Åberg’s speed and work being consistent through each and every shift. He is a player who is at his best when he plays the game shot out of a cannon. He needs more of that to be an NHL regular. (Grade: B-)

47, Jimmy Oligny: There have been times this season when the seasoned and experienced man in defense for the Admirals is the 23-year old Oligny. As odd as that sounds it is a role that he can take on well. Oligny should have earned an NHL contract with the Predators after last season. I’m staggered by the fact that still hasn’t happened. He isn’t offensively gifted, no cannon of a shot like Murphy, but he skates at a very high level while playing very physical and remains the Admirals best defensive defenseman. While Pardy-Carrier might be the top defensive pairing this season? Oligny remains a real anchor for the team when they need one on defense. (Grade: B)

51, Austin Watson: I alluded to it when talking about Bass. Watson’s game has taken a needed evolution this season. Yes, he has been doing well lately but he is also finally playing in a position to succeed and play provider for really the first time with the Predators. He did it time and time again for the Admirals. He is starting to do it with the Predators. I think it comes with an extra gear that he has found in his skating ability which has always been a sore spot – not particularly the quickest guy on the ice. He has also started to really punish more players with that big frame of his. He’ll always be a master shot blocker. Now, he is starting to deliver what fans saw him doing in Milwaukee on a more frequent basis in Nashville. (Grade: B)

52, Matt Irwin: I’m sure the Predators would have liked to have had more veteran depth to start the season on defense. That said, they struck gold by having Irwin in the mix early. He played so well with the Admirals early that, injuries or not, he seemed due to get a look for the Predators. It didn’t take long. And he has since played his way into a new contract for the Predators. It is a huge credit to him and the professionalism he showed in his brief time with the Admirals that he launched back into the place he wanted to be and remains there. (Grade: B+)

55, Alex Carrier: When I first saw Carrier he was in from juniors at the end of last season doing a morning practice session for the Admirals. He never had the chance to play. He was just getting a feel for the pro environment. During my trip to Predators Rookie Development Camp I feel as if Carrier was one of the most impressive players that I sat back and watched. That was then. And I had no idea he would do what he has done. Carrier is among the youngest players on the roster this season in his first professional playing season. You would never sense that when you watch him play. His skating ability is tremendous, his defending is solid, and he can truly cruise around on offense to the point he almost acts as another winger in the attacking zone. He isn’t up with the Predators right now simply as a pat on the back. More so, I feel he was recalled in the event he can debut and play. That nearly happened this past weekend. But his time will come. Much like Carrier arrived to Milwaukee late last season to open his eyes this current stint with the Predators should allow him to see the end-goal he is working towards. He has reached it far faster than I bet even he imagined but it is truly deserved. He has been that darn good. (Grade: A+)

74, Juuse Saros: I expected this to be the season where Saros is allowed the chance to play a full AHL season with the role of being “the man” and shouldering a hefty work load. I felt last season he arrived with so much hype that I was pleasantly surprised to see him match it. This season he has more than done that – he’s succeeding it by miles. Saros reads the game in net better than most forwards. His lateral speed in net is staggeringly good. As much as people can poke about his size or height I feel it is that element that has made him the speed demon in net that he is. The most important thing of all though is his maturity. He acts and behaves like he has been in the pro game for years on end. He is 20-years old and learning still. What he is doing this season isn’t being “the man” in Milwaukee it is showing to Nashville that he could quite possibly be “the man” right there and right now. He played himself into his NHL role far more than Mazanec played his way out of it. I only wonder now when he starts to play himself into Pekka Rinne’s role next. The ETA on that is getting shrunk with every appearance that Saros plays for the Predators. (Grade: A+)

89, Frédérick Gaudreau: If you are looking for the top feel good story of the season it was seeing Gaudreau and Liambas sitting on the bench together in the NHL. Both have come on different and long paths to make it. Gaudreau is likely someone who will play even more of a part for the Predators down the road. He is so polished across the board. He is one of the hardest working players that I’ve seen – he treats practices with the same level of determination as an actual game. And, while he isn’t having as big of a season as he was a season ago, I do feel that the Girard trade could hopefully slot him back into the center position and change that. Gaudreau can be a top forward for the Admirals as this season continues. He can do even better than what he’s accomplished so far. (Grade: B)

