Kevin Fiala & The Waiting Game

(Photo Credit: Sarah Fuqua)

(Photo Credit: Sarah Fuqua)

Rather than go the Ramblings route today I want to hit a topic that came up numerous times during my Nashville trip: Kevin Fiala.

As I’ve learned in my recent time covering the Milwaukee Admirals sometimes just saying that name is all you have to say. The reactions and range of opinions about Fiala shoot wildly across the board. People are high on him and think he’ll do real well when he gets unleashed into the Nashville Predators forward group. Other people don’t think he has enough going for him to be an NHL talent and already have looked past him for other shiny objects that Milwaukee is polishing to make even shinier.

During my recent trip to Nashville fans and fellow media colleagues asked me about Fiala a great deal. Questions such as… Will Fiala make the Nashville Predators opening night roster? Would Fiala playing more in the AHL this season than the NHL be considered a failure? Is his immaturity still cause for concern? …all came up. Allow me to get your Monday off right by tackling the question to end all questions in my small little working bubble: Fiala?

~The Waiting Game~

For those that don’t follow along with the Birthday dates for players it is worth doing this topic this week. After all, these are the last few days where we can consider Fiala as a teenager. He will be turning 20-years old on Friday and that age is a rather important one for quite a few points I’ll be making along the way.

(Photo Credit: Marissa Baecker // Shoot the Breeze)

(Photo Credit: Marissa Baecker // Shoot the Breeze)

This season with the Milwaukee Admirals there will be a drafted by Nashville rookie class that features three 20-year olds: Alexandre Carrier, Justin Kirkland, and Anthony Richard. All three of these players just completed lengthy junior careers. Carrier played 242 games with Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL), Kirkland played 199 games with the Kelowna Rockets (WHL), and Richard played 232 games with Val-d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL). For the sake of added comparison the Admirals will also feature a rookie in the form of the undrafted 22-year old defenseman Teddy Doherty who played 144 games with Boston College (NCAA).

Fiala, as stated, will be entering the 2016-17 season as a 20-year old. Unlike the names mentioned above this will be his second full-season of professional hockey in North America and that comes after a 2014-15 season where he effectively played half a season with the Admirals. Prior to that he managed to play 37 games of professional level hockey at the top flight in Sweden with HV71. Fiala’s junior playing career ended when he was 17-years old. That junior playing career is dispersed from Swiss (Uzwil, Rheintal, ZSC, and GCK Lions) and Swedish (Malmö Redhawks and HV71) junior programs as well as the junior national team.

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

Allow me to now pull this all together now. Fiala’s first true stationary proving ground with a consistent coaching staff to allow him to make mistakes, learn, and grow hasn’t exactly come until his leap directly to North America where he has now been since mid-January 2015. While Carrier, Doherty, Kirkland, and Richard have had similar surroundings and relatively the same teams as they progressed towards their professional playing careers… Fiala has been jumping ship upon ship upon country after country and yet another team change. Were he in the North American setting from the word “GO” this likely would be debut season of pro hockey. What often gets overlooked, beyond his age, is actually the route he’s taken to get exactly where he is and how unstable that process is by comparison to your run of the mill CHL drafted player.

Kevin Fiala celebrates his game-winning goal in overtime on the road against the Lake Erie Monsters on 4/1/15 by screaming at Andrew  Agozzino.

Kevin Fiala celebrates his game-winning goal in overtime on the road against the Lake Erie Monsters on 4/1/15 by screaming at Andrew Agozzino.

Moments that come to mind with Fiala range anywhere between his goal against the Texas Stars where he deked Jamie Oleksiak out of his skates before patiently out-waiting Jack Campbell for a deadly solo goal – and then him flipping off the Lake Erie Monsters bench, getting a game misconduct, and a subsequent two-game suspension from the AHL. So you get anywhere from talent to immaturity. It’s not even as if it was his first run in against Lake Erie, either. In his short AHL career he went after the Monsters under their AHL affiliation with the Colorado Avalanche (2014-15) and the Columbus Blue Jackets (2015-16). During his entry to the North American scene he felt the need to celebrate a game-winning overtime goal, on the road in Cleveland, by screaming into Monsters’ alternate captain Andrew Agozzino‘s face. Then team captain of the Admirals, Joe Piskula, needed to step in and wedge him aside. It was a microcosm of just what this young Fiala was all about. His competitive spirit is his often his best and worst attribute. It gets him on the scoresheet. It gets him in the penalty box. In the grand scheme of things – these instances don’t happen every single game but they do happen here and there. Learning to tone down the negativity of Fiala’s aggressiveness without detracting from what makes him -him- is, has, and likely will be a coaching point for the years ahead. The key here for everyone is this: patience. I’ve often cited a need for patience in regards to Fiala both for the fans and for Fiala himself. Amusingly it is for the exact same reason, too. You can’t be caught wanting so much so soon.

(Photo Credit: Christina Shapiro)

(Photo Credit: Christina Shapiro)

If opening night hits and Fiala isn’t part of the Nashville Predators roster it should not be looked at in any way shape or form as a failure. Fiala playing 2.5 years of AHL level hockey by age 20 isn’t a failure… it’s ahead of the curve. What makes it all the more better is connecting him towards the style that Nashville want him to play, at an AHL pace, to make that eventual arrival something a bit more polished that if he was fed to the lion’s den that is the NHL. Only a few true elite level talents excel or impress at ages 20 or younger at the NHL level. To expect Fiala, and his non-traditional path to reach the NHL in the first place, to be one of these talents isn’t exactly a fair viewpoint to hold – eleventh overall draft selection or not.

