2014-15 Milwaukee Admirals Report Card

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)
The Milwaukee Admirals provided lots of ups and downs during the 2014-15 season. Unfortunately they did so in that order with a franchise best start to a season followed by their first season without playoff hockey in thirteen years. (Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

This was a very Jekyll and Hyde type of season. The Milwaukee Admirals opened their 2014-15 season by setting a franchise record for a best ever start with a six-game winning streak. Things were really looking great up until December rolled around. There was a seven-game losing stretch and the team pulled a 3-6-2-1 record in the month.

I remember around that time thinking it was just a dip. A small slide that the Admirals needed to go through to better themselves in the long run. January seemed to prove that right because the team rocked a 10-2-0-0 record with a franchise record nine-game winning streak. They were out in front of the Midwest Division and capped off the month by shutting out the Grand Rapids Griffins 4-0 on the road.

When trying to pinpoint where things really trended as badly as this season went I ended up coming to the date, February 15th. The Admirals lost two key components to their team, injuries started to hit within the Nashville Predators organization, and the roster change-over that happened seemed to give the Admirals difficulties. Actually, that’s a bit of an understatement. The Admirals went 4-14-5-3 after that date and wound up not making the playoffs for the first time since the franchise’s debut season in the American Hockey League of 2001-02.

The frustrating part about the end to the season was how often good efforts or performances were squandered in a matter of a few moments. There would be a mistake, defensive lapse, goaltending mishap, or something as wacky as a bad bounce. That span from February 15th saw the Admirals battle through a game that was decided by a single goal thirteen times. Think about that for a moment. That’s a difference between playing playoff hockey and watching playoff hockey on a couch. Frustrating. That’s perhaps another understatement.

While it’s tough for everyone to miss out on the playoffs that doesn’t by any means make this season a complete write-off. Lots of players left a good first impression and some familiar faces put some solid stamps down.

This report card is purely my grading and assessment of those who played for the Admirals this season. In my grades for last season I made the cut-off for earning a grade at twenty-games. Anything less was an incomplete. I think I’ll hold to that.

Anthony Bitetto
Grade: B

The 2014-15 season marked Anthony Bitetto’s third professional playing season. It also provided the highlight of it when Bitetto made his NHL debut. In total he played seven games for the Nashville Predators in the NHL and averaged 11:46 of ice time.

If there were perhaps any one player who best encapsulates the Admirals season as a whole it is probably Bitetto. When he was on he was on. When he was in a rut he was really in a rut. Through nineteen games of the Admirals season he had scored 11 points (1 goal, 10 assists) with a plus/minus rating of +16. The bad month of December? He had 2 assists and was a -8. The fun times of January? Not to shabby points-wise, 10 points (1 goal, 9 assists), but -again- he was on the ice for a lot of damage as well with only a +4 rating. From February to the end of the season his plus/minus was -13.

It was an up down and all-around kind of season for Bitetto. Last season he took a big step forward. This season I believe he took another step forward. The problem seemed to be how he handled getting thrust into a top defensive line role. Seems like logging those top line minutes against top line competition wore him down over the course of the campaign. While that sounds troubling I feel Bitetto’s track record shows that he’s able to comeback the next season for the better. As he in my eyes symbolized this past season his goal next year should be playing that full-sixty minute game (every game). That was this year’s problem and having someone the likes of Bitetto back providing a turn-around to that would be a big boost.

Jonathan Diaby
Grade: C-

I think there are two very key points in Jonathan Diaby’s first season of professional hockey. The first was when he was reassigned to the ECHL. It was a very brief stint for him but I believe it gave him both a wake up call and two games where he could log way more ice time than could be afforded to him in the AHL. The second point was around the time when bodies started going out either to injury or call up. Diaby was forced into a bigger role on the Admirals defense and appeared to grow leaps and bounds over the player he was at the start of the year.

One could point a finger at Diaby’s offensive output and see that as a problem area. He has only recorded 4 points (0 goals, 4 assists) in fifty-five total games between the AHL and ECHL. For a slight bit of odd-ball stat work, Marek Mazanec had 5 points (0 goals, 5 assists) in forty-eight games with the Admirals alone this season. You might think, as a defenseman who plays the puck more than a goaltender, Diaby could have lucked into some offensive production somewhere along the line.

That could be an issue but, hey, as long as a defenseman plays defense, right? At the age of 20-years old Diaby was the youngest member of the Admirals defense corps. I think his season basically reflected that. There were some good nights. There were some especially not so good nights. I think it’ll be a bit more fun next season to see how he plays when the training wheels on the bike are off.

Scott Ford
Grade: Incomplete

When the Sheriff returned I think there were some comparisons made to the 2012-13 season. He arrived from the Peoria Rivermen that year in February to help provide his leadership on and off the ice.

I never really expressed my initial comparison though. I didn’t think many would get it because, well, it’s jolly English. In the 2008-09 English Premiership League the football club Newcastle United brought in team legend Alan Shearer to manage the team and inspire them to win games and avoid relegation from the top flight. In the end it failed. Newcastle United ended up being relegated to the second tier of English football.

The same story was essentially told with Scott Ford rejoining the Admirals late this season. It’s nice and everything but it’s not exactly like it did anything. The Admirals were in a tail spin out of the playoff picture for the first time in thirteen years and adding the ol’ captain was never going to stop it.

One thing I would say about how Ford looked and played in his time with the Admirals this season is he looked way better than he did the year prior. When the team was swept by the Toronto Marlies in last season’s playoffs I saw guys skating circles around Ford and it really seemed like some kind of swan song. He worked hard to get in great shape, continued to push for work, stepped into his veteran role with the South Carolina Stingrays in the ECHL, and -for 35-years old- was his usual self back in Milwaukee. I think that’s a huge credit to him for his work rate off the ice.

There’s still pro hockey in the Sheriff’s system. I think all who have cheered him on in Milwaukee love that.

Joe Piskula
Grade: B+

When you don’t include Joe Piskula the average age of the Admirals defensive regulars at the start of this season was 21.8-years old. When the second most seasoned guy back there is Anthony Bitetto you do need that veteran influence. And that is precisely what Piskula provided.

