The Road to Nashville

(Photo Credit: Stephanie Moebius)

Last night the Nashville Predators became the NHL’s Western Conference Champions. You could say that sentence a dozen times and it just wouldn’t get old. Nor would it get old in knowing the path that the Predators went through to get to their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance but also the manner in which they did it. The Predators defeated the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, and Anaheim Ducks. And there really wasn’t a time in this run when the team was absolutely running at 100% strength. They’ve been winning through depth and competing as a team.

The saying “The Road to Nashville Goes Through Milwaukee” is one that has been put up all over the Milwaukee Admirals locker room for quite awhile. It’s also made mention several times by either Nashville Predators General Manager David Poile or the coaching staffs at both the NHL and AHL level. What is happening right now for the Predators is a direct result of that statement. It’s truth. All you need to do is look at some of the names contributing right now and you will find countless Admirals who either participated this season or in the past.

Colton Sissons was the star man last night and for good reason. Sissons became the fifth player in the past 40 years to score a hat trick in a series-clinching victory to reach the Stanley Cup Finals: Mike Bossy (1983), Jari Kurri (1985), Wayne Gretzky (1993), and Patrick Kane (2013). It wasn’t just the goal scoring for Sissons that was impressive as it was him excelling in the moment, as effectively the Predators top line center on the evening, in all areas of the game: face-offs, defense, special teams, blocking shots, keeping an active stick, and being skillful when in attack.

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

What last night was for Sissons was the best game that he has played to this point in his professional career. Yet, it isn’t something that should come as a surprise. From the moment that Sissons left the Kelowna Rockets and joined the Milwaukee Admirals to begin his pro career all that you could ever tell out of him was that he was mature beyond his years. He conducted himself the right way upon arrival and became an AHL All-Star and an NHL name in his debut 2013-14 season. It felt like that was a sign of bigger things to come. But, at 20-years old at the time, there was still plenty to learn. Which is what the next step really was.

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

The sophomore season for Sissons did not feature NHL hockey. It didn’t even feature playoff hockey in the AHL for him, either. Sissons’ 2014-15 season was one that saw him start to evolve his game, refine and polish defensive aspects, and implement more physical play. Those areas all circulate around his finest attribute: leadership. At the start of every season the Admirals locker room votes for their captains. Sissons, still 20-years old at the start of that sophomore season, was named an alternate captain alongside Mark Van Guilder and team captain Joe Piskula. Despite making a push in camp the following season Sissons would begin Year Three with the Admirals in the AHL. At 21-years old he was voted by his teammates to be team captain. And he would continue working, pushing, and preparing himself for the next stage. Sissons’ 2015-16 season would see a return to the NHL scene and it would really be his last true stint of AHL hockey. Sissons belonged up. Sissons was good enough to be testing himself at the NHL level and improving with the Predators on a daily basis. Last night was the finest example of that countless work paying off.

Another great impact player for the Predators on this run to the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Finals has been Austin Watson. Which is funny if you think about it. Watson is the man who started his 2016-17 season off being placed on waivers by the Predators, not getting claimed by any other NHL organizations, and being assigned to start the year off with the Admirals back in the AHL.

(Photo Credit: Clint Trahan)

Watson’s journey to get where he is right now is actually remarkable in the most untraditional of ways for someone who was selected as highly as he was in an NHL Draft. Watson was taken eighteenth overall by the Predators in the 2010 NHL Draft. He was taken exactly one pick ahead of Nick Bjugstad and then several others who have become rather good names in the NHL: Evgeny Kuznetsov, Charlie CoyleBrock Nelson, and Tyler Toffoli. Yet, entering his fifth pro season, Watson was being put on waivers by the Predators -no one claimed him- and he became an Admiral once again in a league where he was a 20 goal scorer for three consecutive seasons. He arrived, conducted himself like a pro, was setting himself up to play alongside Vladislav Kamenev and Harry Zolnierczyk, and managed to suit up for 3 games before going right back where he belongs.