The more I value or look into what a Fiala in the NHL could be early on in his playing career the more I start to think of a Conor Sheary of the Pittsburgh Penguins as an example. They are both undersized wingers with great skating ability and tremendous creativity when on the offensive side of the puck. Sheary spent a full four-years at UMass-Amherst before a season and a half of significant AHL playing time put him towards a path to a Stanley Cup at the age of 23-years old. He’s four years older than Fiala with a knowledge of the North American game and his organization’s style rooted into him. Good things don’t happen in a flash because of draft selection placement they happen with adherence to the developmental process. Which is precisely why last season was just what Fiala needed.

(Photo Credit: Stephanie Moebius)

(Photo Credit: Stephanie Moebius)

The 2015-16 season gave Fiala just about every single obstacle that you would want a 19-year old that’s adjusting to becoming a professional hockey player that you could want. He built himself up to make the Predators out of pre-season camp. He arrived at pre-season camp and was swiftly cut with a massive talent pool making sending him to Milwaukee seem like an easy option. People might not remember this but Fiala wasn’t alone in missing out on that Predators opening night roster last season. There was a bloke named Miikka Salomäki that started his 2015-16 season in Milwaukee before working himself back into the Nashville spotlight. Things worked out well for him after that but not so much for Fiala who really was experiencing being cut from advancing to a team for the first time in his playing career. This defeated feeling trickled to the ice… the goals, the scoring touch, and explosiveness to his game disappeared into the battle going on inside his teenage mind. The suspension seemed to act as the firm slap he needed to wake up – and he did. Fiala would go on from not having scored a goal until the Admirals sixteenth game of the season to leading the team in overall scoring by season’s end with 50 points (18 goals, 32 assists).

Along the way there were mistakes, sure. His plus/minus of -19 stands out against his offensive output but his defensive ability is slowly improving. His intensity to compete can often overwhelm his better judgement and it can lead to unnecessary trips to the penalty box. These are poor characteristics, yes, but things you’re likely to hear from with a player that has been dropped into deep water. Placing a player at an age of a junior level talent into a professional vortex and you have the ultimate stress test to see just what sort of product you selected with that first round draft pick in 2014. And you know what? He, much like the Russian youngster drafted in the round after him by the Predators, both survived that test last season.

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

What fans should be anticipating for the 2016-17 season out of Fiala is a much looser, relaxed, and confident person on and off the ice. There were so many question marks and unknowns facing him when he arrived in mid-January 2015. The North American game was far different than he anticipated but now has a solid grip to just what is needed from a winger roaming North-South rather than coasting along the wider rinks that Europe feature. Living conditions and the knowledge of where to be comfortable and enjoy himself in Nashville or Milwaukee are taken care of. For some, this will be their third season playing alongside Fiala at the AHL level. Questions of who he’s playing alongside and how he can play with those players are answered.

This coming season for Fiala is going to be one in which he gets to be himself in North America, relax, and simply go to work – for really the first time since he arrived. Whether he’s competing at the NHL or AHL level that mentality and statement doesn’t change. The questions have been answered and replaced by new challenges that the previous year presented. The surrounding field competition now takes a backseat to competing against himself.

What the Nashville Predators organization has done is set Fiala up for a season where he is now settled into a comfort zone with his surroundings and can firmly compete against what he accomplished in 2015-16. What Fiala accomplished was being the top scorer on an Admirals team that ended the regular season off with a record of 48-23-3-2 (101 points) to clinch the franchise’s first divisional title since 2010-11. It is simply an exciting thought to me that the real message here could end up being, “top that.” If there were any challenge to set in front of Fiala before properly unleashing him at the NHL stage – it’s that.

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 | 1 Comment

Ramblings, Vol. 45

(Photo Credit: John Saraya)

(Photo Credit: John Saraya)

It’s been nearly a week since the AHL dropped the new alignment and rule changes for the 2016-17 season. My general round-up from reader comments seems divided on the changes to fighting, unanimous on the hilarity of teams that still will run a lesser schedule than the rest of the league, and some confusion in the uniform swap that will occur after the league’s Christmas break. In other words it was a mixed bag. But, fighting was the big one that most kept flip flopping on. That being the case I figured I would throw down my two cents.

~Fighting the Fighting~

Fighting being further restricted or punishable by the league doesn’t bother me all that much. Whenever I see fights off of a face-off it’s amusing but it’s also groan inducing. If there is a pretext to the cause for that fight needing to be done? I get it – but it also probably should have been addressed and policed before that point.

(Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch)

(Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch)

Speaking of policing the game, guess what, players ability to police the game still exists. Fights are still going to happen and they’ll now manifest mostly out of post-whistle activity or during the middle of the action. It’s with that where I feel this wrinkle added towards fighting majors wasn’t aimed so much at lessening fighting as an act within the game as much as it was enhancing the speed of the game. Puck drops take long enough now-a-days as it is. If a fight was needed due to an earlier action by a team or a player it should have been taken into account as it happened on the ice. If you’re looking to start a fight off the draw to “gain momentum” or “get the crowd into it” you should probably put your brain power in a place better suited to winning the game by playing it rather than having a fight for the sake of a fight. As much as I enjoy a good hockey fight, as much as I’ve fallen in love with the sport of MMA, or grew up with boxing… nothing is more out of place in a hockey game than a fight off the draw that has no true context. Let the game carry on, deal with personal flare ups as they happen if needed, and get the crowd “into it” by having the team perhaps being into it.

For fight hungry fans upset with the AHL’s slant against fighting majors, as well as suspensions, note that in the Dean Evason Era of the Milwaukee Admirals the team has had: 44 fights (2012-13 season), 62 fights (2013-14 season), 66 fights (2014-15 season), and 53 fights (2015-16 season. In the grand scheme of things how many of those fights were really started off the draw? It has to be a single digit percentile out of all the fights you would have seen in per season and per the recent Evason Era of the Admirals.