For all the defensive lapses and problems for the Admirals down the stretch Piskula was as consistent as it gets. You never really had to worry to much about what kind of a night he was going to have. And his team leading plus/minus of +20 is a reflection of that. For all the rough of the last three months of the season he still came in the top twenty in the league in that category.

Piskula’s contract is up at the conclusion of this hockey season. Should he be back? I think that’s something that Nashville will have to sit and think about. The defensive nucleus in Nashville is rock solid. It really is. But, what happens when one or more go down? Is Bitetto that first guy up? Who would be the second or third guy up after him? I think that Piskula still has a place as that safe-bet first man up for Nashville. Were he not injured at the time, no offense to Bitetto, but he is probably that man logging NHL time. He’s smart. He’s experienced. He’s reliable. And he should be back as captain of the Admirals once again next season.

Patrick Cehlin
Grade: Incomplete

You just can’t help but feel bad for Patrick Cehlin and his time in North America. He was a fifth round draft choice of the Predators in 2010 and made his debut in the 2012-13 season. Sadly, that debut season was really as good as it ever got for him. He had 32 points (9 goals, 23 assists) that year but I think even more important than that was his health record that allowed him to play seventy games. In the two seasons that followed he only played forty-two games for the Admirals and recorded 24 points (6 goals, 18 assists) – which all came last season.

Things went wrong for Cehlin’s 2014-15 season long before it ever began. He had surgery to repair bone chips in his hip and then developed a blood clot in his leg following his flight back home to Sweden. The season prior there were concussion issues. The guy just couldn’t get a good break following his first season.

Cehlin spent more time in the ECHL with the Cincinnati Cyclones this season than he did with the Admirals. ECHL numbers: 4 points (3 goals, 1 assist) in nine games. AHL numbers: 0 points in four games.

All these troubles, with sputtering effect, made things easy up top to part ways. Cehlin was loaned back home to Sweden with Leksands IF at the end of January. He recorded 2 points (2 goals, 0 assists) in thirteen games while Leksands IF finished second last in the SHL to fall into the relegation series along with the last placed Modo Hockey. To make Cehlin’s time in hockey lately even worse Leksands IF lost their relegation playoff series against the Malmö Redhawks in game seven on home ice to get dropped to the second tier of Swedish hockey.

Like I said. You can’t help but feel for the guy. If he were to have never had the injury troubles that he did I feel he was certainly talented enough to have made a big impact on the Admirals last season and this season. The fact that he simply wasn’t able to will likely cost him his chance of playing in North America any time soon.

Kevin Fiala
Grade: B

Remember those first few games for Kevin Fiala as an Admiral? He seemed rattled. The speed of the game, and especially the closing rate of the defense, visibly surprised him. With a little bit of time, instruction, practice, and game time… BLAMMO.

That’s all part of that North American transition process. And you know what? There is still some maturity that needs to be learned for me. What people in Nashville need to remember is this: that is perfectly fine. He is only 18-years old. Mistakes and stupid moments should happen. It’s the lessons those present and his ability to learn from those that will make him that much better as a player.

What is obvious is that, even at his age, he is brilliant. He has all the tools to put on a show in the NHL. He just needs the time. It worked for Filip Forsberg and it will work for him too. The word I used when Forsberg was in Milwaukee was patience. Same will be said with Fiala. Patience. Fiala is a special one. He produced 20 points (11 goals, 9 assists) in thirty-three games with the Admirals. And that is him while he’s adapting and in a feeling out process.

Could Fiala start next season in Nashville? It wouldn’t surprise me much. Could Fiala be back in Milwaukee at the start of next season? That wouldn’t surprise me much either.

Ian White
Grade: B-

If there was a Bryan Rodney of the 2014-15 Admirals squad it was Ian White. Fans were mainly cold to his play despite him being the third highest scoring defenseman on the team at season’s end. Did he provide people reasons to be cold in the first place? Oh, absolutely. But what offensive minded puck mover from the blue line doesn’t get burned defensively? Heck, Taylor Aronson was the top scoring defenseman for the Admirals but he had the lowest plus/minus of all Admirals with a -15. He didn’t seem to get the same level of grief as White did.

When White came to the Admirals it was because of his release from a PTO contract with the Providence Bruins. He had 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists) in eight games there. Oh, and a plus/minus of -5. Perhaps that defense was what ended his PTO deal early there. No matter, Bruins loss was the Admirals gain. Aronson was the lone right-handed shot on the Admirals when White was brought on-board. I feel White added a nice balance and offensive touch – even if his speed trekking back in defense cost him at times.

White’s spell with the Admirals ended the moment the team decided on Scott Ford over him instead. Again, Alan Shearer hopes and dreams for me. I don’t think White deserved to be released for what he produced but one can understand why the coaching staff and team would like to add the ol’ captain back. Ford had 0.17 points per game, 1.17 penalty minutes per game, and a plus/minus of -4 in twelve games for the Admirals. White had 0.56 points per game, 0.38 penalty minutes per game, and a plus/minus of +4 in thirty-four games for the Admirals. Would it have made a difference if White stayed over Ford? It’s an interesting question.

Gary Steffes
Grade: Inclomplete

I believe my initial reaction to the PTO signing of Gary Steffes was a simple one word response, “Who?” Then I quick did a bit of research and found myself asking another question, “How on planet Earth did no one snap this guy up sooner that this?”

No really. How was it that Steffes flew under people’s radars without a PTO contract sooner than when the Admirals gave him one in late-March? It sort of blows me away and kind of reminds me that not too many teams or people take the ECHL all that seriously.

Steffes was an undrafted college player who was with the Tulsa Oilers of the Central Hockey League before getting a brief chance with the Lake Erie Monsters. His small cameo there wasn’t exactly Earth shattering but, placed back below the AHL, all he was doing was producing offense with this season being his zenith. He scored 73 points (44 goals, 29 assists) in sixty-three games with the Allen Americans. He joined the Admirals and he scores 4 points (4 goals, 0 assists) in nine games.

Want to know what Steffes has done since rejoining the Allen Americans for the 2015 ECHL Kelly Cup Playoffs? Score and score some more. At the time of this being published he has 5 points (4 goals, 1 assist) in five games. Those goals were scored in four straight games after leaving the Admirals. In all competitions this season (ECHL, AHL, and ECHL Playoffs) Steffes has scored 52 goals. If he is still under AHL radars and isn’t in the league full-time next season someone please come over and photograph my face.