I’ve asked Watson himself, and Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason, just where did this physical element to his game come from and haven’t really had an answer. Me, I believe the answer is an obvious one. Watson had the start to this season that he did while he sees Cody Bass make the Predators roster at his expense. Watson has since dropped the gloves 14 times. He only had 3 fights prior to this season.

(Photo Credit: Darren Abate)

Perhaps lost in all the fighting, but even more so all that bone-crunching hitting, has been Watson’s advancements in his skating ability this season. Often in the past that has been his biggest issue: speed. There was a season in which Watson was centering the likes of Miikka Salomäki and Joonas Rask in which he told me outright that those guys were way too fast for him. That’s kind of a problem. And that’s why he was shifted out from center to wing where he could free roam a little bit easier to work damage in more ways than one. He displayed all of what he has been so well known for and some of the things he is becoming even more well known for last night for the Predators against the Ducks. It’s the scoring touch that is still yet to be shown on a more regular basis that he did display in the AHL with the Admirals. The more comfortable he gets the more that can really come together.

Even at 25-years of age, after seasons upon seasons in Milwaukee where he could have just about felt forgotten about in the prospect pipeline, Watson is right there for the Predators and he is still showing that he is capable of doing even greater things. Who scored the empty netters last night to seal the deal for the Predators? The forward they risked losing on waivers to begin the season. Who knows what sort of a fire that lit underneath him and just how much that fire is powering the Predators to success right now.

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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Justin Florek Signs with Iserlohn

(Photo Credit: Jacob Kupferman)

Andrew O’Brien was the first man to set himself up to return. Today we have the first departure. Justin Florek has officially signed a one-year contract with German club Iserlohn Roosters.

Florek joined the Admirals initial Training Camp and quickly won himself a contract. His run prior to the Admirals featured a very great résumé. He was drafted in the fifth round of the 2010 NHL Draft by the Boston Bruins where he would go on to play 4 career games in the NHL as well as 6 career games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He scored a goal during both of those runs in the NHL with the Bruins but his career would shift to the AHL with the Providence Bruins and then for the 2015-16 season he joined the New York Islanders organization where he played for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

Once Florek joined the Admirals for the 2016-17 season he seemed to be a perfect fit. And the man who enjoyed his 27th birthday yesterday managed to erase what was a rough season for him with the Sound Tigers. Florek produced 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists) in 75 games for the Admirals this past season. That’s the most goals he scored since the 2013-14 season with the Bruins in the AHL – the same season that earned him those chances in the NHL.

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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Roundtable’s 2016-17 Most Valuable Player Award

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

Before so much as discussing the candidates I feel there is always an importance to stress what it means to be an MVP. Often times I’m never the biggest fan of how professional leagues around the world choose an award such as MVP while ignoring what that acronym stands for: Most Valuable Player. More often than not it feels like MVP is presented to the “Most Outstanding” player rather than one who was “Most Valuable” to their respective team. It’s an area of importance here because there is a distinct difference.

What made the Milwaukee Admirals group special from the start of Training Camp conducted at the MSOE Kern Center were the players themselves. It was a terrific mix of age and styles that meshed immediately. An important factor in something such as that being the case can be a sign of the coaching staff doing really well in bringing the group together but even more often often it comes down to the veteran leaders of the room. And the Nashville Predators organization brought in the perfect candidate to lead the 2016-17 Admirals.

(Photo Credit: Scott .Paulus)

Trevor Smith may never have had the flashy goals such as Pontus Åberg, Frédérick Gaudreau, or Vladislav Kamenev. He didn’t even play as many games in the NHL this season as Alex Carrier. What fans see is the on-ice product in action. What fans don’t see are the countless moments and conversations that build up to those 60 minutes or more of hockey. It’s all of those moments where Smith was a bridge between coaching staff and locker room. He was the leader of this year’s Admirals team and was rightfully voted by his teammates ahead of the season to become team captain. So, while Smith may not have had as “outstanding” of a season as Åberg or Gaudreau there really isn’t an option better when considering how “valuable” the captain was in getting this year’s Admirals to be what it was. And that is why Admirals Roundtable’s 2016-17 Most Valuable Player Award belongs to the man wearing the “C” on the front of his jersey.