Now, about that suspension ruling. The AHL will now be suspending players who record up to ten fighting majors in a season automatically for one-game for all subsequent fights up until they record their thirteenth fighting major. When they hit that one-game suspension threshold of thirteen fighting majors the AHL imposes an automatic two-game suspension once players record their fourteenth fighting major and they stay at a two-game suspension for every fighting major earned from there on out.

Who accumulated ten fights or more in a season that would have fallen into the new automatic suspension rule during this recent time scope of the Evason Era? Here’s the short list:

2012-13 season: 1 player, Michael Latta (16 fights) with the next closest being Mike Liambas (8 fights).

2013-14 season: 2 players, Liambas (25 fights) and Mathieu Tousignant (14 fights) with the next closest being Anthony Bitetto and Scott Ford (5 fights).

2014-15 season: 2 players, Rich Clune (17 fights) and Liambas (16 fights) with the next closest being Jonathan Diaby (8 fights).

2015-16 season: 3 players, Cody Bass (14 fights), Jamie Devane (10 fights), and Adam Payerl (10 fights) with the next closest being Jimmy Oligny (6 fights).

I suppose that should mean keeping an eye out for Liambas this season, yeah? If he takes up any sort of go-to enforcer role with the team, as was a similar case in that 2013-14 season, he’ll be pushing towards suspension time. That season in particular would have meant being suspended for 25 games due to fighting 25 times in a season… probably something that couldn’t have happened due to the latter portion of the hefty suspensions shoving past the playing season… but you get the point.

(Photo Credit: Todd Reicher)

(Photo Credit: Todd Reicher)

What will become interesting in regards to this new rule by the AHL that might become a point of contention is the act of targeting. Remember the regular season finale in Rockford when a very clever Liambas noticed Oligny during a post-whistle scrum and grappled with him until it stirred into a fighting major? Liambas did that knowing Oligny already had a fighting major to his name and the second one in-game meant an ejection against Oligny to leave a very young practically debuting pair of defensemen in Jack Dougherty and Aaron Irving exposed for the rest of the night. Who is to say, knowing how divisional rivalries work, that teams shouldn’t just have lesser fighting major inflicted talents go out and to be match-up or targeting players on the opposite line nearing the suspension threshold?

This will be the one area of this fighting rule change that will become highly interesting just past the midway point in the season when players are starting to edge towards that suspension boundary. Is there going to be a certain review panel from the AHL that will look into altercations where it was more tactically setup to sucker a player into a fighting major or, at the end of the day, is it just gamesmanship because it still takes a second dance partner to have a fight? One thing that’s for certain, given he was exemplified on the last two paragraphs for two separate circumstances, having Liambas back with the Admirals this season just became all the more interesting.

Having read this do you have any new takeaways in regards to the AHL’s stance towards fighting that will take place during the 2016-17 season? Is this a good move or an unnecessary change? How much will the loss of certain players due to suspensions gained by the new fighting major rules impact teams?

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 | 2 Comments

The End of the AHL in St. John’s, Part 2

Place-Bell

The new home of the Montreal Canadiens’ American Hockey League affiliate for 2017-18 will be Laval, Quebec’s Place Bell. (Photo via allhabs.net)

It seems the American Hockey League’s musical chairs of franchise realignment was not quite done for the summer of 2016.

In the end the city without a chair is not Springfield, Massachusetts, but once again St. John’s, Newfoundland, as the Montreal Canadiens announced that they are moving their AHL affiliate to Laval (suburban Montreal) for the 2017-18 season.

Therefore, the residents of Canada’s most eastern province will have one more season of AHL hockey before the IceCaps relocate to the Canadiens’ backyard in the new Place Bell in Laval.

For now no team is expected to replace the IceCaps in St. John’s, which housed Winnipeg’s top affiliate from 2011-15 and Montreal’s from 2015-18. Despite strong attendance and success on the ice St. John’s is another prime example of a city left behind by the AHL because it is located too far away from its parent NHL club.

This is the second time that St. John’s is losing its AHL franchise altogether. Prior to the 2004-05 season Toronto’s AHL affiliate franchise, the St. John’s Maple Leafs, relocated to the Ricoh Coliseum in the Queen City. That team began play in Newfoundland in 1991-92.

No additional realignment is to be expected with this move as Laval would be an even better geographic fit in the league’s North Division along with foes Toronto, Albany, Utica, Syracuse, Rochester and Binghamton.

Are you surprised by Montreal’s decision to relocate its top affiliate to Laval? Are you surprised it is moving to Laval and not Quebec City? Does the future foresee another AHL franchise in St. John’s?

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 | 6 Comments

2016-17 AHL Alignment and Rule Changes Approved

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

Following the AHL’s Christmas break in the 2016-17 season the Milwaukee Admirals will start wearing their navy uniforms as the standard home uniform. (Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

A new season looms in the American Hockey League (AHL) and another new alignment and set of rule changes have been implemented. The AHL’s Board of Governors have approved a new alignment for the league in the 2016-17 season as well as a change to numerous rules and even some twists to the way the game will look after Christmas.

Press Release via AHL:

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The American Hockey League’s Board of Governors has concluded its 2016 Annual Meeting, held this week at Hilton Head Island, S.C.

Chaired by AHL President and CEO David Andrews, the four days of meetings, which concluded today, included presentations from National Hockey League Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, USA Hockey and the Professional Hockey Players’ Association.

The Board has approved the following items to be implemented beginning in 2016-17:

Division Alignment

Alignment-1617-1

Playing Schedule/Standings
• The 2016-17 regular season will consist of 1,116 games, played between Oct. 12 and Apr. 16. All teams will play 76 games each with the exception Bakersfield, Ontario, San Diego, San Jose, Stockton and Tucson, who will play 68 games each. The full league schedule will be announced later this summer.

• Teams will receive two points for a win and one point for an overtime or shootout loss. The top four teams in each division ranked by points percentage (points earned divided by points available) will qualify for the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs.