90, Anthony Richard: It’s hard to grade Richard simply because he has struggled so much and then was sidelined with a concussion that put him out of action for nearly a month. His speed is his strongest asset. Yet, at times, it can also cost him offensively as he gets too aggressive, erratic, or careless moving forward. The concussion happening – no one wants that to ever happen at all. Yet I think that him sitting out and watching the game a little bit can set himself up for a more comfortable injection back into the Admirals lineup for the 2017 stretch. He can be a dynamic playmaker. He just needs to settle down and keep the game a bit more simple. (Grade: F)

91, Vladislav Kamenev: I thought very much of Fiala and Kamenev as a Yin and Yang. Fiala was the explosive forward who needed to be roped in at times. Kamenev was the smooth forward who you sometimes wanted to see pushed more. This season Kamenev has the training wheels of last season off and he is really starting to show what he did a year ago at better pace and better consistency. The last game that the Admirals played it was almost impossible to not see #91 flying around the ice working hard on or off the puck. He’s really started to settle in. And that was an area last season that I always thought made his work that much more impressive. The language barrier is becoming far less of an issue. Understanding the North American pro game versus that of Russia’s KHL is a long dead issue. He made his NHL debut this season and should dip a toe back there again before this season is done. If he is in Nashville next season? He’s earned it. If he is back in Milwaukee next season? It isn’t a negative one bit as this 20-year old continues to evolve into the strong two-way center that he can be for the Predators for a great many years ahead. I’m excited for what Kamenev can be for the Predators. (Grade: A-)

Do you agree or disagree with the Report Card? Write about it in the comment section below and tell me some of your Mid-Season Awards.

Be sure to keep updated with Admirals Roundtable through social media platform of your choice: follow along Twitter, like us on Facebook, get photo updates on Instagram, and listen along on SoundCloud.

Posted in Feature | 6 Comments

Chatterbox, Vol. 167

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

I do this every so often but I waited many hours before jumping to Chatterbox just to really process how the Milwaukee Admirals had just played. Some moments call for it being written in the moment. Others can be neither here nor there and get right to the post-game interviews. Last night’s game, given the layers it really has, called for it. And I’m glad I did give this one time.

The Admirals were shutout 3-0 last night against the Grand Rapids Griffins in front of a solid and vocal crowd at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena. They have now lost four straight games in regulation for the first time since the 2011-12 season. They have been shutout in two of their last four games and have scored two goals in their last 249:43 of ice time while their power-play is on a drought of nineteen consecutive chances without a power-play goal.

That sounds really bad. It does. There is no going against what the results state. But these last two games for the Admirals haven’t actually been that bad. In fact, they have actually been doing an impressive job in the face of some serious adversity.

When the Admirals lost a 2-1 decision to the Chicago Wolves on the road on Wednesday night they displayed tremendous effort. The defense and group performance of the Admirals took the AHL’s most lethal offenses and reduced it to seven shots on goal for the final forty-minutes of play. That is an incredible team achievement. All that it lacked? The offense getting the breakthroughs that they were working for.

Last night the Admirals played the equivalent to their arch nemesis of recent years, the Griffins. That is the best team in the Western Conference and is floating around for the title of best team in the entire league right now. The Admirals didn’t allow a single goal against during five-on-five play last night. They held them tight and really played a heavy, physical, and tough performance. All that it lacked? Seeing some of those chances on offense find the back of the net.

It would be so easy to finger point and say that the way the Admirals are playing lately is simply down to a roster that keeps changing on a nightly basis or that, in last night’s case, Félix Girard being traded away earlier in the day broke the group’s spirit before a puck was ever even dropped on the night. But those are excuses.

The Admirals have always -always- been a team that puts an emphasis to “if you’re here, you play” and the team’s attention to detail and effort is all that mattered. These last few games they’ve had some dips in that regard. The last two games I’m not sure it is right to say that was the case given how the Admirals actually played against the opposition they were playing. They’ve been competing like mad. They have been generating scoring chances. They just aren’t burying goals when it comes to that crucial final touch.