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

Beyond the term itself: you cannot discount what Smith did for his on-ice contributions for the Admirals this season. Smith made his return to the North American hockey scene after a single season of hockey in Switzerland playing for SC Bern. He only managed to suit up for 17 games before making the return to the NHL/AHL scene that he played a great part with in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization before his splash in Europe. He had 106 games of NHL experience prior to joining the Predators organization on a two-year, two-way contract. And he very quickly made an impression at the AHL level. Smith’s 2016-17 season ended with 49 points (14 goals, 35 assists) in 74 games. It was his best offensive season since 2012-13 when he tallied 54 points (23 goals, 31 assists) in 75 games as a member of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. While Åberg hit 31 goals on the season, making him just the fourth Admiral in the AHL history of the team to reach the 30 goal plateau in a single season, Smith assisted on 11 of those goals. And for all of that production there is also great work in the face-off circle which sets him up well to be crucial in the power-play and penalty kill.

If there were one other player on this year’s team that I felt was close to matching Smith in terms of being “Most Valuable” it would be Marek Mazanec. His numbers might not have been “outstanding” or on top of any AHL lists for goaltending but time-and-time-again Mazanec was a primary reason why the Admirals kept games close and allowed for a lot of those “Cardiac Kids” comeback victories. Yet, those two head-to-head, Smith’s importance to the Admirals being the team that they were is too big to ignore.

What excites me for the 2017-18 season is that the high-end veteran leaders are already due back. Smith will be back and a fully-fit Cody Bass will be back in the fold come next season. You hope more of that mixture returns: Adam Pardy, Harry Zolnierczyk, Mike Liambas, and Adam Payerl. The need for quality leadership at the AHL level is essential for both team success and long-term prospect success. Smith’s example this season was a valuable reminder as to just why.

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. 208

(Photo Credit: Shane Abbitt)

There was a distinct voice missing from our “Exit Day” edition of Chatterbox: Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason. Much like the “Black Aces” Evason has also been up with the Nashville Predators during their current run through the Stanley Cup Playoffs. And today he was available for media availability back at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.

In addition, we also had the opportunity to catch up with Milwaukee Admirals President Jon Greenberg who discussed everything from Year One for the organization playing in the Arena to the -other- Admirals now representing the pipeline in Norfolk.

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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Roundtable’s 2016-17 Forward of the Year Award

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

This was yet another golden season for the Milwaukee Admirals and their forward troops. I mean that in a very real sense. There were a total of twelve forwards that played their trade at the NHL level with the Nashville Predators this season who also called themselves Admirals. The depth of the organization is immensely talented and deep. And it just continues to grow each and every season.

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

When determining this award there are quite a few that deserve mention. The sophomore campaign for Vladislav Kamenev was a fantastic one and he has made great strides into his young career. Trevor Smith was a leader on and off the ice and did so through example and by his determination across all aspects of the game: face-offs, penalty killing, power-play, defense, offense, forechecking, you name it. Frédérick Gaudreau had his breakout season in 2015-16 but managed to blow it apart with something even more special this season. And there are countless other contributors who always brought it on a daily basis who could well go under the radar of the more flashy scoring talents. Guys such as Adam Payerl, Justin Florek, Matt White, and Mike Liambas. Even the rookies, Justin Kirkland and Anthony Richard, were really coming into their own by the end of the season. It was a supremely balanced group at forward this season: skill, pace, strength, size, and work ethic.

Yet, the man who took his game to a whole new level is the one who is most deserving of our end-season award here. Admirals Roundtable’s 2016-17 Forward of the Year Award belongs to Pontus Åberg.

(Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch)

What Åberg managed to do this season was a feat that only four other members in the AHL history of the Milwaukee Admirals had accomplished before: reach 30 or more goals in a season. Darren Haydar (2005-06), Rich Peverley (2006-07), and Chris Mueller (2011-12) were the first three to record 30 or more goals in the regular season. Haydar scored 35 goals in 80 games. Peverley scored 30 goals in 66 games. Mueller scored 32 goals in 73 games. Yet, Åberg’s goal scoring pace was one that topped those great names in Admirals history by recording 31 goals in only 56 games of work. In terms of goals/game: Åberg stands at 0.553 with the next closest to him on that list being Peverley at 0.455.

Åberg was staggering in goal scoring this season. And that also gets reflected in areas of extreme importance. His 9 game-winning goals led the Admirals this season. Almost as important these days is being the team to get on the scoreboard first: Åberg’s 8 first-goals also led the Admirals this season. His shooting accuracy was also worth noting as, of all Admirals who scored 10 goals or more, only Gaudreau (19.4) shot at higher percentage than Åberg (18.7).

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

The 23-year old from Stockholm, Sweden did serious damage offensively. That much is obvious. But, just as importantly, Åberg was just as good defensively. This season saw an extra step in the evolution to his game that made him just as fun to watch off the puck as on it. He was very sound and responsible on defense and it was his relentless work ethic on the ice this past season that often times meant seeing him get double or extended shifts when the Admirals required it. His team leading 15 power-play goals certainly were nice but his contributions on the penalty kill were just as important. He wasn’t shy to apply his full skill set in that department, either. Åberg led the Admirals with 2 shorthanded goals this season.

There is a very good reason why Åberg was recalled at the end of the Admirals season: he deserved it. While it might have hurt the Admirals to be without their top forward in the hunt for the Calder Cup all you need to do is tune in tonight and watch Åberg contributing for the Predators in the Western Conference Finals in the pursuit of the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup. He is right where he should be.

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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O’Brien Signs One-Year, Two-Way Contract with Nashville

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

The first domino as far as retaining members of the 2016-17 Milwaukee Admirals has fallen. The Nashville Predators have signed defenseman Andrew O’Brien to a one-year, two-way contract that will keep him in the organization for the 2017-18 season.

Press Release via Nashville Predators:

Nashville, TN – Nashville Predators President of Hockey Operations/General Manager David Poile announced Wednesday that the club has signed defenseman Andrew O’Brien to a one-year, two-way contract for 2017-18 worth $650,000 at the NHL level and $62,500 at the AHL level.

O’Brien, 24 (11/21/92), was acquired on Jan. 19, 2017, from Anaheim and appeared in 32 games with the Milwaukee Admirals in 2016-17, recording two goals and 10 points along with 36 penalty minutes. The Hamilton, Ontario, native also skated in 10 games for the San Diego Gulls last season, posting two assists.

A 6-foot-4, 208-pound blueliner, who was drafted in the fourth round (108th overall) of the 2012 Draft by Anaheim, O’Brien has appeared in 167 career AHL games and registered 40 points (12g-28a) and 216 penalty minutes.

O’Brien was acquired by the Predators from the team that they are now battling in the Western Conference Finals, the Anaheim Ducks, in exchange for Max Görtz. The move appeared to be one that swapped two prospects that simply needed a change of scenery. And that certainly turned into a positive for O’Brien who quickly adjusted to the Admirals and became a great locker room presence as well.

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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Roundtable’s 2016-17 Defenseman of the Year Award

(Photo Credit: Sara Stathas)

This year’s defensive group didn’t need to get blown up mid-season like the 2015-16 season had to. The lone real alteration came in the very first month of the season when the Milwaukee Admirals made the always rare AHL trade that saw them acquire Adam Pardy from the Springfield Falcons in exchange for Eric Robinson, Teddy Doherty, and Brandon Whitney. This happened because Matt Irwin was quickly promoted from the Admirals to the Nashville Predators and remained in the NHL from that point forward.

What I saw from a very young Admirals defensive group was an awful lot of learning and improvement by season’s end. Given moments of injury that sidelined a veteran like Pardy for a great length of time and then Jimmy Oligny at the end of the regular season for the rest of the playoffs – the young guns did well under the pressure. The Jack Dougherty who started the season was not the same one working in the playoffs. All defensemen really did grow and improve.