• The 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs will feature a divisional playoff format, leading to conference finals and ultimately the Calder Cup Finals. The division semifinals are best-of-five series; all subsequent rounds are best-of-seven.

• Teams will wear light jerseys at home until the Christmas break, and dark jerseys at home after the Christmas break.

Rule 46 (“Fighting”)/Rule 23 (“Game Misconducts”)
• Players who enter into a fight prior to, at, or immediately following the drop of the puck for a faceoff will be assessed an automatic game misconduct in addition to other penalties assessed.

• During the regular season, any player who incurs his 10th fighting major shall be suspended automatically for one (1) game. For each subsequent fighting major up to 13, the player shall also be suspended automatically for one (1) game.

• During the regular season, any player who incurs his 14th fighting major shall be suspended automatically for two (2) games. For each subsequent fighting major, the player shall also be suspended automatically for two (2) games.

• In any instance where the opposing player was assessed an instigator penalty, the fighting major shall not count towards the player’s total for this rule.

Rule 82 (“Icing”)
• In addition to not being permitted to make player substitutions, the offending team on an icing violation also may not use its team time-out.

Rule 1.10 (“Ice Cleaning”)
• The ice cleaning procedures used during promotional timeouts will also be used prior to overtime during the regular season, replacing the “dry scrape.”

In operation since 1936, the AHL continues to serve as the top development league for all 30 National Hockey League teams. More than 88 percent of today’s NHL players are American Hockey League graduates, and more than 100 honored members of the Hockey Hall of Fame spent time in the AHL in their careers. In 2015-16, over 7.1 million fans attended AHL regular-season and playoff games across North America, the highest total attendance in league history.

There is a lot to take in here but the initial things to take stock of… (1) Points Percentage remains all teams in the Pacific Division outside of the state of Texas will play a 68-game schedule rather than the traditional 76-game schedule… (2) The Central Division hasn’t changed what-so-ever and that includes the Charlotte Checkers remaining not only in the Central Division but the Western Conference… (3) Playoffs will be run and conducted exactly as they were this past season… (4) After the AHL’s Christmas break teams league-wide will switch from wearing white as their home uniforms and begin wearing their darker uniforms as the standard home set…

Really, things aren’t going to be all that drastically different than the 2015-16 season. As far as rule changes go in regards to fighting, icing, and dry-scrape? They are all really being done to keep the pace of the game fast. I feel the “staged” fighting off the face-off being met with a game-misconduct is a good call. Eliminating a team from calling a timeout after an icing, paired with the lack of a substitution, makes taking that icing that much more of a punishment. And the dry-scrape? I’ve always loved saying it – but they’ve made a simple fix of it that means getting overtime off and running far faster.

All things told there aren’t many things here that are seen as drastic changes. If anything it feels like some small streamlining efforts. The one thing I find comical is the uniform change midway through the season. I don’t know why, if there has to be a change, it can’t just be done instantly. Some purists probably still feel the NHL should have teams wearing white uniforms at home and now that is being scrapped mid-season in the AHL. If you’re trying to act like big brother and wear dark at home? Just make that the norm from opening puck drop. Seems funny to have a mid-season, “Oh, and by the way, don’t forget you need to switch home and road uniforms now.” For all the streamlining it just amuses me that they left a gaping wrinkle like that in.

Thoughts on the AHL’s new alignment and rule changes for the 2016-17 season? Are you happy to see fighting being clamped down more in the sport? Any disappointment that the Pacific Division, despite gaining a newcomer out West, still aren’t playing a full 76-game schedule?

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 | 7 Comments

Ramblings, Vol. 44

(Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch)

WHY CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG? (Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch)

After a small delay let’s get back to regularly scheduled programming. Apologies for taking a small break but -between (1) family (2) travel fatigue (3) battling a head cold- a small R&R cool down stint was needed on my end. All is well and good now. Let’s plunge into some topics.

~Bus Returning to Milwaukee~

Yesterday the news became official with Mike Liambas signing a one-year, two-way contract with the Nashville Predators. Amusingly, the Predators official news release shows a picture of Liambas face-punching the guy whose job he likely snatches by the name of Jamie Devane.

The more I think about this signing the more I appreciate what it could mean for both Nashville and Milwaukee. Firstly, Nashville should get used to the sight of Cody Bass rumbling along topside. It is a great sight to see someone who has paid his dues in the AHL finally get a chance to get a solid NHL opportunity. I believe that is exactly what Bass now has. He isn’t a one dimensional player. He isn’t someone brought in just to fight when needed. Bass is well respected for how he handles himself on and off the ice, he’s a leader, he keeps a locker room loose and relaxed, does well at the face-off dot and therefore is a quality penalty killer, and -yes- is capable of fending for his teammates when needed. He should start in Nashville and I hope he stays there as well. He’s earned his opportunity and should continue to earn his NHL minutes.

Now, while that role gets filled in Nashville a similar-like role in Milwaukee opens up. No, Liambas isn’t a face-off type of guy like Bass was but he checks every other box listed above. I feel the single biggest factor to this signing actually comes with just how much the coaching staff of the Milwaukee Admirals really do enjoy Liambas. I was there for the 2015-16 regular season finale in Rockford when Liambas performed a bit of gamesmanship and gave Jimmy Oligny his second fighting major to get him ejected from the contest. After interviewing head coach Dean Evason, Liambas came through the visiting locker room area doors, reluctantly said to Evason, “Please don’t be mad at me,” and the two proceeded to have a laugh. Liambas loved the Admirals and the coaching staff then. The team and coaching staff still loved him then. And now he’s back on the right side of the ice.

