The 2015 AHL All Star Classic acts as a bookmark in the season. We’re now rolling downhill and heading towards the playoff grind of the season. This would seem an appropriate time then to reflect and review all that has happened up until this point in the Milwaukee Admirals 2014-15 season.
~The Road So Far~
As of today the Admirals have a record of 24-12-2-3 (53 points). They sit second in the Midwest Division and trail the Rockford IceHogs by three points but have three games in hand to climb up into first place. The Western Conference standings sees the Admirals in a comfortable position of fourth place with a three point cushion over the San Antonio Rampage in fifth place.
The Admirals began 2014-15 with a franchise record with a six-game winning streak to start the season. Things remained relatively stable until December. The team suffered losing streaks of seven and four games to transition in and out of the month and went 3-6-2-1 in December. Since snapping the four-game losing streak that started in December and ended in January? They haven’t lost. The Admirals set a franchise record last time out by winning their ninth straight game.
There certainly have been growing pains as the season has gone along. The Admirals were the youngest team in the AHL entering the season but their age by no means has limited them. The talent of the youthful group might be the most exciting batch that Milwaukee has seen in quite awhile. And there is plenty of promise that this current winning-streak is the style and form that the team could capture as they roll into the playoffs later in the season.
Let me preface by saying that these grades are purely my own judgement. I also feel it fair to grade an “incomplete” to any player that hasn’t played in half the games that the Admirals have played this season. We’re 41 games into this season. To make it fair, let’s say any player to have played 20+ games will receive a letter grade. Also, I’ll be ordering these grade by jersey number for the sake of convenience. Let’s dive in!
2, Anthony Bitetto: It’s been yet another positive step forward for Bitetto this season. Halfway in, he leads all Admiral defensemen in scoring with 22 points (2 goals, 20 assists). His work led to his first career NHL call-up and game in January. The goal scoring might not be where he would like it to be, down 7 goals from where it was this time last season, but defense is the name of the game and his +11 puts him second among Admiral defenseman. (Grade: B+)
3, Jonathan Diaby: At first, I was disappointed in what I was seeing out of Diaby. He looked uncoordinated and confused at times on the ice. He still has zero points of offense this season. Even our goaltenders have totaled a combined 5 assists. Yet, recent play has started to look more and more promising. His defense has been very strong and his pairing with team captain Piskula has been really consistent in their own zone. Plus, he is the team’s third on-ice enforcer next to Clune and Liambas. 20-years old. First full year of pro hockey. He’s doing alright for himself. (Grade: C)
7, Joe Piskula: What can you say other than reliable? The veteran leads the entire team with a plus/minus rating of +18 and has 12 points (1 goal, 11 assists) this season. He has been consistent on his defense and has been doing the better part of his work while coaching up the new guy Diaby. Captain Piskula has been the veteran leader the team has needed. He has also been the veteran leader the team has expected. (Grade: B+)
10, Patrick Cehlin: His season was rough before it even began. First he had off-season hip surgery. Then he had a blood clot that developed in his leg. He only played in four games with the Admirals before getting sent to the ECHL. He didn’t score a point with the Ads. And was recently shipped home to Sweden to finished off the rest of his entry-level contract with Leksands IF. (Grade: Incomplete)
12, Kevin Fiala: From one Swedish loan to another, Fiala’s loan period with HV71 of the SHL came to an end when the Nashville Predators assigned him to the Admirals two weekends ago. He made his debut last week and has logged two games. The ceiling with this 18-year old his incredibly high. Watching his development for the rest of the season should be a blast for all of us in Milwaukee. (Grade: Incomplete)
15, Ian White: The Admirals signed this veteran d-man to a PTO and he has 16 games with the Admirals. You know what that means? He has nine more games left before the Admirals need to make a decision on him. Were I to make a decision on the matter I would re-sign him to another PTO when the current one expires. He has scored 8 assists and is a +3 since joining the Ads. He has been a nice right-handed shooting defenseman that offers plenty of experience to the group. (Grade: C+)
16, Félix Girard: I’ve been impressed with what I have watched out of Girard. He works really hard and rarely does he have a bad shift. His skating ability is top notch and he makes smart plays on both ends of the ice while operating on the lower two lines for the Admirals. He is also one of five players to have dressed for all games this season. (Grade: B-)