When it all boils down though there wasn’t much of a contest here. From a consistency standpoint. Defense. Offense. Special Teams. This 20-year old from Québec did so well so often that it never felt like it was actually his first pro season – but it was. Admirals Roundtable’s 2016-17 Defenseman of the Year Award belongs to Alex Carrier.

Carrier proved time and time again that he could shoulder a weight of responsibilities for the Admirals in his debut season of professional hockey. He played with maturity, poise, and a swagger that put him to the NHL where he made his debut in mid-January. Not long after making his NHL debut he represented the Admirals at the AHL All-Star Classic and helped the Central Division All-Stars win the AHL All-Star Challenge for a second consecutive season.

The area that I usually look at directly when giving this specific award is to make sure that the defenseman who wins it simply isn’t just the most dynamic offensive defenseman on the season. You can say as much for Carrier who used his great skating ability and instincts in the defensive end of the rink to be disruptive and effective as part of the Admirals go-to defensive paring alongside Pardy. Those two hit it off immidiately and the benefits of Carrier being paired with a veteran and getting to practice, play, and learn from him daily certainly helped his confidence soar.

Carrier was NHL good as a 20-year old first-year pro. I cannot wait to see how the sophomore campaign for him goes. The questions for him have been answered but now everyone knows who he is and what he’s all about. This time next season we could well be back discussing just how well Carrier embraced the adversity and succeeded. He did it this season. And he didn’t show signs that he couldn’t next season.

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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Chicago Wolves Become Vegas Golden Knights’ AHL Affiliate

(Photo Credit: John Locher)

The Chicago Wolves will no longer be the AHL affiliate of the St. Louis Blues anymore. Instead, the Amtrak Rivals are embarking on a new adventure alongside the latest expansion to the NHL: the Vegas Golden Knights. The agreement begins for the 2017-18 season and was announced as a multi-year deal between the Knights and Wolves.

Press Release via Vegas Golden Knights:

VEGAS (May 16, 2017) – Vegas Golden Knights General Manager George McPhee announced today, May 16, that the club has entered into a multi-year affiliation relationship with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League, making the Wolves the official AHL affiliate of the Vegas Golden Knights. Under the terms of the affiliation arrangements, the Golden Knights will be able to transfer players to and from Chicago during the 2017-18 season.

“American Hockey League affiliates play a significant role in the success of all NHL clubs and are we are proud to have the Chicago Wolves as our first in team history,” said Vegas Golden Knights General Manager George McPhee. “I would like to thank Don Levin, Wendell Young and the rest of the Wolves organization for their commitment to the game and helping young hockey players grow to reach their full potential as professionals. Chicago is without question one of the strongest, most passionate hockey communities in North America. This is a relationship that we truly believe will be mutually beneficial.”

“If you look at George McPhee’s history, he has always been a general manager who believes that winning is an important part of developing players,” said Wolves owner Don Levin. “Professional playoffs are different than the regular season and he understands that and he wants his players to be ready to win.”

The Wolves finished first in the 2016-17 Central Division and made it to the second round of the Calder Cup playoffs before falling to the Grand Rapids Griffins. The team finished with its best regular-season winning percentage (.664) since 2008. The Golden Knights’ first signee, Reid Duke, joined the Wolves on April 7 after signing a professional tryout contract.

The Wolves will be the primary affiliate of the Golden Knights.

Founded as part of the International Hockey League in 1994, the Chicago Wolves have enjoyed two decades of consistent success on the ice as home to some of the most prominent names in American hockey, like Chris Chelios, Troy Murray and Rob Brown. When the IHL folded in 2001, the franchise joined the AHL.

About American Hockey League Affiliates

An American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate is an NHL organization’s highest level of minor league affiliation.

Throughout the season, AHL players will be promoted (“recalled”) to the partner NHL club for a number of reasons. If an NHL player is injured, the team may recall a player from the AHL to temporarily take his place. They can then be sent back down to the minors (“assigned”) for a variety of reasons as well, including when an injured NHL player returns to full health.