Liambas is someone who immediately understands the coaching staff, isn’t too far removed from playing as a member of the Admirals, and is a quality locker room presence. I would go as far as saying right now he won’t provide the offense that Devane managed to do on the lower line roles for the Admirals during the 2015-16 season but, guess what, he doesn’t have to. As long as Liambas plays responsible without compromising his intensity on the ice and maintains a smart defensive approach on the lower lines? He’s a table setter for a possible first forward line of Justin Kirkland and Kevin Fiala centered by Vladislav Kamenev to do all that offensive puck work. Set the table with relentless work rate. Push like Hell. Get off the ice for the goal scorers to match the compete level. That’s the aim there. Bass promoted. Liambas reintroduced. It’s a great fit.

~The Other Veteran Minds~

I don’t want to brush off a few of the other names that signed while I was in Nashville because they too should have great on and off-ice impacts. Due for the Milwaukee Admirals in the 2016-17 season will be defenseman Matt Irwin as well as forwards Trevor Smith and Harry Zolnierczyk. I remember a talking point of the Admirals playoff match-up against the Grand Rapids Griffins being experience. These signings, Liambas included, really helps in addressing experience with players who all still have the NHL on their radar.

Let’s start with the oldest of those names, Smith, who is 32-years old and has 106 games of NHL experience as well as 453 games of AHL experience. Smith is an all-out pro and has a trophy cabinet which includes the title Calder Cup Champion. Before departing North America for Europe to play in Switzerland with SC Bern, where he won a Championship, he was a captain for the Toronto Marlies. He also happened to be teammates with Adam Payerl at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins during the 2012-13 season where Smith was an alternate captain at the time. Smith’s numbers over the past two-seasons have fallen off a cliff, true, but a change of setting such as this year’s Admirals team might bring out the best in him. At the very least the Admirals are guaranteed another quality locker room leader and on-ice worker for two-seasons.

At 28-years old Zolnierczyk isn’t that old. Yet, by current Admirals roster standards, he kind of is. Without keeping that close of an eye out on the San Diego Gulls last season I have to assume that Zolnierczyk suffered from injury woes. In the 2015-16 season he only logged 24 games in the AHL and a lone appearance up top for the Anaheim Ducks. His total scoring output ended up being 9 points (6 goals, 3 assists). That’s a far cry from what he did the year prior with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers where he scored 44 points (18 goals, 26 assists) in 60 games. Before that -hey- he was teammates with Payerl with the Baby Pens in the 2013-14 season where Zolnierczyk was an alternate captain. Perhaps a WBS Reunion Line can be formed this season with Zolnierczyk-Smith-Payerl as the third line? Huge point of emphasis for Zolnierczyk will be to put 2015-16 in the past and get right back on track with what he’s capable of. He’s joined a good group to open up offensively. That’s a good start.

How does the 28-year old defenseman Irwin cross paths with Mr. Payerl like everyone else on this section? Well, he doesn’t. Irwin’s career took him from UMass-Amherst right to a five-year spell as a member of the Sharks organization. It wasn’t up until last season when the native of British Columbia, Canada moved back towards the state of Massachusetts where he played with the Bruins. In total, Irwin has 50 points (16 goals, 34 assists) from 155 career games in the NHL as well as 118 points (27 goals, 91 assists) from 245 career games in the AHL. Last season Irwin did very well for the Providence Bruins scoring 30 points (5 goals, 25 assists) in 64 games with a plus/minus rating of +1 and 27 penalty minutes. The question mark with him? He’s a left-handed shot so that side of the ice should be well set on defense with Oligny and Trevor Murphy in-house. I feel a likely defensive pairing for him will be Jack Dougherty which should be great for the first-year pro to have a security blanket such as Irwin covering him.

There are sure to be more signings made down the line. We’ll of course be catching AHL level signings and ECHL level pre-season invitees who might stick around with a solid showing (Payerl reference yet again). I would very much like to see Gabryel Paquin-Boudreau, who impressed during the Rookie Development Camp last week, sign with the Admirals under an AHL contract or to an entry-level contract with the Predators. He showed very well and had a lethal shot. He was drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the second round of the 2013 NHL Draft but it seems like he’s slipped through the cracks for him to end up in Nashville this summer. Other Development Camp possibilities? Kris BennettVinni Lettieri, or Zach Stepan… possibly by season’s end on ATO’s more than anything.

Do you like how the 2016-17 Milwaukee Admirals are forming? What are your thoughts on the veterans that were added by the Nashville Predators? 

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 | 3 Comments

The Bus Is Back; Liambas Signs with Nashville

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

The Nashville Predators have reportedly signed forward Mike Liambas to a one-year, two-way contract worth $575,000 (NHL) and $75,000 (AHL) with $100,000 guaranteed. Liambas played with the Milwaukee Admirals from the 2012-13 season up until the 2014-15 season before he joined the Chicago Blackhawks on a two-way contract that had him playing with the Rockford IceHogs. That was his first career NHL contract. This becomes his second as well as his second rodeo within the organization.

Liambas has played 141 career games as a member of the Admirals and has amassed 17 points (9 goals, 8 assists) with a grand total of 499 penalty minutes. Last season with the IceHogs he only logged 44 games, missing time due to injury, and produced 2 points (1 goal, 1 assist) with 188 penalty minutes to his name.

Once made official the Predators will have signed four players in free agency that should directly impact the Admirals 2016-17 roster with Matt IrwinHarry Zolnierczyk, and Trevor Smith complementing this news surrounding Liambas. What this all provides is actually simple to figure out. Look at the current age of all of these players: Irwin (28), Zolnierczyk (28), Smith (31), and Liambas (27). The Admirals entered last season as the second youngest team in the entire AHL. Adding not only depth but experienced depth could go a long way in making the 2016-17 season a success where the 2015-16 season came up a little short.