My hope is that his brief time with the Admirals left an impression that brings him back next season. I feel a spot is there for him and I think he could be a 20 goal scorer in the AHL next season. Wouldn’t it just be Scott Darling if the Rockford IceHogs snapped him up? *cringe*

Félix Girard
Grade: C+

Up until his season ending injury Félix Girard had played every single game in the Admirals season. While his work on the ice wasn’t entirely mesmerizing, 9 points (4 goals, 5 assists), I think his influence wasn’t exactly felt until he was removed from the equation.

Girard was the Admirals third or fourth line center for most of the season but that is precisely what made him a great contributor to the team. He battled hard on both sides of the puck, was good on faceoffs, could kill penalties, and was one of the better defensive minded forwards. When posing the February 15th info to Admirals head coach Dean Evason he made a point to bring Girard into the mix of both Miikka Salomäki and Brendan Leipsic. I think that says a ton of what the Admirals thought about Girard’s presence to the team and their success.

In my book, Girard never did anything too flashy or too bad. He was often a guy that you flat out didn’t think about at all entering or leaving a game. And that’s not really a bad thing. He was consistent and gave the lower lines an anchor. When he returns next season I’d expect more if not simply just more of the same.

Mike Liambas
Grade: C+

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve gone to an Admirals practice and at some point muttered the words, “boy does Mike Liambas have a shot.” He does. He really does. It might not pop up too often in games but he can deliver a pretty solid wrist shot.

Perhaps it was only a matter of time before those hands were put to another use. Last season he set an Admirals AHL record for penalty minutes in a season with 267. He took 109 minutes off of that total this year. His previous career high for goals in a season was 4 goals and that came in his debut junior playing season of 2006-07 as a defenseman with the Erie Otters. This season for the Admirals he totaled 5 goals.

I think the highlight of Liambas’ 2014-15 season came when the team was so beaten up and shorthanded defensively that they turned to him to play defense for the first time in years. His work on defense reflected exactly what Liambas has been like since joining the Admirals. He is attentive, cares about the details, and wants to do right by the team and coaching staff. His work on defense, as brief as it was, sort of reminded me of what some Admirals defensemen were losing sight of: keep things simple. I think Liambas’ game this past season has been all about keeping things simple and consistent and, as a result, he’s been rewarded by what I would consider to be his best professional playing season. Go figure.

Colton Sissons
Grade: A

When the Nashville Predators started rounding up centers to one-year contracts it seemed to signal to all centers in Milwaukee that they just aren’t there quite yet. For a brief while, I feared that this “not being able to make the Predators” got under the skin of Colton Sissons and impacted his play in a bad way rather than motivate him to do more.

For all the good of the Admirals start to the season it took him a staggering twenty-five games before recording an assist. Through the 2014 portion of the calendar, thirty-one games, Sissons had 11 points (8 goals, 3 assists). At some point the rest of his play really kicked in for the good. He ended this season as the third leading scorer on the team with 42 points (25 goals, 17 assists) – becoming the first ever Admiral in the AHL history of the team to begin a career with back-to-back 25 goal scoring seasons.

I think the adjustment to his game this season wasn’t quite what Nashville was looking for but is another step forward for him in the long run. To be that every day sort of NHL player Sissons explosiveness on offense needs to improve. As nice as his numbers have been the last two seasons that’s still a gray area for him. What he did improve upon this season was his battle level – absolutely through the roof. Sissons looked like he borrowed some inspiration from Miikka Salomäki at times with how heavy his playing style could get or how “in your face” he could be following a whistle. It might not be the exact steps Nashville may have wanted to have him taking but that’s another part of the canvas that needed to be brushed up and he did it well.

Before the season started, when the players all sat down to vote on who the captains should be for the Admirals, Sissons was 20-years old. He ended up getting named as an alternate captain. The way he conducts himself on and off the ice earns him lots of respect among coaches and players.

I think the way he played in the closing to the Admirals season spoke volumes of his on-ice leadership. While I point at February 15th, as often as I do, think about who took it upon themselves to step up and fill some of the voids lost after that day. Sissons recorded 18 points (8 goals, 10 assists) in twenty-six games after the Admirals lost two of their key puzzle pieces. He was battling to keep the Admirals afloat doing everything a center can be tasked with.

While some could look at the stats and view Sissons sophomore season as a small step back from his rookie year with the Admirals, I don’t. He played every single game this season and made himself a better hockey player than he was the year prior.

Jared Nightingale
Grade: Incomplete

Jared Nightingale played for six different teams this season. So, where shall we begin? The hired gun from the ECHL began the 2014-15 Nightingale AHL World Tour with the Hartford Wolf Pack, then the Norfolk Admirals, Grand Rapids Griffins, Milwaukee Admirals, and Syracuse Crunch. Oh, least we forget his pit stops back with the Toledo Walleye of the ECHL in-between.

What of Nightingale’s short tenure with the Admirals this season then? Honestly, it was good. He was only around for six games and paired up Jaynen Rissling who was also brought up from the ECHL to help in the Admirals defensive numbers issues at the time. There was nothing flashy being done. Just a nice veteran touch penciled into the Admirals defense at a time when they simply didn’t have anyone there. It probably shouldn’t come as that big of a surprise that other AHL teams saw exactly the same thing in Nightingale.

Eric Robinson
Grade: Incomplete

I won’t sugarcoat it. I’m a fan of Eric Robinson. Why? Because when I asked him why he went the college route instead of accepting his draft selection by the St. John’s Fog Devils in the 2007 QMJHL Draft he simply answered by saying he wanted to earn a degree. There’s something about that which I just love because not all hockey careers are long and there will be another life after the game comes to an end. He has that secondary career set with a Dartmouth education and degree in the tank. Anything that comes from his time playing hockey he can take as a bonus.