Things like this happen. It’s more of a shock value thing to see that the Admirals haven’t lost four straight games in regulation since the 2011-12 season but that was a team that still made the playoffs. And the current Admirals are a long way better than the group that had played that season.

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

What I see of this current bad run of results for the Admirals is something that can serve as a real benefit down the line for the entire group. It often takes losing games to really expose key weaknesses in teams as well as the individuals playing in the lineup. Knowing areas that stick out that can be adjusted or sharpened – that creates a strength out of a trying time. The Admirals are going through this process now and doing it with bodies here and there but also against stiff competition. They aren’t being throttled by the Griffins or Wolves. They’re a chance or two from being buried that could see momentum in these games change. It hasn’t been anywhere close to as rough as the 5-1 loss to the Charlotte Checkers on home ice. And don’t think for a second the Admirals don’t know that and who they have ahead of him next week on the road.

This team has a solid foundation of leaders on the room. It is firmly started with team captain Trevor Smith but the entire locker room has voices as well as role players that can lead simply by example. Losing Girard, as you’ll hear his former teammates state in last night’s post-game interviews, it hurts. It does. That’s simply reality of having a guy as hard working on the ice and as likable off of it leave your team. But with a loss comes opportunity. Vladislav Kamenev can really open up and expand even more to the penalty kill and be more versatile in his development process. Justin Kirkland, who is always such a solid guy when you watch a team practice, can be afforded more chance at the center position to become what Girard was – if not more because of his offensive skill set.

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

It wasn’t that long ago when the term “rock bottom” was used to describe where the Admirals hoped they were so they could vault back up. That wasn’t the case. This current phase of the season feels an awful lot like rock bottom and it is simply time to learn, as a team – as individuals, what it takes to be better than these last few games. The chances to score are right there. Whether it be another body crashing for second or third chance opportunities or odd-man rushes, several of which went begging last night, actually getting converted. The team is the right team. The way in which they play has been real good the last two outings. They just need to stay within themselves, play their game, focus on what they’re doing, and they can get back to the level of hockey that was rolling and rolling all throughout November.

These past few weeks have rough. They have. But it is a long season and it has been a test. The Calder Cup isn’t being crowned in the next few games. The ideology on how to achieve it can be crafted in the next few games.The Admirals have not been anywhere close to at full-strength for what feels like weeks on end now. They are still the seventh ranked team in the Western Conference. All teams go through stretches such as this. The Admirals are going through it now and the process of correcting it began yesterday – actually, more than likely all the way back on Wednesday morning. They’re getting there. Through all the various finger pointy problems – they’re getting there. It might just take getting out on the road for a moment to mentally check out a touch and then go and earn that first goal in Charlotte Tuesday night. The shoulders can drop a bit. And then the Admirals can start being the Admirals, again.

After last night’s game I caught up with Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason. also spoke with the French Fries: Jimmy Oligny, Anthony Richard, and Frédérick Gaudreau. These were their post-game comments.

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

And, as added perspective to fans that were grinding their teeth last night, I offer you this story. While I was waiting to conduct player interviews last night in the Admirals locker room their happened to be a family with lots of kids in the locker room getting a small tour and getting to see the players. It’s a hard game. It has been a hard recent run. For some, as you heard above, it hasn’t been an easy last twenty-four hours. But that all goes out the window when you see the players disappear into the people that they really are. The Admirals are a giant family filled with better people than they are players. That is something that cannot be taught. It is also something that can lift teams through rough spells such as this current losing streak. Chin up. Eyes to the future. And learn along with the team. If the process were easy – we wouldn’t enjoy this game near as much.

Comments on the comments? Do you feel as though the Nashville Predators trade yesterday is a precursor to further activity in the trade market in the next few weeks prior to the deadline? Who are the players that you see really stepping up in Girard’s absence?

Be sure to keep updated with Admirals Roundtable through social media platform of your choice: follow along Twitter, like us on Facebook, get photo updates on Instagram, and listen along on SoundCloud.

Posted in Chatterbox | Leave a comment

Admirals Hit New Low; Shutout 3-0

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

The Milwaukee Admirals lost 3-0 against the Grand Rapids Griffins Friday night at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.

And, Admirals fans, the team has hit a low that it has not reached in years. It is the first time the Admirals have lost four straight games in regulation since the 2011-12 season when they lost five straight games (1/22/12–2/3/12).