Liambas signing does make one particular re-signing look a little less likely all of the sudden and that would be fellow left winger Jamie Devane. The roster is already filling out pretty nicely and there can only be so many thrash-and-bash types of players you can tack on before it becomes a problem. Remember the 2014-15 season when the Admirals had not only Liambas but Triston Grant and Rich Clune? It was like having a cloning factory.

While arguements can easily be made for still re-signing Devane it gets tricky once you look at how the Admirals roster already lays out with returning prospects that will play on the wing (Pontus Åberg and Max Görtz), new prospects that will play on the wing (Justin Kirkland and Anthony Richard), or returning veteran talent that will also play wing (Adam Payerl or Matt White). Devane had a really solid 2015-16 season scoring 11 points (6 goals, 5 assists) in 62 games with a plus/minus rating of -7 and 82 penalty minutes. In spurts last season Devane wore an “A” on the front of his uniform because of what he means to the locker room on and off the ice. Liambas provides similar leadership qualities and is beloved by the coaching staff here in Milwaukee. It’s not likely that Devane will return to Milwaukee now that what really was his place has been claimed.

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.

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Chatterbox, Vol. 135

(Photo Credit: Scott Nichol // @RealScottNichol on Twitter)

(Photo Credit: Scott Nichol // @RealScottNichol on Twitter)

Today was the conclusion of the 2016 Nashville Predators Rookie Development Camp. The group split into two squads to compete in a scrimmage. In the end it was Team White winning 6-5 over Team Gold in a shootout.

~Rosters and Numerals~

I had been asked about uniform numbers from camp this week so allow me to provide them while breaking down who was on what team for today’s scrimmage.

Team White: 1, Juuse Saros… 37, Jonas Gunnarsson… 41, Kris Bennett… 47, Anthony Richard… 49, Rem Pitlick… 50, Vladislav Kamenev… 53, Jack Dougherty… 54, Vinni Lettieri… 58, Dante Fabbro… 61, Josh Healey… 70, Tyler Moy… 78, Teemu Kivihalme… 86, Andrew Sinard

Team Gold: 29, Karel Vejmelka… 31, Zachary Sawchenko… 40, Tommy Novak… 43, Justin Kirkland… 45, Zach Walker… 46, Alexandre Carrier… 48, Gabryel Paquin-Boudreau… 55, Mitch Reinke… 56, Kevin Fiala… 62, Trevor Murphy… 64, Patrick Harper… 71, Adam Smith… 77, Zach Stepan… 79, Samuel Girard… 84, Teddy Doherty

Team Red/Injured: 36, Mark Visentin… 52, Hardy Häman Aktell… 72, Frédéric Allard

~Scrimmage~

I’m fairly surprised, as a game, that this went to Team White given how dominant Team Gold were on puck possession in this game. Perhaps much credit can be given to Saros who had a phenomenal spell in net which included some robberies of Fiala from in-close. Amusingly enough the game would be decided between these two in a shootout where Saros’ old pal the post was there for him.

Fiala had a solid game but also a very scary fall into the boards following a hard collision with Pitlick. After the game I was able to see the damages from Fiala who chipped an upper-central tooth clean in a diagonal fashion. That will need repairs but Fiala can rest his head knowing his week was extremely productive. He looked like a men among boys on the ice with his control of speed and skill becoming better and better.

Girard, no relation to Mr. Félix Girard, may have been today’s standout player in the scrimmage. The Predators second round draft choice from the most recent draft did it all and did it all right away. His speed and skating ability allowed for an assist and a goal quickly into the start of the scrimmage and that skating ability is going to set him apart from a lot of defensemen in the system in the years to come. He only turned 18-years old in the middle of May. He’s possibly considered undersized at 5-9. But, frankly, those issues of age and size didn’t show up this week. He looked solid the entire camp and capped it off with a stellar performance in the scrimmage.

Gunnarsson is likely going to end up as the back-up to Saros in Milwaukee this coming season. I had been impressed all this week by what I saw but might have seen a glimpse into where he can struggle adapting to the North American style game. Early in the first portion of today’s scrimmage Gunnarsson was beated with one-timed shots to his glove-side rather easily. It seems as if the Swede’s lateral movements while measuring things in front of him at game speed could be compromised. There was a little too much puck watching and not a lot of anticipation to successfully sweep across laterally. It’s always tricky going from the big European playing surfaces and the more skill based style that the rinks provide to a sped up version with the smaller rink causing for more shots to get through as well as rebound chances. He’ll likely go through the motions a touch here and there but it isn’t to say it is a massive red flag. He’ll just need more time than this week to adjust.

Murphy was selected as the final player to wear the golden helmet for today’s scrimmage. Once again, I like what I’m seeing out of him a lot. We became familiar with Murphy’s stellar hammer of a shot a season ago but it was the quickness in his skating that I feel stood out more to me this week than anything. It’s as if he found a new motor. That combined with the shot should mean great things. Sadly, Murphy’s scrimmage highlight was having a wide open chance to score against Saros only to whistle a slap shot off the glove arm of Saros and out of play.

~Notes & Thoughts from Camp~

Firstly, there were more officially announced signings today that should have AHL impacts. The Nashville Predators signed forwards Harry Zolnierczyk and Trevor Smith to contracts today. Zolnierczyk signed a one-year, two-way contract worth $575,000 (NHL) or $150,000 (AHL). Smith signed a two-year, two-way deal worth $575,000 (AHL) and $175,000 (AHL) for the 2016-17 season and then $650,000 (NHL) and $150,000 (AHL) for the 2017-18 season.

At this week’s Rookie Development Camp you can’t help but look around and feel excited for the upcoming Milwaukee Admirals season as well as the future of the Nashville Predators organization. The team is scouting and drafting some great young talent who should be making splashes as professionals in the not too distant future. The first real “hello” to that fact should be how stacked the 2016-17 Admirals are going to be. Let me take an educated guesstimate of what the Admirals could look like on opening night.