17, Mike Liambas: No one has more penalty minutes (107) on the Admirals this season than Mr. Bobble-Fists. He has a team high of 11 fighting majors this season. Away from that, gasp shock awe, he has scored 5 points (4 goals, 1 assist). It’s his highest scoring hockey season since he was a defenseman with the Erie Otters of the OHL in 2006-07. It also must be said that his penalty killing has also been a plus. (Grade: C+)
18, Colton Sissons: No getting around this. It hasn’t been the follow-up season that Sissons would have wanted. He missed out on staying the the Predators out of pre-season camp due to the added veterans but also due to him lacking the offensive explosiveness that they would like him to provide. He has 17 points (12 goals, 5 assists) in 41 games this season. This time last season, through 41 games, he had 28 points (16 goals, 12 assists). Can’t quite put a finger on what has caused the offensive regression. (Grade: B-)
20, Miikka Salomäki: From one story of regression to another. You could say that the Finn’s numbers have also dropped. He has 18 points (7 goals, 11 assists) in 36 games this season. Through the same number of games last season he had scored 23 points (8 goals, 15 assists). The difference has been that “Bull in a China Shop” mentality has been refined and his all-around game has been brilliant. He was a -4 this time last season. Now he is a +15 which is the best among Admiral forwards. His consistent play earned himself an NHL call-up and debut that saw him score a goal in Nashville. It’s been a reliable season to date. (Grade: B+)
21, Triston Grant: When the season started I was over the moon at the idea of having Grant back in Milwaukee. When Clune was brought down and the team was tasked with having three similar minded players, Liambas included, I was puzzled at who the lesser of the three is. Truth be told, Grant is 30-years old and in his tenth full season of professional hockey. His wheels aren’t great. But he still offers plenty to a group as young as the Admirals. He has contributed in a multitude of ways. And I think the best asset he provides is coming up when the playoff crunch starts to knuckle down on the team. (Grade: C+)
22, Joe Pendenza: Another great find for the Admirals. Pendenza was picked up last season after his time UMass-Lowell came to an end and earned an AHL contract this past off-season. He has been one of the rotation figures on the Admirals fourth line and that puts him in the spot he is on now, Cincinnati. Yet, when he has played, he has performed very well. He has 10 points (6 goals, 4 assists in 27 games and has the second best plus/minus among Admirals forwards with a +11. It’s a shame the numbers game for forwards pushed him down the ladder. (Grade: B)
23, Taylor Aronson: I was skeptical at first with Aronson. This has been his first real season of non-stop AHL hockey. You know what? He has been great. He was the lone right-handed from the blue line at the start of the season. His overall performance has far out-weighed that he is up for the right shot alone. He has 21 points (3 goals, 18 assists) in 38 games, is a +4, and only has 12 penalty minutes – second fewest among Admiral defensemen. (Grade: B-)
24, Zach Budish: He has only played in 13 games. The Admirals have won each and every game he has played in. Budish is having the best season of his pro career. In total, between the AHL and ECHL, he has 28 points (11 goals, 17 assists) and is a +17 in 39 games. Like a few on this list, it is just a shame that the numbers game has him limited to his AHL opportunities. (Grade: Incomplete)
25, Viktor Stålberg: Sad. So Sad. It’s a sad, sad situation… -but- at least he’s making the most of his time with the Admirals. In eight appearances the Swede has produced 7 points (3 goals, 4 assists). He has the right attitude with the team, as well. If there is any sort of bitterness about his current situation. It just doesn’t find its way on the ice. That’s a win for the Admirals in the time we’ll have with him on-board. (Grade: Incomplete)
28, Brendan Leipsic: Who would have thought that for a second year in a-row that the Admirals would be lead in scoring at the halfway point by a rookie? Leipsic has all the tools to be good NHL product. His skating and stick skills are great, his vision to set up teammates has him fourth in the AHL with 27 assists, and he should well have more goals than he currently has. He became the first Admiral to score a hat trick in the AHL All Star Classic on Monday. Perhaps the goals are coming to go along with all those assists! (Grade: A)
29, Mark Van Guilder: At the moment MVG’s points per game are lower than they were last season: 2014-15, 0.37 pt/g… 2013-14, 0.42 pt/g… It is the last season of the 31-year old’s contract and he’s been providing that same ol’ steady play expected of him. I would argue that the most important thing that he does is something that the AHL doesn’t statistically cover, faceoffs. His work on the dot is better than anyone on the team and, especially in penalty killing, can make a massive difference in swaying the game to the Ads favor. (Grade: B)
31, Marek Mazanec: Between the Admirals goaltending tandem it has been Maz that has played the majority of games to this point. He has been great. He really has: 13-8-3-1 record, 2.41 goals against average, 0.909 save percentage, and three shutouts. From last season to this season I see such a more calm and composed goaltender in net. He hasn’t looked anywhere near as flustered or ADHD has he did in stretches last season. It’s set him up to be back where he was last season, Nashville. (Grade: A)