It is the third time this season that the Admirals have been shutout and second in the last four games. The Admirals offense has produced just two goals from their last 249:43 of ice time. Their power-play is now on a drought of nineteen.

Operating the game’s first power-play opportunity allowed the Griffins to get on the board early tonight. A blast from the top of the right wing circle by Robbie Russo was shrugged off by Marek Mazanec to the opposite wing where Evgeny Svechnikov managed to score on a snap shot from the rebound. The goal goes down as his ninth scored on the season.

The Griffins would extend their first period lead on their second power-play opportunity. It took the Griffins just a matter of seconds to win the face-off and get a Ben Street shot from the right point to deflect off of Mitch Callahan’s stick in the slot clean past Marek Mazanec for his eleventh goal of the season to make it 2-0 Griffins.

After a slashing call against Derek Army in the early stages of the second period the Griffins did it again – as did Svechnikov. The Griffins power-play cycled from the right point with Russo over to the right wing dot for Svechnikov where the Russian sniped home the top corner near post for his second power-play goal on the evening and the Griffins third consecutive in the contest. It was Svechnikov’s tenth goal of the season.

The game would wrap at that scoreline. Eddie Pasquale earned his second shutout of the season over the Admirals. He stopped all thirty shots on goal. Meanwhile his counterpart, Mazanec, made twenty-five saves and only allowed the three goals that came from the power-play for the Griffins.

Next up for the Admirals is yet another four-game road trip. The Admirals will travel to the East Coast for a two-in-two against the Charlotte Checkers on Tuesday and Wednesday night with 6:00 PM CST start times. They will then play next weekend on Saturday and Sunday against the Chicago Wolves which will finish off playing at the Allstate Arena for the rest of the season.

Ramblings: Since the Milwaukee Admirals played on Wednesday there were a few roster moves of note. The Admirals released Garrett Meurs from his PTO Contract. Meurs has since returned to the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL. The Nashville Predators recalled defenseman Alex Carrier from the Admirals. It was his first career NHL recall and he could possibly make his NHL debut tomorrow afternoon. Then this morning the Predators traded Félix Girard to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Cody McLeod. The Admirals then recalled Anthony Richard from the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL. Prior to game time the Admirals had Pontus Åberg reassigned to them by the Nashville Predators. He arrived ten minutes into pre-game skate. Tonight’s line combinations were: Richard-Smith-Åberg, White-Kamenev-Gaudreau, Florek-Kirkland-Görtz, Liambas-Army-Payerl, Pardy-Murphy, Oligny-Pinkston, Diaby-Dougherty. Tonight’s scratches were: Cody Bass, Petter Granberg, and Shawn O’Donnell. This was Anthony Richard’s first game played since 12/16/16 with the Cyclones when he suffered an injury. It was his first game with the Admirals since 12/9/16 in a road game against the Griffins.

Was this about what you expected from the Milwaukee Admirals after today’s trade and recent roster fluctuations? What happened to the Admirals ability to score goals? Will a solid trip to the East Coast to play against the Charlotte Checkers be a welcome reset switch?

Be sure to keep updated with Admirals Roundtable through social media platform of your choice: follow along Twitter, like us on Facebook, get photo updates on Instagram, and listen along on SoundCloud.

Posted in Game Recaps | 3 Comments

Understanding The Félix Girard Trade

(Photo Credit: Stephanie Moebius)

(Photo Credit: Stephanie Moebius)

This morning’s news that the Nashville Predators acquired Cody McLeod from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Félix Girard was a bit out of left field. Yes, we’re slowly creeping towards what should be an intriguing NHL Trade Deadline in a month and a half. Things like this are going to rumble along on that day. Yet, as far as trades go, this feels like the Predators are reaching for answers and hoping that something sticks.

To understand this trade I feel like there are really about three avenues that need to be explored: last off-season, Cody Bass being injured at the end of December, and last night’s Predators game against the Boston Bruins.

Let’s start by asking the question: what type of team are the Nashville Predators?

If you were to have watched them last season, or in the past, you would say that they are a quick team with some excellent skill players but have stellar defensemen and a high caliber goaltender.