Kirkland-Kamenev-Fiala
Richard-Gaudreau-Åberg
Zolnierczyk-Smith-Görtz
Payerl-Girard-White

Oligny-Elliott
Irwin-Dougherty
Murphy-Carrier

Saros
Gunnarsson

That is stacked. Absolutely stacked. And who is to say the Predators still don’t add more so a Cody Bass or possibly a Colton Sissons joins the mix? The Predators said they’d be looking to shop for bargains. For all I know that could include even more recruits that impact the look of the Admirals line combinations I created. For anyone of these guys to be getting bumped out of the lineup as a healthy scratch or fall to the ECHL is almost shocking – but it could happen with the right signings made by Nashville. You would like to think things stay pretty much as it is but depth and internal competition is a great thing to have.

When looking back again at this past week’s Rookie Development Camp you start eyeballing certain players as potential Admirals and think of how they would translate to an AHL environment. I feel all that I saw this week that pretty much any of the names that attended and participated in this camp could make a splash in Milwaukee this season. Those that were drafted looked sharp. Those that have attended camps such as this in Nashville before looked sharper. And the invitees provided enough of a spark as to show just why Nashville brought them in.

It will be curious how the off-season goes from here. Certainly there is plenty of time for more signings to be made. We are only at Day 2 of NHL Free Agency, mind you. That’s not even to say the Admirals themselves won’t be getting depth pieces of their own. Adam Payerl was a depth addition out of the Cincinnati Cyclones last season as a pre-season camp invitee, for example. There is still a lot that could be done. Bottom line is, if nothing actually does, just look at what the Admirals should be left with to start the 2016-17 AHL Season. If last season’s team felt special early on than I’m expecting a lot of great memories to be made at the UW-Panther Arena come this Fall.

~Chatterbox~

After today’s scrimmage I was able to speak with a good handful of players: Kirkland, Fiala, Saros, Moy, Dougherty, and Richard. Here is what they had to say of the scrimmage, the week in camp, and off-season plans.

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.

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Chatterbox, Vol. 134

(Photo Credit: Daniel Lavender)

(Photo Credit: Daniel Lavender)

Welcome to the month of July and the start of NHL Free Agency. It has already been a wild time this afternoon with the inspiration for most movies Roland Emmerich directs, Alexander Radulov, signing with the Montréal Canadiens. You know that narcissistic lunatic that borders on being a lightning rod for attention? Didn’t the Canadiens just trade away someone they felt was a bit too much like that for a guy who has a history of not liking Radulov that much? You simply cannot make this stuff up.

~Free Agency~

By the time I’m writing this the Nashville Predators have reportedly made two signings: Yannick Weber and Matt Irwin. Weber will likely fill the Predators void of having a right handed shooting defenseman named Weber who wears the #6. Irwin will likely provide the Milwaukee Admirals with some solid veteran stability operating on a two-way contracted role.

Irwin probably just picked up the offer perhaps the Predators might have been thinking about with Corey Potter. Either way, the veteran defenseman has been brought in as the veteran on defense. Irwin is 28-years old and will turn 29 at the end of November. He has played 155 games in the NHL with the San Jose Sharks and Boston Bruins. Last season he was mainly reduced to an AHL role with the Providence Bruins but provided 30 points (5 goals, 25 assists) in 64 games with a plus/minus rating of +1. To put that in perspective that puts him behind Taylor Aronson and Trevor Murphy on last year’s Admirals roster for points produced by a defenseman.

~Chatterbox~

Today was the final practice for the Nashville Predators Rookie Development Camp at Centennial Sportsplex before tomorrow’s scrimmage at Ford Ice Center. Rounding off the final wave of soon to be, or pending, Milwaukee Admirals I chatted with Alexandre Carrier, Anthony Richard, Jonas Gunnarsson, and Mark Visentin.

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.

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Chatterbox, Vol. 133

(Photo Credit: Daniel Lavender)

(Photo Credit: Daniel Lavender)

Today was the second day of on-ice activities at the Nashville Predators Rookie Development Camp. Where yesterday’s drills seemed to cover some of the warm-up style drills you can see when the Milwaukee Admirals practice at the MSOE Kern Center today’s work at Centennial Sportsplex was far more about stretching out the legs. If there is anything that can be said in a concise fashion about the future of the organization it is that it will be one that can move fast. These kids have some serious speed.

Anthony Richard was a very fun watch in practice today. He arrived late last season in Milwaukee and made his professional playing debut with the Admirals in the playoffs. He played in the entirety of that opening round playoff series against the Grand Rapids Griffins and was one of the few bright spots. He seemed to get better and better. If you might remember though – he wasn’t playing at 100%. He was nursing a lower body injury when he arrived. Didn’t get into the final regular season games. And just squeaked into that playoff series. In practices back then I was impressed. Today? Even more so. He looks to be fully fit and his skating ability is outstanding. The more comfortable he becomes finding that balance between speed and skill the more successful I think the 2016-17 Admirals are going to be.

I was slightly bummed out yesterday that I didn’t see Trevor Murphy on the ice. Seems like he took a knock early on and dialed back. He was on the ice today and you can see what a difference a year of pro experience does when compared to other defensemen in camp. His passing wasn’t just crisp but it was very accurate. If the goal of the Predators defense is to be mobile and play with speed you can look at a guy like Murphy as one of the first proper prospects in the pipeline that exemplifies the qualities the NHL team are looking for the finest. Defensively, he’ll need to clamp down harder -but- he was a first year pro last season. I feel the 2016-17 season in Milwaukee is going to really be a good gauge on how Murphy projects. Is he NHL caliber or not? His shot certainly is. But a shot alone isn’t enough.