33, Viktor Arvidsson: The Swede is second on the team in scoring with 29 points (15 goals, 14 assists). With the run he has had on the nine-game winning streak it feels as if it’s only a matter of time before he leaps Leipsic for the team lead. Arvidsson has had his share of highlight reel goals but it is his complete game that has him rocking and rolling in his first pro season in North America. He makes plays so quickly and his shot, especially that slapper, is lethal. I’m excited to see what his second half of the season has to offer. Will it keep elevating like it has been recently or drop back down a notch? We shall see. (Grade: A)
36, Rich Clune: When I first talked to Dicky here in Milwaukee he seemed bitter that Nashville had sent him to the AHL. I don’t know if that anger finds its way to the ice or not but he has been so much fun to watch from the moment he started with the Admirals. He has dropped the gloves nine times, posted 10 points (4 goals, 6 assists) in 32 games, and has a grand total of 89 penalty minutes. Whether he’s singing Brett Eldredge, face punching, or scoring goals. It’s been plenty of fun seeing him work. (Grade: B)
37, Garrett Noonan: The former captain for Boston University has been the odd man out of the Admirals defense from just about the start of the season. Shame. He’s not done badly or anything but he’s just been odd man out to the likes of Diaby and Oligny. Noonan has the most goals scored by any Admiral defenseman this season with four. Yet, he current finds himself in the ECHL. (Grade: C+)
40, Rob Madore: Alright. He hasn’t “played” a game yet. He has served on the bench, though. I’m still hoping at some point we get to see the 5’10” netminder get a game here in Milwaukee. He might not be putting together the season or playoff run that he did with the Cyclones last season but he’s still a solid minor-pro goalie. (Grade: Incomplete)
45, Magnus Hellberg: Last season was a train wreck for Hellberg. He had injury trouble for the first time in his career and found himself on the bench watching Madore steal the show for the Cincinnati Cyclones ECHL Kelly Cup run. This season? It feels a whole lot like watching the Hellberg we saw carry the Admirals into the playoffs on his back as a rookie. He has a 11-4-2-2 record on the season, 1.84 goals against average, 0.931 save percentage, and two shutouts. (Grade: A)
46, Pontus Åberg: On opening night this Swede blew our minds with a highlight reel goal to introduce himself to the city of Milwaukee. Since, it has been a little hit and miss with the coaching staff very finger point-y at the miss. He has 21 points (14 goals, 7 assists), a plus/minus rating of +5, and 12 penalty minutes in 36 games. His skill set sometimes gets the best of him as he gets caught out too many times doing individualistic plays. That highlight reel goal? Great, but it doesn’t work each and every game. And that is why he has been healthy scratched for a two stints this season. (Grade: B-)
47, Jimmy Oligny: This was yet another nice find for the Admirals. Oligny was an undrafted d-man that was a leader with two different teams in the QMJHL. The 21-year old only has 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists) in 34 games this season but has paired nicely this season alongside Aronson. Nothing flashy. And nothing that bad to really think about for Oligny – who also happens to have four fights this season. (Grade: C)
51, Austin Watson: I remember having a talk last season with Watson where he said he was having trouble keeping up with the speed of his wingers. When he was put at right wing it seemed to give him a big boost. That translated into this season as well. He leads the Admirals with 16 goals and is third in overall scoring. He has been kicked back to center with the recent additions of Fiala and Stålberg. He’s still looking quicker than he has the last two seasons. Pair that boost with his bread and butter solid penalty killing work and he’s putting together his best AHL season. (Grade: A-)
55, Johan Alm: This is a sad story. Alm was one of the final roster cuts from Predators pre-season camp alongside Piskula. It seemed like those two were going to form a great shutdown d-pair as well. Then he suffered an upper body injury in early-December and hasn’t appeared in a game since. When I last saw him, he had a cast on his left wrist and there was dialogue from head coach Dean Evason that Alm was back to skating. No time table of when he’ll be back. It’s a shame that his first pro season in North America has been crippled the way it has: 21 games, 5 assists, plus/minus of -3, and 10 penalty minutes. (Grade: C-)
89, Frédérick Gaudreau: Another of the fourth line rotation squad, Gaudreau has had a decent showing in the times he’s been given a chance for the Admirals. He has 9 points (4 goals, 5 assists), a plus/minus rating of +6, and 8 penalty minutes. He had avoided an ECHL send down for the entire season up until last week. (Grade: C+)
How would you rate the Milwaukee Admirals through the halfway point in the season? Who has impressed and who has not impressed?