The forward group of the Milwaukee Admirals has been talked about plenty this season and for good reason. We currently have a talent pool, courtesy of the Nashville Predators, that’s about as deep as I can remember. Viktor Arvidsson, Brendan Leipsic, Pontus Åberg, and Kevin Fiala were all brought on this season. The play of Arvidsson and Leipsic is actually pretty reminiscent of last year’s rookies Colton Sissons and Miikka Salomäki – who remain bright spots on the team in their sophomore seasons.
With all that talk being such a focus I feel it would be a good time to switch things back a little bit and point at our defensemen this season. There have been some pretty great turn-around performances out of the defense that, while not as flashy on the highlight reel, deserve the same level of appreciation – specifically two players.
When you think about how the Admirals defense looked at the start of the season it felt as if Johan Alm was going to be a massive piece to the team’s puzzle. He was one of the last two players to be cut ahead of the Predators regular season and paired with the man he was sent back to Milwaukee with, Joe Piskula. It’s sad to think that, after Tuesday’s game, Alm has now missed 23 games due to injury. It has been almost two months to the day since he last played.
With the absence of Alm the man who ended up stepping up into his role alongside Piskula would be none other than 20-year old Jonathan Diaby. While you might think the age difference between the two isn’t too harsh it was the professional playing experience that set Alm apart. The Swede had played 135 games in the Swedish Hockey League with Skelleftå and Frölunda. Diaby? He was fresh out of his time with the Victoriaville Tigres of the QMJHL. How has the native of Quebec fared since stepping into the top defensive line? Better with each and every game.
There could be some fun to be had poking at Diaby’s current offensive numbers delivered from the blue line. He has zero points, none, ziltch, goose egg, doughnut. The only other Admiral without a point of offense this season? Patrick Cehlin who had played 4 games with the team after a lengthy recovery period from hip surgery and a blood clot. While Cehlin would be sent to Cincinnati before being given the return to sender label – Diaby has played 32 games without a point of offense in the AHL this season. Even Marek Mazanec (3 assists) and Magnus Hellberg (2 assists) have lucked into a point somewhere along the way.
At the first few games of the season I felt Diaby looked really uncoordinated on the ice. He didn’t look comfortable and would make some down-right confusing decisions on the ice. In his third game of the season he slowly skated to the bench as a Chicago Wolves odd man rush was coming right back into his face which turned into a goal. He was benched for two games. Ever since he has slowly built himself into a very reliable shutdown defenseman and occasional on-ice enforcer. Sound familiar? It does to me. Sounds like a guy we had by the name of Joonas Järvinen – a no nonsense, in your face, physically imposing defenseman.
Diaby is still learning the pro game and, in part, his stat line speaks to that. He is the only current active Admiral who doesn’t have a positive plus/minus rating and the lone man with a negative is the one he replaced who is currently out with injury. He’s trending upward in my book. I’d expect that number to change for the better. Regardless, his season has to be quite the education. He’s playing alongside Piskula and matching up most nights against the upper-end forward lines of the opposition. This year should be a great foundation for him to build off of.
~Earning A Spot~
I want to come clean and admit that when this season started, and Taylor Aronson was on the roster, I had serious doubts about how he would do. In his first two seasons of pro hockey he was split between the AHL and ECHL but more often then not found himself with the Cincinnati Cyclones. Last season he never even made it to Milwaukee. His entire season was spent at the ECHL to push his career numbers to 143 games at that level as opposed to the 26 games he had played in the AHL prior to this season.
How much of last season, spending an entire season at one-level, with the same team, same coaches, and one focus the true factor in Aronson’s turn-around? It may have gone under my radar last season but this year I think it has proved to be the best thing to have happened for him. In 2013-14 he played 65 games for the Cyclones in the ECHL and scored 38 points (6 goals, 32 assists) while having a plus/minus rating of +28. In addition to that he was part of the Cyclones tremendous Kelly Cup run where he had 7 assists and was a +6 en route to defeat for Cincinnati in the final.
Aronson showed up to Admirals camp this season in his best shape and with his mind firmly focused on maintaining an AHL role. His advantage that other defensive competition didn’t have? He was the only right handed shot. While it’s a plus to have that left-right parody on the blue line I don’t think that’s matter much as far as Aronson earning his spot this season. He has played like he has belonged from game one.
This season Aronson has scored 24 points (3 goals, 21 assists) in 41 games. He is tied with Austin Watson for third on the Admirals in scoring and is the highest scoring defenseman by a goal over Anthony Bitetto. Aronson’s points per game in the ECHL last season was 0.58. In the AHL this season it’s 0.59. The work he put in last season in Cincinnati has translated into AHL success in Milwaukee this season.
What have you thought about the Milwaukee Admirals defensemen this season? Who has been the best d-man? Have Diaby and Aronson impressed you this season?