What I saw from Robinson in his time on the ice with the Admirals I was also a fan of. He played ten games and scored his first career pro goal in game number four. Again, he was a guy who made the simple and smart plays. I think that helped in his effectiveness. He skated real well, worked on the boards pretty good, and had this knack for being able to get to soft spots on the ice. He’s probably unlucky to not have scored more than he did. It seemed like his pairing with Mark Van Guilder was a fantastic one.

On an ATO contract Robinson was able to showcase some of what he can do. As far as job interviews go he’d be someone I wouldn’t mind having back with the Admirals next season in the same way Joe Pendenza showed well in an ATO a year ago and was brought back.

Miikka Salomäki
Grade: B

The lone Finn of the Admirals went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows in a matter of one month. Miikka Salomäki made his NHL debut, scored a goal, and contributed a game-high seven hits while playing in front of the home crowd in Nashville. A month later his season came to an end in Milwaukee.

In 2014-15, Salomäki produced 18 points (7 goals, 11 assists) with a plus/minus of +15 and 30 penalty minutes in thirty-eight games. That’s not exactly good when compared to his team leading scoring numbers the year prior. It’s a smaller sample size, sure, but his points for game went from 0.67 to 0.47. That said, he was banged up during the season. He had concussion and shoulder issues during this season and perhaps was never playing at 100% as a result.

I really think Salomäki was the Admirals main spark plug for this season. If he wasn’t scoring he was still his “bull in a china shop” self as he was crashing into players or battling hard to the net. He is a relentless worker and I think it rubs off when he’s on the ice. Him leaving the team due to injury hurt. What I hope for now is that his 2015-16 can be a healthy one. Wouldn’t want him getting into that Patrick Cehlin “what if” spectrum with injuries mounting against him.

Triston Grant
Grade: B-

It was nice to see a return of Triston Grant to the Milwaukee Admirals after a four year spell with three different organizations. He was one more veteran presence that could help a young group of players. Not only was that present but he ended up setting a new career high for goals scored in a season with 13 and tied a career high for points in a season with 25 (2009-10).

Grant is one of those familiar faces that is a question mark whether or not he’ll be back next season. I’d think it be unlikely and I think the way the Admirals were stacked is the reason why. They made Mike Liambas. Rich Clune was placed on waivers by the Nashville Predators and then cleared to join the Admirals. And then of course there was Grant. They’re practically the same player and, at times, I questioned the need to play all three at the same time. It isn’t exactly like there is versatility there.

What I do think, and expect, is for Grant to once again be a factor for another AHL team next season. He’s a great person to have in that locker room and on the ice. I just don’t see that spot back for him. Depending on what Nashville does with Clune he could well be back in Milwaukee next season because he is still under contract. Liambas? He’s a free agent this off-season but I can see him back again. He’s basically Grant except he is 5-years and 14-days younger. Grant proved that he can still be a quality AHL talent in Milwaukee this season. Moving forward I’m just not seeing him back is all.

Joe Pendenza
Grade: C+

When Joe Pendenza arrived from UMass-Lowell on an ATO last season there was a lot to like. Evidently there was so much to like he earned his first pro contract with the Admirals in the off-season that followed. The result was a steady and reliable presence on the ice at either the center spot or the wing. He plays the game with patience, intelligence, -is probably better defensively than offensively- but that’s fine when he’s competing on the lower lines as he did.

Pendenza spent some time this season in the ECHL but the better part of his season was with Milwaukee. As a member of the Cyclones he produced 7 points (3 goals, 4 assists) in thirteen games. With the Admirals he picked up 18 points (9 goals, 9 assists) in forty-eight games with a plus/minus of -2 and the lowest penalty minutes per game on the entire team with 0.12.

I really like what Pendenza brings to the ice. The problem this season was actually the numbers game and competition for ice time meaning himself, Zach Budish, or Frédérick Gaudreau were typically on the outside looking in. Those three were mainly battling one another for playing time and all made great cases from time to time as to why they should be out there. I feel like the versatility of both Pendenza and Gaudreau helped their case over Budish earlier in the season. In the end, all ended up producing darn near the exact same way on the lower lines for the Admirals. Nothing special. Nothing jaw dropping. Just sound safe hockey to provide the top line forwards their breather. Good. Not great. But good from all of them.

Taylor Aronson
Grade: B

If you were to tell me at the beginning of the season that Taylor Aronson would make the Admirals, in general, I would have been shocked. Nothing completely against him but he was an ECHL’er who seemed to sink more than swim when given the chance at the AHL prior to this season. Now, if you were to tell me that Aronson would not only make the Admirals but lead all defensemen in scoring this season -at the beginning of the season- I may have pulled a muscle from laughing at your face.

Let’s jump forward into this beautiful time known as the present where all of those things actually happened. Yes, Aronson led all Admirals defensemen in scoring this season with 32 points (3 goals, 29 assists). And you know what? That is really a big time credit to him. It would be easy to point at him being the lone right-handed shot on the blue line out of pre-season camp but he purely made the Admirals and stayed with the Admirals because of his play this season.

Think it could get any nuttier than that -speaking to my “at the beginning of the season” self- Aronson was called up to the Nashville Predators on an emergency basis when Shea Weber was sick, a game-time decision, and played through an illness. No matter what the scenario was the fact remains that Aronson earned a first career NHL call up this season. He earned it.

Now for the downside. Aronson’s defense wasn’t as great as his offense. His plus/minus of -15 was the worst on the entire team by 4 points over Johan Alm. When you consider the better majority of Aronson’s defensive opportunities were not against top line competitions on his AHL opponents that doesn’t make that stat look any better.

Aronson is a reminder of the balance that is needed on defense just as Anthony Bitetto was the last two seasons prior. It’s great being able to jump up and contribute on offense but, when the word defense is in your position title, you should probably manage that area of the ice first.

This being Aronson’s first true full-season of AHL hockey I think that the groundwork has been laid out to improve. He played twenty-six games with the Admirals before this season. He only had 5 assists in that time. This was a massive leap forward in Aronson’s career this season. Now he just needs to take another step in regards to his actual defense to go along with his ability to contribute from the blue line.

Zach Budish
Grade: C+

The man with the biggest head on the team was rolling along on quite the amazing feat this season. The Admirals won fourteen of fourteen games when Zach Budish was in the lineup and didn’t record a regulation loss with him in the mix until game number twenty-one of his season. I referred to this as the Budish Effect. For awhile it seemed like all that was needed was him in the lineup. Then his magical presence, like the Admirals place in the divisional and conference standings, went away.