If you were to have watched them last night – you’re probably looking at today’s trade and simply agreeing with it. That game was a heavy -heavy- style contest. It nearly had a playoff feel about it and was surprisingly heated given how it isn’t like the Predators and the Bruins play all the time. The game was very defensive for the Predators. They weren’t rolling offensively and leaned a lot on Juuse Saros and getting shots blocked in front of him to steer clear of danger.

Another key element to last night’s Predators game was seeing Roman Josi get checked towards the head by Anton Blidh which resulted in a five-minute major for interference. Blidh wouldn’t be answering in the fight department for the occasion. Instead all inquiries were redirected to Adam McQuaid. Newly acquired from waivers Derek Grant decides to make a big first impression and instead took a few impressions and an upper-body injury.

What was happening in Colorado not far removed from that? Why, McLeod face-punching Joseph Cramarossa of course. That fight came after a big neutral zone hit by McLeod which caught the eye of Cramarossa. It appeared after the fact that McLeod was more game for a scrap after the hit than Cramarossa. And that sort of played out in the fight itself, too.

Now, about how last off-season plays into moments such as last night’s Predators game. You know how Blidh didn’t fight but McQuaid did? You know how McQuaid is a heavyweight when it comes to his HockeyFights résumé? Well, in instances where a player the level and importance as a Josi goes down from a hit like that – who do the Predators have to act such as a McQuaid? Because they did have one and he just so happened to be the defensive partner of Josi and team captain.

When the Predators did trade Shea Weber they did get a superstar level talent in P.K. Subban. It is in no way fair to judge this trade now and it will be a good few years before you can actually take into account just how both organizations did from swapping two of their best players for one another. But, what Subban never had in him was a presence on the ice of intimidation. If Weber were paired with Josi last night I question not only if Blidh gets away from that check to Josi without a fight – I question whether he thinks to deliver that check in the first place. The Predators don’t have that presence anymore. They need a little bit of bite to them. So, who do they have?

The Predators have sixteen fighting majors this season. And, while I would still argue that the day and age of the enforcer is gone, that still gives an indication of times when the game simply dictates a response or action. Who leads the Predators in fighting majors this season? Austin Watson with six fights. He is followed by Bass with three fights. Mike Fisher has two fights. And then five other players have dropped the gloves a single time.

Watson, as much as I love this soundbite of Magnus Hellberg – who at the time was saying that sarcastically because Watson had just delivered his second career pro fight, was not the choice to match-up with McQuaid. Who is to say Watson wouldn’t have suffered the same fate that Grant did? And, if so, who is there to make the crucial blocked shot late last night in the closing seconds of a 2-1 game?

You would assume then that having a guy like Bass around is then the next step. But he isn’t available. Bass went down on 12/28/16 after clashing legs with a member of the Iowa Wild near the Admirals bench. He needed help to get off the ice and down the tunnel to the Admirals locker room. He has since had an MRI to diagnose the full extent of his injury, which hasn’t been revealed in detail at this moment, and has missed the Admirals last six games. He is considered out long-term.

There is no presence on the ice then for the Predators for moments such as last night. Players who could do the job aren’t suitable for it. And the one that is isn’t available and was earlier in the season someone they tested to waivers anyways. This is where today’s trade comes in.

Again, I feel most Predators fans likely view last night’s game and the player they just received and see that as a quick fix to a needed role for no cost at all because Girard never played in the NHL anyways. I see the merit of what a McLeod can bring to the Predators. There is a role there that can be filled. I can also hope that McLeod coming to a new setting can provide some life into his game that he clearly wasn’t getting as part of a struggling Avalanche group this season. What’s wrong with this move is that it punches a hole in your AHL affiliate by trading away its heart and soul type of player for someone whose career accomplishment to this point was leading the NHL in fighting majors last season.

McLeod is 32-years old. He has been a well respected locker room presence for the Avalanche and served as an alternate captain for five of his ten seasons with the organization. That says a tremendous amount about the character he can provide to a team. I’m not questioning that one bit. What I do question is the amount it took to acquire the struggling and aging forward from the Avalanche.