~Chatterbox~

After practice I was able to round up two players and a very familiar looking bloke. I chatted with Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason to get his thoughts on camp and a few players we’ll be seeing in Milwaukee later this year. I also spoke with Murphy about an embarrassing spill into the boards that he took during breakout drills. Murphy was then kind enough to help assist in doing a mock-interview with Vladislav Kamenev. I deleted the audio out of respect for Kamenev’s nervousness to test his English. He is progressing really well though I think. More than capable to have your standard locker room chatter. Analytical discussions though? Still tough and understandably so. I was happy to give him a go at it and even happier that he took a shot. For those wanting Kamenev audio? Fret yet not. He interview bombs Murphy. Lastly, Thomas Novak who is listed as being from River Falls, Wisconsin but has his heart firmly set in Minnesota. Listen in and you’ll know what I mean quickly.

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.

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Chatterbox, Vol. 132

(Photo Credit: Daniel Lavender)

(Photo Credit: Daniel Lavender)

Greetings from Nashville, everybody. Today was the first day of on-ice activities at the Nashville Predators Rookie Development Camp. There was much to take in from the practice sessions at the Centennial Sportsplex. Faces that we’ve all seen before. Faces that we will be getting more familiar with later this year. As well as some faces that should arrive in Milwaukee in due time.

~Development Camp Roster~

Let’s start by tacking who is all here this week because names in attendance aren’t just limited to Nashville Predators property.

Forwards: Kris BennettKevin FialaPatrick HarperVladislav KamenevJustin KirklandVinni LettieriTyler MoyTommy NovakRem PitlickAnthony RichardGabryel Paquin-BoudreauZach Stepan, and Zach Walker

Defensemen: Frédéric AllardAlexandre CarrierTeddy DohertyJack DoughertyDante Fabbro, Samuel Girard, Hardy Häman AktellJosh HealeyTeemu KivihalmeTrevor Murphy, Mitch ReinkeAndrew Sinard, and Adam Smith

Goalies: Jonas GunnarssonJuuse SarosZachary SawchenkoMark Visentin, and Karel Vejmelka

Invitees to this week’s camp in Nashville included: Bennett (Saginaw), Lettieri (University of Minnesota), Boudreau (Chicoutimi), Walker (US NTDP), Doherty (Admirals), Healey (Ohio State), Reinke (Cedar Rapids), Sinard (TPH Thunder), Sawchenko (Moosejaw), Visentin (Rockford).

There were two players listed as injured for today’s practice: Allard and Visentin. I did see Visentin working practice drills for a good while, though. I did not see much or Murphy on-ice while practice went on. There are two separate rinks at the Centennial Sportsplex. I don’t think my timing could have been that unfortunate to have missed him practice as I flipped between the two. So, I’m not sure if he picked up a knock during the skate.

The entire coaching staff of the Milwaukee Admirals is in attendance for this week. That means Dean Evason, Stan Drulia, Scott Ford, and David Rook are all testing the young crop of kids out just as you may have ever watched a practice run at the MSOE Kern Center.

~Notes~

I was incredibly impressed by what I saw out of Gunnarsson who is the potential second choice goalie in Milwaukee. His lateral movements were quick. He had a quick read on shots. And, even for a practice session, there wasn’t much getting through him. I figured his role for next season was going to Janne Juvonen. The 21-year old Finnish goaltender was a seventh round pick of the Predators in the 2013 NHL Draft and he attended the final games of the regular season and playoffs here in Milwaukee. Gunnarsson not only took that spot but Juvonen went from being on the preliminary development camp roster to just not being here.

One of the biggest talents heading to Milwaukee at the start of the season will be a 19-year old winger by the name of Kirkland. Elite Prospects lists him as standing at 6-3. He looks even bigger than that. I was impressed for someone of his size to move as well as he does. His shot looked sharp. He has a quick release, as well. With how successful the Kelowna Rockets were last season he had missed out on getting introduced to the pro experience like a few others on ATO contracts would have. He’ll be coming in completely fresh to the pro scene, and Milwaukee for that matter, but I think he’ll do just fine.

If you’ve read my work closely this off-season you might have noticed how timid I am when it comes to the right-handed shooting defenseman Dougherty. I have no shame in admitting that was simply because I didn’t know if he was coming back to Milwaukee for the 2016-17 season. Having spoken with him this afternoon, huzzah, I can confirm he will be in Milwaukee. This will mark the fourth different team and the fourth different league for Dougherty in the last four years. Can you blame my timidness? The great news is that he not only showed up at the end of the season in Milwaukee he already made his pro debut, logged 3 games of work, earned his first career pro point (an assist), and is familiar with his surroundings. That should make stepping into the 2016-17 season a little less stressful for Dougherty. The only real stresser will come in how often people such as myself, or the equipment managers, botch the two defenseman coming to town: Dougherty and Doherty.

When Nashville Predators General Manager David Poile addressed the media earlier today he made mention of an absentee from this week’s camp: Yakov Trenin. Unfortunately the Russian forward suffered a broken leg as a result of a mountain biking accident last week. He needed to have an operation to mend the break and is expected to be out of action for the next four months while recovering. Trenin will be arriving to Nashville in a month’s time for evaluation and is due to return to the Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL) once the season begins.

~Chatterbox~

There were plenty of people to chat with. I suspect I will be getting to as many different players or coaches as I can in the week that I am here in Nashville. That being said, I had to go right for the familiars on my Nashville debut. It was fun seeing a lot of these guys and actually felt like it has been ages since the season ended. All players featured today should be back in Milwaukee this season. Interviewed today were: Poile, Saros, Doherty, Dougherty, Fiala, and Kirkland. Here is what they had to say after practice.

For anyone due to catch practices this week at the Centennial Sportsplex or the scrimmage game on Saturday at the Ford Ice Center – I would be more than happy to meet up with you Nashville fans this week. I’ll be there or looking to be a total tourist from the end of practice to, well, the next practice. Hope to see you while I’m in town.

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.

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