It’s not that Budish does all that much. I’ve always felt people see his body type and naturally expect Austin Watson. Newsflash, they are two completely different players. The separation between Budish and Watson is that I think Budish’s main comfort zone is in a defensive minded capacity. He and Watson both averaged 2.09 shots per game this season but I think there is not only a difference between the quality of shot being taken but also where on the ice most of Budish’s chances are being taken from. I feel like the better majority of Budish’s shots come from the half-wall, far wings, deep behind the faceoff circles, or occasionally as he swoops in on the front of the net for jam plays. He’s more reactionary to the play around him that being proactive about creating a chance. That’s probably why he just isn’t as flashy as most would wish him to be.

That being said, this was Budish’s best pro playing season of his career. He was fantastic for the Cyclones in the ECHL this season: 23 points (8 goals, 15 assists) with a plus/minus of +11 in thirty games. He then put up career highs in his AHL numbers with 14 points (6 goals, 8 assists) and only 18 penalty minutes in forty-three games.

I always think that his presence on the ice is something that tends to not get the credit it deserves because he isn’t doing any one particular thing spectacularly. The thing you get as a constant from Budish is smart and safe hockey. While that might not advance his career the way he would like to. It makes him a big contributor to the lower lines of the Admirals forward group. Were he able to maintain his defensive aspects while upgrading some attacking intensity to his game it’d be lots of fun seeing him get on a roll.

Viktor Stålberg
Grade: B+

Who would have thought that the Admirals would have someone of the quality and experience such as Viktor Stålberg swinging by for twenty games this season? In truth, him doing so sums up his awful time in the Nashville Predators organization ever since signing a four-year contract in the summer following his Stanley Cup winning performance with the Chicago Blackhawks. He has had injury woes that have hindered his time in Nashville and I don’t feel he’s quite ever performed the way he can as a result.

The perfect example of how unfortunate his time has been in this organization you need only look at what happened to him 11/7/14. It was Stålberg’s last game with the Admirals on a conditioning assignment from the Predators after starting off his season in Nashville hurt. What happens? Brennan Evans lays a knee-on-knee hit to Stålberg that puts him out for more than a month. The guy simply can’t catch a break can he?

The great news looking past all the rough moments he’s gone through since joining the Predators organization is that he remains an absolute pro on and off the ice. Never once after clearing waivers to become an Admiral did it seem like he was bitter or let any sort of negative emotion spill out onto the ice. The result was 17 points (11 goals, 6 assists) in twenty-games with Milwaukee including two hat tricks – one of which came in the Admirals most electrifying games of the entire season.

Brendan Leipsic
Grade: A-

It’s weird grading someone who isn’t a part of the organization anymore but the fact remains that Brendan Leipsic was fourth in scoring for the Milwaukee Admirals this season despite playing less than twenty-games than the top three in front of him. If not for being part of the trade to Toronto he could well have been the leading scorer on the season for the Admirals. Without question, the moment he was traded away, it hurt the team big time losing the spark plug that is Leipsic.

In forty-seven games with the Admirals the 20-year old from Winnipeg tallied 35 points (7 goals, 28 assists), had a plus/minus rating of +2, and 16 penalty minutes. In the beginning of the season he really highlighted the new wave of forwards coming into the Nashville system by the speed and skill he displayed. It’s hard to recall an exact figure but it felt like he had numerous breakaway chances at the start of the Admirals season and failed getting that first pro goal in the process. The goal scoring would make appearances here and there with perhaps the biggest highlight coming in the 2015 AHL All Star Classic when he became the first Admiral in the AHL era of the team to score a hat trick in the All Star game. With his skating ability, speed, skills, and passing ability it’s not hard to tell why Toronto wanted him as part of that trade.

Once Leipsic did join the Toronto Marlies he hit the ground running by scoring 6 points (2 goals, 4 assists) in his first five games. He then went on a thirteen game stretch where he only had a single assist to his name. When speaking to Leipsic when the Marlies arrived for the Admirals home finale on the season he said that stretch summed up the ups and downs of his first pro playing season. I agree, and consistency will be the biggest key for Leipsic moving forward in his career. Should he be able to harness those skills that he possesses he could make the Predators regret trading him away for what they received in return.

Mark Van Guilder
Grade: B-

This was the last season of Mark Van Guilder’s two-year contract that he signed with the Nashville Predators in 2013. Things may be slowing down in his game, as evidenced by his penalty minutes taken the last two seasons, but what continues to make him such a major contributor to the Admirals is what he provides in the faceoff circle and especially on the penalty kill. He is hands down the best of the best on the Admirals in both of those respects.

The one worry that I have with Van Guilder is the age factor and if he is starting to lose his touch. He had 41 penalty minutes in his first five seasons with the Admirals. He has had 50 penalty minutes in his last two seasons. In 2012-13, the year that he earned the Nashville contract, he scored 32 points (14 goals, 18 assists) with a plus/minus rating of +15. Last season: 29 points (14 goals, 15 assists) with a plus/minus rating of -2. This season: 26 points (11 goals, 15 assists) with a plus/minus rating of -6.

The plus side? He was one of only three Admirals to play ever game this season. The down side? I’m not all that certain that the Admirals all-time AHL games played leader will be back next season. If he is, it certainly won’t be via a Nashville two-way contract once again. But, if he is, I’d expect quality faceoff and penalty kill work once again but with offensive and defensive numbers that are going to keep sliding that little bit. 31-years old. Will he be back? For as big of a part of the Milwaukee community and Admirals organization as he has been it is one of the bigger questions of this off-season.

Marek Mazanec
Grade: C+

There was a lot to be excited about with Marek Mazanec when this season started the way that it did. He was really strong at the end of the 2013-14 season and carried it over by winning his first five starts. As was the case of the team itself. Mazanec’s season as a whole was streaky. He followed up his second consecutive five-game winning streak to start an Admirals season by recording losses in eleven of his next fifteen games.