Every NHL team has its own affiliate in the AHL, from where more than 88 percent of active NHL players are graduates.

The Vegas Golden Knights are a National Hockey League franchise owned and operated by Black Knight Sports and Entertainment LLC. The Vegas Golden Knights were established by founding partners William Foley and his family and the Maloof family. For the latest news and information on the Golden Knights visit vegasgoldenknights.com. Fans can follow the team on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.

Press Release via Chicago Wolves:

GLENVIEW, Ill. — The Chicago Wolves announced Tuesday that the organization has signed a multi-year partnership with the Vegas Golden Knights, the National Hockey League’s expansion franchise that begins play in 2017-18.

The Wolves, who have earned four league championships, and the Golden Knights have forged an alliance based on their shared belief that winning is a crucial component of the American Hockey League experience. Vegas general manager George McPhee and Wolves owner Don Levin have it written into the teams’ agreement that the goal is to win championships at the AHL level.

“If you look at George McPhee’s history, he has always been a general manager who believes that winning is an important part of developing players,” Levin said. “Professional playoffs are different than the regular season and he understands that and he wants his players to be ready to win.”

During the nine seasons when McPhee served as the Washington Capitals’ GM and the Hershey Bears worked with the Capitals (2005-14), Hershey captured three Calder Cup championships.

“American Hockey League affiliates play a significant role in the success of all NHL clubs and are we are proud to have the Chicago Wolves as our first in team history,” McPhee said. “I would like to thank Don Levin, Wendell Young and the rest of the Wolves organization for their commitment to the game and helping young hockey players grow to reach their full potential as professionals. Chicago is without question one of the strongest, most passionate hockey communities in North America. This is a relationship that we truly believe will be mutually beneficial.”

The Golden Knights have just two players under contract — rookie forward Reid Duke, who spent the final five weeks of the 2016-17 season practicing with the Wolves, and Russian center Vadim Shipachyou — but that will change rapidly as McPhee and his hockey operations staff are in the final stages of preparation for the NHL Expansion Draft (June 18-21) and the NHL Entry Draft (June 23-24 in Chicago).

“We’re starting from the ground up with a new franchise,” said Wolves general manager Wendell Young. “It will be exciting to build both franchises together with the same philosophy.”

The Wolves captured the 2017 Central Division title — their fourth division crown in the last eight years — as the franchise enjoyed its finest regular-season showing (101 points) in seven seasons. The Wolves also reached the Central Division Finals during the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs.

The Wolves have multiple ticket packages available for the 2017-18 season, including the opportunity to Call Dibs on a season-ticket seat for just $25. Click here for more information or call 1-800-THE-WOLVES.

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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Roundtable’s 2016-17 Goalie of the Year Award

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

This was an unusual season for the Milwaukee Admirals in the goaltending department. The 2016-17 season was the first time that the Admirals rolled out and played more than two goaltenders over the course of a campaign since the 2013-14 season. That year the Admirals had five different goaltenders factor in while this season there were four: Juuse Saros, Marek Mazanec, Jonas Gunnarsson, and Mark Visentin.

Not only did the Admirals roll out those four goaltenders but everyone not named Visentin earned a shutout. It was the first time the Admirals saw shutouts from three different goaltenders in a single season since the 2006-07 season when Pekka RinneKarl Goehring, and Scott Reid accomplished the feat. Those three earned a combined 5 shutouts that season. Saros, Mazanec, and Gunnarsson managed combine for the exact same number of shutouts.

(Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch)

And, of course, there was the start to the season and how the actual goaltending narrative played out that was also unusual. Mazanec won the back-up role to Rinne with the Nashville Predators in the NHL. This seemed to be a well earned promotion for the 25-year old Czech native who had spent three-years in the organization working towards that opportunity. Saros looked set to be “the man” in Milwaukee and carrying a full work load in the AHL. That all looked like it made sense. But that didn’t stay that way all that long. Saros was outrageously good for the Admirals in the AHL and was effectively sweeping all major goaltending categories atop the AHL statistical sheets. Meanwhile, Mazanec wasn’t being afforded much time in net to start the season and wasn’t very convincing when he did get his chance to shine. This started an ad nauseum process of “Mazanec down, Saros up” that continued until mid-December when Saros was cementing himself as Rinne’s back-up. Mazanec was then told to clear out his Nashville apartment and find a place in Milwaukee – which he did during the All-Star break.

As frustrating as this season could have been for Mazanec he never once displayed an negativity surrounding what had happened. All that he did was come back to the city of Milwaukee, pop on his Admirals sweater, and went to work. These last two seasons with the Admirals have been some of his best and consistent work and he shouldered the load for the Admirals over the course of this season. Mazanec is the no-doubt choice for Admirals Roundtable’s Goalie of the Year for the 2016-17 Season.

The most impressive aspect of Mazanec’s run with the Admirals this past season was seeing him operate as the team’s workhorse in net. The date you can really slam down as when Mazanec made the committed stay into the Admirals picture was 12/16/16 at the start of the team’s Texas road trip. There were still 53 games remaining in the Admirals 2016-17 season at that point. Mazanec would play in 42 of those remaining games.

At season’s end Mazanec would finish with a solid career best for wins in an AHL season by earning 27 wins from 47 appearances. His previous best came last season when he managed to win 19 games from 39 appearances while he and Saros split duties for the Admirals. And with the increased work load Mazanec nearly matched or bested previous career bests in save percentage and shutouts over the course of an AHL season.

It isn’t clear what happens next for the Czech goaltender who turns 26-years old this July. But what he certainly didn’t do was burn any bridges or make it difficult for other NHL or AHL teams to consider bringing him in if the next chapter of Mazanec’s career is not back with the Predators organization. This season could have been more. This season could have been a nightmare. In the end I don’t feel it’s right to say that it was either. But what Mazanec did was to make the most of what he could the moment he knew he was an Admiral once again. That lends itself well for the road ahead no matter where that road leads.

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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Victor Ejdsell Signs Entry Level Contract with Nashville

(Photo Credit: Anders Bjur)

The Nashville Predators have officially signed forward Victor Ejdsell to a two-year entry level contract. The 21-year old from Karlstad, Sweden was named the 2016-17 MVP of the Allsvenskan in Sweden’s second division.

Press Release via Nashville Predators:

Nashville, TN – Nashville Predators President of Hockey Operations/General Manager David Poile announced Monday that the club has signed free-agent forward Victor Ejdsell to a two-year, entry-level contract.

Ejdsell, 21 (6/6/95), was named Swedish second league (Allsvenskan) most valuable player and forward of the year in 2016-17 after leading the league in points (25g-32a-57pts), tying for second in assists, and for third in goals.

The 6-foot-5, 214-pound center split time with Farjestad’s junior and Swedish Hockey League clubs is 2014-15 and 2015-16, captaining the junior squad in 2014-15.

This was a rumored story for awhile. Yet, now that it’s locked in, it’s worth going back to that original report. Ejdsell apparently chose Nashville over the likes of the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks.

In addition, while he did sign an entry level contract, Ejdsell signed with HV71 who play in the top flight of the Swedish Hockey League. It is possible that Ejdsell could join HV71 and move to the Milwaukee Admirals in the AHL mid-season much the same way that Kevin Fiala did in the 2014-15 season. That said, Ejdsell is older than Fiala right now and could well make the full leap to North America now. Perhaps one extra season tested in the SHL could prove to be beneficial before making that commitment.

Ejdsell will only add to the center depth that the Predators are building. He is a -big- Swede standing at 6’5″ and has some pace to go with his size. In his 2016-17 season played with BIK Karlskoga he produced 57 points (25 goals, 32 assists) in 50 games. It was the first true season in which he wasn’t bouncing around junior academy programs and settling in with a senior team. I believe the results and MVP distinction say enough about how he adapted.

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