Girard is 22-years old. He has been with the Admirals in the AHL since his junior playing career came to an end. He was a captain of Baie-Comeau in the QMJHL his last two years in junior and has worn an alternate captain “A” on the front of his Admirals jersey numerous times over the course of his 172 games played for the team.

While stats might not shine for Girard that by no means degrades what he is doing on the ice. Girard has been the best face-off man that I’ve covered in the AHL since starting out in 2012-13. That same level of care and attention to detail in the face-off circle he provides to his teammates, such as Vladislav Kamenev – an aspiring top center for the Predators. He is a first choice option for the penalty kill and last season, because of his face-off work, started getting pushed to the power-play. Girard is, and has been since his arrival when he scored on his pro debut, a relentless on and off ice worker. The sort of player that genuinely makes a team and his teammates better.

At the heart of the Admirals locker room is the group known as the “French Fries” which features Girard as well as Jimmy Oligny, Frédérick Gaudreau, Jonathan Diaby and first year pros Alex Carrier and Anthony Richard. Oligny might be the dad of that group but Girard is very much the ringleader. What this move does on what feels like a microscopic level to the Predators feels like an atomic bomb to that group – and therefore the Admirals as a whole.

The Admirals started the season with a thunderous bang by going 12-2-2-1 all the way through the month of November. Then injuries started to plague the Predators. The Admirals defense was rattled and shifted up, down, and around. Recently, this same level of fluctuation has hit the forward group. From the start of December to today the Admirals have gone just 8-9-0-1 and have scored only two goals from their last 189:43 of ice time over their last four games.

Tonight the Admirals face the Grand Rapids Griffins who aren’t just leading the Central Division but the entire Western Conference. If there were ever a game for the Admirals to get KO’d stiff on the ice – it would be tonight. Their top defenseman, Carrier, is up. Their spark plug forwards, Harry Zolnierczyk and Pontus Åberg, are up. And now they have just effectively had their heart ripped out to bring in an NHL player who has more fighting majors these last two seasons than points.

Did the Predators fill a role today? Yes. Does the role that the Predators filled today still have a legitimate place in the current NHL game? Sure, but it should never have cost what it just cost the Predators to acquire it.

What is your initial reaction to today’s trade by the Nashville Predators? Is this a move that they needed to make? Did they give up too much or is this a set-up trade for something bigger in the weeks ahead?

Be sure to keep updated with Admirals Roundtable through social media platform of your choice: follow along Twitter, like us on Facebook, get photo updates on Instagram, and listen along on SoundCloud.

Posted in Ramblings | 8 Comments

Félix Girard Traded to Colorado

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

The Nashville Predators have acquired Cody McLeod from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Félix Girard. The trade occurs prior to the Predators playing against the Avalanche in Colorado tomorrow afternoon and prior to the Milwaukee Admirals game tonight at home against the Grand Rapids Griffins.

Press Release via Nashville Predators:

Nashville, TN – Nashville Predators President of Hockey Operations/General Manager David Poile announced Friday that the club has acquired forward Cody McLeod from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for forward Felix Girard.

McLeod, 32 (6/26/84), has appeared in 659 games over 10 NHL seasons, all with Colorado, amassing 1,359 penalty minutes and 117 points (66g-51a). The Binscarth, Manitoba native has played in 28 games for the Avalanche this season and recorded 52 penalty minutes. He notched his first point of the season on Dec. 31 vs. the Rangers with a goal at 1:59 of the first period.

Originally signed by Colorado in 2006 as an undrafted free agent, McLeod has recorded eight fighting majors this season, fourth-most in the NHL. He led the League in fighting majors in 2015-16 with 12.

Girard was drafted by the Predators in the fourth round of the 2013 NHL Draft and has played 172 career games with the Admirals. In that time he has scored 38 points (12 goals, 26 assists) and has been a crucial part of the penalty kill. He has been a high quality face-off player and someone who has worn a letter for the leadership qualities he has brought to the locker room.

This move should send Girard to the Avalanche’s AHL affiliate the San Antonio Rampage. The Admirals will see Girard back in Milwaukee as an opponent on Wednesday February 15th.

Be sure to keep updated with Admirals Roundtable through social media platform of your choice: follow along Twitter, like us on Facebook, get photo updates on Instagram, and listen along on SoundCloud.

Posted in News | 5 Comments