“I don’t know,” was the answer given by Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason when asked what the problem is with Mazanec late in the season. You know what? That’s actually a pretty solid answer because I don’t know either. There were plenty of times when Mazanec would provide such a calm and composed effort in net. There were even more times when Mazanec would have a deer in headlights night.

The net result is a downgrade in all major goaltending categories from last year to this year except for one. He had no shutouts last season in the AHL but picked up 4 shutouts this season. Aside from that, he went from: 18 wins in thirty-one games to 18 wins in forty-eight games, 2.44 goals against average to 2.76 goals against average, 0.914 save percentage to 0.900 save percentage, and 0.667 shootout percentage to 0.565 shootout percentage.

All those shutouts to have even less of a save percentage than the year prior tells you simply: when he was on – he was on, when he was off – he was off. As a pending RFA, along with goaltending battery-mate Magnus Hellberg, it is a curious off-season for Mazanec. Juuse Saros is on the horizon and could well be in North America later this fall depending on what he and the Predators would like to do with the 20-year old Finnish goaltending prospect. If Saros remains in Europe next season it should be same ol’ same ol’ here in Milwaukee. If not, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Mazanec on the out in comparison to his competition within the system. He has been afforded the NHL playing time over Hellberg but I’m not sure why Nashville has the confidence in Mazanec as they do. This past season in the AHL was a mess for him. If he expects to stick around longer than the 2015-16 season he is going to have to earn it.

Viktor Arvidsson
Grade: A

There simply wasn’t a player on the Milwaukee Admirals who impressed me more this season that Viktor Arvidsson. He has an incredible slap shot with tremendous pop for 5’9″ player and is by no means shy of peppering shots on goal. He lead the entire AHL in shots with 272 – which set an Admirals AHL record.

Also, for the sake of entertainment, I’m not sure there was an Admiral who provided more highlight reel goal material this season. For the following examples click here, here, here, and especially here.

If there were any lulls to his game as he transitioned to the North American game it wasn’t there for long. In his last year with Skellefteå in Sweden he produced 40 points (16 goals, 24 assists) in fifty games. He was then drafted by the Nashville Predators at the ripe ol’ age of 21-years old in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Draft and would start his North American pro playing career in the AHL with the Milwaukee Admirals. The results really do speak for themselves. He led the Admirals in scoring this season with 55 points (22 goals, 33 assists) in seventy games.

If there were any forward who I feel could quickly make a case for an NHL spot next season in Nashville it would be Arvidsson. In fact, he already put a slight stamp down himself. He played six games with the Predators in his debut season to North America. That has allowed him to get familiar with his surroundings quickly. He knows what the NHL game will be like, what the locker room will be like, teammates, and the city. He’s only going to be that much more motivated to stay there.

Interestingly it seems that Arvidsson already has direct competition for a spot in Nashville. Steve Moses, this season’s top goal scoring in Russia’s KHL, signed a one-year contract with the Predators for next season. I know they are two different players but, on paper, they are both 5’9″ wingers who specialize in throwing pucks to the net. Should Moses get that preference over Arvidsson then the Swede’s loss of an NHL gig is the Admirals gain for 2015-16. He can only improve on what was an impressive rookie season in North America. And I think placing him in the AHL to start the year will only put a big fire underneath him to get back to Nashville.

Rich Clune
Grade: B-

I think my first impression when the Admirals gained Rich Clune after he cleared waivers from the Nashville Predators wasn’t all that positive. The reason had nothing to do with Clune himself but purely because the Admirals already had Mike Liambas and Triston Grant. How many other little sluggers do you need on one team?

The reality is of course much bigger than that. For one, the Admirals can’t always plan for what the Predators do top-side with their business operations because at the end of the day it is -in fact- a business. I think if the Predators lost Clune on waivers they wouldn’t even have bat an eyelid. If they kept him, spoiler alert they did, it meant getting to maintain a very likable locker room presence and favorite amongst the fans. He was a recall to Nashville from Milwaukee away is all.

That recall of course never happened. Clune played sixty-two games with the Admirals in his first season in the AHL since 2012-13. He produced 17 points (6 goals, 11 assists), had an even plus/minus, and led the team in penalty minutes with 181. He worked all facets of the game. Yes, Nashville readers. That means both ends of special teams including the power-play where he worked the front of the net. He was also the go-to man in the fighting department. He led the Admirals with 17 fights this season – which is one more than Liambas had this season.

What impressed me the absolute most was possibly something those in attendance watching him play might have been able to pick up on. His commitment. What I mean by that is he used this time in the AHL to make himself a better all-around hockey player. Rather than be sour over Nashville sending him down he understood that there was a reason for his demotion to the AHL and worked to fix that. When thinking of all the different scenarios the Admirals coaching staff felt comfortable throwing him out on the ice for it tells me a lot. He cares a lot about getting back into the NHL and took the effort to get himself back on track to do so. Whether or not he is able to with Nashville will be a developing storyline coming into the 2015-16 season – the last year of his contract with the team.

Garrett Noonan
Grade: C+

From a lot of the chatter I heard coming into this season Garrett Noonan was one of the bigger names of the young Admirals defensive core. Now that things are in perspective I think it is safe to say that Noonan’s first pro season was probably not the debut season he would have wanted but perhaps it will serve him well in the long run.

Noonan split his time between the Admirals in the AHL and Cyclones in the ECHL. For what it’s worth he was pretty good with the Admirals: 9 points (4 goals, 5 assists), plus/minus rating of +7, and 17 penalty minutes. At the end of the day he was on the outside looking in for playing time with Jimmy Oligny and Jonathan Diaby being preferred over him instead. Rather than keep him a healthy scratch he was kept busy in the ECHL: 10 points (1 goal, 9 assists), a plus/minus rating of -2, and 22 in twenty-three games.

Again, probably not the first pro season he would have liked but I think there is a lot to like with Noonan. He’s good offensively and skates well enough to not really get burnt when creeping up from the blue line. He, possibly more than Diaby, went through more of a learning process than any of the defensemen this season. I’m hoping that this past year pays off in the same way that it did for Anthony Bitetto after his first full-season in Milwaukee.

Credit where credit is due with Nashville. Should the young whipper snappers get content with the idea that they are guaranteed playing him at the AHL level next season the Predators signed Finnish defenseman Kristian Näkyvä to a one-year entry level contract. I feel, in terms of balance, Noonan and Näkyvä should be directly competing against one-another next season. They are like-minded offensive defensemen as opposed to the more stay at home defenseman Diaby. As a fan of internal competition to drive both team and individual success – I’m excited to see what that does for everyone but especially Noonan.

Rob Madore
Grade: Incomplete

When I say I’m grading everyone who dressed for the Admirals I mean everyone. Rob Madore never played a single game with the Admirals but was brought up twice in January to serve as the team’s back-up goalie. That makes me happy that he at the very least was able to do that considering he had the best mask and -debatably- goaltending gear of the Admirals netminders.

So, he never got his game as an Admiral this season. Slightly a shame but, when there are to goalies marked as NHL property (technically) in camp, it is going to take something special to get in net. That never manifested. Madore’s incredible 2014 Kelly Cup MVP level performance only crept back in here and there for the Cincinnati Cyclones in the ECHL this past season: 16 wins, 2.64 goals against average, 0.905 save percentage, and 4 shutouts. Compared that to his MVP winning playoff run last season: 14 wins, 2.29 goals against average, 0.930 save percentage, and no shutouts.

If you get the chance to meet Mr. Madore you will become an instant fan. He is a great person, fun to chat with, and -compared to our prototypical European giants in net- looks like a wee nipper. He may have had a slight down year and didn’t produce to the high levels he set in that playoff run but he is still a great goaltending project in my book. I always believe that goaltenders take much longer to develop than forwards or defense. Madore will be 27-years old at the start of the 2015-16 season. If Juuse Saros isn’t in the North American fold next season, and the plan is to keep things as is in Milwaukee, then I would have Madore brought back as the ECHL insurance man that he was this season. Why not?

Magnus Hellberg
Grade: B+

The story of Magnus Hellberg has now gone through three chapters: (1) the stellar finish to his debut season, (2) the injured and miserable sophomore season, and (3) the brilliant, AHL All Star caliber, start turned sour with the rest of the team season. Brilliant chapter titles for a book if only a little verbose… I digress.

This really was a return to form season for the big Swede. He was outstanding for the better majority of this season and put a woeful 2013-14 season in the past where it belongs. He won his first six starts of this season. That’s one win more than the entirety of the year prior. In addition, he improved his goals against average (2.33), save percentage (0.913), and shutouts (3) from this season to last. His stellar play through the first half earned him an AHL All Star selection. He was tops for goals against average and save percentage in the entire league around the time of his selection.

Hellberg’s numbers seemed to reflect the struggles of the team in front of him. From February to the end of the season his stats were rough: 3 wins from thirteen starts, 3.33 goals against average, and 0.872 save percentage. Those numbers kicked dirt on what could have been an amazing season. He had a 1.80 goals against average and 0.931 save percentage in twenty-two appearances by the end of January.

If I had to make the diabolic choice of choosing one of the two Admirals goaltenders with a possible Juuse Saros entry to the Admirals I would take Hellberg. Why? Because I’m more confident in Hellberg at his worst than Marek Mazanec at his worst. Hellberg at his worst always seems to be some sort of a stretch of a few games in net before he bucks the funk. Mazanec’s worst could be any given night depending on who knows what (everyone still seems to be trying to figure that part out). Hellberg allowed three or more goals fourteen times this season. Mazanec allowed three or more goals twenty-five times this season. Why Mazanec is afforded the NHL time over Hellberg baffles me.

Pontus Åberg
Grade: B-

Some transition to North America quicker than others. Viktor Arvidsson was rather consistent in his first season across the pond. Pontus Åberg not so much.

When I spoke with Åberg at the end of the season I had asked about how his season went, how he started pretty well, but wasn’t able to find consistency on the ice. Åberg pointed to his early season concussion when colliding with teammate Viktor Stålberg and then not getting the ice time he would like to get in some sort of a groove. Credit to him though. He immediately responded that ice time is earned and he didn’t do enough of a job to do just that.

Even a forward as skilled as Kevin Fiala came over to North America and struggled adapting to the speed of the game and especially the closing rate of the defense. Åberg has simply been going through that process this season is all. He recorded 34 points (16 goals, 18 assists) in sixty-nine games with the Admirals in 2014-15. I think rather than looking mainly in the bad it’d be best to understand that those are pretty good numbers for someone who was quite spotty with his play. With a year under his belt I would expect some really good things from Åberg next season. He is clearly talented. He just needs to appreciate the defensive details of the game and be consistent offensively. Should he do just that I wouldn’t be at all shocked if he led the Admirals in scoring in 2015-16.

Jimmy Oligny
Grade: C

It was in June when the Milwaukee Admirals snapped up Jimmy Oligny as an undrafted free agent defenseman out of Rimouski Océanic of the QMJHL. Knowing how their defense was going to have a lot of youth it was yet another depth signing and I believe depth was what Oligny contributed the best to the team this past season.

Oligny’s problem as far as a first pro season was that he never really did any one aspect of his position great. He was just kind of ok. He’s an alright skater, an ok puck mover, and a decent enough defender in his own zone. By the same measure he didn’t do all that much badly, either. 5 points (1 goal, 4 assists), plus/minus rating of -2, and 46 penalty minutes. He was steady. And, despite that not being anything special considering the numbers, that is a good thing.

Knowing that the Predators brought in Kristian Näkyvä next season, along with all the returning faces of a young defensive nucleus with probable returning names such as Joe Piskula and Anthony Bitetto, I get the feeling Oligny’s time with the Admirals is one and done. I just don’t see a spot in Milwaukee for him. That isn’t a knock against him as much as it is a positive signal of the Predators defensive talent pool. They don’t even need an Oligny in 2015-16.

I believe Oligny will find a new AHL home next season. He’ll be 22-years old at the start of the new season with a year’s worth of pro playing experience to carry with him. There’s reason to believe, at that age, that he can get much better. His stats in juniors were really good in a variety of categories. Perhaps a different team or a chance to log more ice time will see those sort of numbers surface.

Austin Watson
Grade: A

Apologies, but I’m going to out them, the Watson internet faction called me out when I mentioned late in the season that “Austin Watson is becoming Mr. Reliable” after a goal tweet on the Twitter machine. “Becoming,” asked the Watson internet clan. I was readying my nuclear warheads and preparing to fire by dishing up hardcore stats but, you know what, they were right. Austin Watson really was Mr. Reliable this entire season for the Milwaukee Admirals.

A year ago I could have given a few red flags for Watson’s developmental process. He looked and skated painfully slow. The offensive numbers might not have backed that up but his performance just didn’t look great at all. I would go as far as to say he looked bored on the ice at times.

Leap to the present and see a Watson who was solid across the board for the Admirals in every way. He was second on the team in scoring with 44 points, lead the team in goal scoring with 26 goals which set a career high, and for the second consecutive season played in each and every game. Mr. Reliable. He really was.

The question to be asked is whether or not any of that matters to the Nashville Predators. I feel that it does because it seems like whenever general manager David Poile talks prospects or Milwaukee Watson’s name comes up. That’s all well and good but is there really a spot for him? I’m not so sure. I feel Watson has done literally everything that he can do at the AHL level to earn some NHL playing time. It just feels like he’s in the wrong organization to get up there and play.

As a pending RFA this off-season Nashville will probably have to make things pretty black and white with Watson. Do you have Watson in your future plans anymore or not? Based on this past season with the Admirals I think he still should be. I don’t think he would be that much of a drop off from pending Nashville free agent and pending 39-year old man Matt Cullen.

Johan Alm
Grade: C

Hopes were really high on Johan Alm being a massive part of the Admirals defense this season. He was an undrafted member of his hometown team Skellefteå in Sweden when the Nashville Predators penned him to a two-year entry level contract. How did year one of two go? Honestly, I am pretty numb about it.

The biggest reason why Alm’s debut season in North America wasn’t anywhere close to what it could have been came when he was injured in early-December. He proceeded to miss the next thirty-two games with an injury to his left wrist. As a result I don’t feel as if Alm ever really had his feet firmly on the ground. He was going through the motions on North American ice prior to the season and didn’t seem to get in any sort of stride when he came back either. He played forty-four games, had 11 points (0 goals, 11 assists), a plus/minus rating of -11, and 18 penalty minutes. That is the second worst plus/minus on the team next to Taylor Aronson’s -15. If Alm played as many games as Aronson, who knows, maybe Alm has the worst plus/minus on the Admirals at season’s end.

The 2015-16 season is Alm’s last year of his entry level contract to the Predators. All I would like to see of him is to stay healthy. If he could do that I think the team and individual would benefit. There is a veteran presence from the 23-year old Swede when he’s on the ice. Stay healthy, take the right steps forward, and await further instructions from Nashville after the entry level contract comes to an end.

Jaynen Rissling
Grade: Incomplete

Do you remember when David Poile schooled the Washington Capitals in a trade for a prospect? This is not that same player but he did make another trade with the Capitals to get another prospect a year and a few days later.

Rissling was only an Admiral for five games during the injury bug stretch of February that impacted both Nashville and Milwaukee at the time. It wasn’t much but I did like what I saw of him. He is a really strong 6’4″ defenseman who kept the game simple. His game is defense – not offense – defense. His work with the Cincinnati Cyclones backs that up. He had 3 points (1 goal, 2 assists) in the ECHL. Sadly, that injury bug also hindered his season because he only played thirty-seven games for Cincinnati.

Of the two d-men that started the season off with Cincinnati, Rissling and Mikko Vainonen, I feel Rissling is the better of the two. Vainonen struggled at the ECHL level and ended up getting shipped back home on a loan to SaiPa in Finland in mid-January. I’m actually curious to see if he’ll ever even come back. Rissling on the other hand is sort of like the Alm of Cincinnati. Just stay healthy. There is a productive defender there and I think the former captain of the Calgary Hitmen could be a factor in Milwaukee at some point in the next two seasons.

Frédérick Gaudreau
Grade: C

Frédérick Gaudreau was another depth signing of the Admirals last off-season. The undrafted Quebec native had finished his junior playing career and provided the team with a versatile forward that could play center or on the wing.

What stick in my mind the most about Gaudreau’s Admirals stint was the last few games of the season. There weren’t a lot of positives to speak of but I think Gaudreau’s play was. He was relentless on the ice and you could tell that he was playing his bleep off.

There was a brief spell with the Cincinnati Cyclones this season for Gaudreau. He had 7 points (5 goals, 2 assists), a plus/minus of -1, and 4 penalty minutes in fourteen games at the ECHL level. With Milwaukee he recorded 11 points (4 goals, 7 assists), a plus/minus rating of +1, and 12 penalty minutes in games.

As far as the forward depth goes moving forward it is kind of a mystery. The great thing is that the Admirals have plenty of options all sitting in their lap right now. You have Gaudreau, Mike Liambas, Triston Grant, Joe Pendenza, Eric Robinson, and I would go as far to bring Gary Steffes into that little gathering of 2014-15 Admirals that are free agents this off-season. I can see a lot of those names back next season and, thanks to a solid finish, Gaudreau would be in that mix as well. He never really gave a reason against bringing him back other than he didn’t get to play as much as he perhaps would have liked to – but that, my friends, is why he was depth signing.

~2014-15 Milwaukee Admirals~
Team GPA: 2.77

Agree? Disagree? Agree to disagree? Give some of your grades in the comments below. Who was your top performing Admiral and vice versa?

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5 thoughts on “2014-15 Milwaukee Admirals Report Card”

  1. this year should be a very good learning experience for the guys that came over to milwaukee healthy miikka will help with the group of forwards

  2. I can definitely see Austin Watson being a capable replacement for someone like Matt Cullen or even Paul Gaustad with the Predators someday. For now though, Gaustad’s contract and the signing of Steve Moses are in the way of Watson making it to the NHL via Nashville and Cullen sticking around in Music City. Cullen, however, was amazing in the playoffs. His veteran experience was integral when Fisher went down, and his success on the face-off made people forget about Gaustad when he wasn’t on the ice. With Nystrom around providing grit, and Cullen working face-offs (and skating a lot faster), I’d actually prefer the team part ways with Goose. Anyhoo…

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