In keeping with the Roundtable’s off-season Q&A series I reached out to Cutler Klein of Today’s Slapshot and Penalty Box Radio to get his thoughts and impressions of the Nashville Predators and Milwaukee Admirals.
Admirals Roundtable: The Nashville Predators off-season goal appeared to be keeping the band together. There have been some additions made but, ultimately, things look pretty similar to last season. Was that the right move and can this team take the right steps forward this season in the attempt of winning a Stanley Cup?
Cutler Klein: With the crop of free agents that was available, and with the countless young talents making their way through the system, it was absolutely the right move. As of right now, the Predators have all but one of the pieces necessary for a Stanley Cup-caliber team. That missing piece is an elite center.
However, this off-season, there wasn’t an elite center available on the free agent market, and a trade seemed far-fetched. While that center might be available at the trade deadline, in future free agent markets, or even sitting on the Milwaukee Admirals right now, he wasn’t there to be acquired this Summer. To trade/make an expensive move for someone other than that center would have been foolish. The team looks poised to repeat much of the success of last year, and then some.
CK: There is a chance, but only in certain circumstances. It depends on what the return in the trade would be (if a top center were to be coming the other way, then moving Wilson or Smith might make sense). It also depends on how much money Seth Jones and Filip Forsberg want when they hit the free agent market next year. If one, or both of them, wants a crazy raise, then there might not be enough cap room to keep all four of those players. There are a number of other scenarios, but overall, the only way I see either Smith or Wilson get moved is if the return is a pot of gold, and then some, for the Predators.
CK: Without having seen either of these players in training camp or the pre-season, I would have to give the edge to Moses. Fiala looked pretty undersized in his short-lived appearances at the NHL level last year, and could benefit for at least another half a season in Milwaukee. Moses, meanwhile, has experience playing with near-NHL-caliber talent in the Kontinental Hockey League, and at the IIHF World Championships last year. That experience should help him out a lot.
However, ultimately it will come down to who shows up in training camp and impresses the coaching staff. If Fiala bulked up, and worked on his game hard this off-season, there’s a chance he can snag the final spot.
AR: It just wouldn’t be a Q&A without asking about the new look of the Milwaukee Admirals. What do you think of the re-design for the Admirals?
CK: I’d consider myself a hockey jersey fashionista, if that’s even a thing. Call me the Tim Gunn of hockey jerseys. The new logo is sleek, and captures the same essence as the old one, but with a slightly more intimidating feel. I like how the team kept the same team colors as well. The most important thing is that the players look good in them as well, and will look slick every time they take the ice. I’m excited to see them in action.
CK: All three of those players should elevate their game as they make the transition to North American pro hockey, but if I had to pick one to excel this season, I’d take Saros. He has looked solid at the rookie tournament, and has the experience of playing against top-end talent at IIHF Worlds. That experience will help him out as he tries to transition to this level of the game. As a goaltender, he’ll have the toughest task ahead of him, but I think he’s more than capable of pulling it off and make for a fine replacement for Magnus Hellberg.
AR: There’s also still a quality group of players in Milwaukee who could be considered NHL ready if need be: Viktor Arvidsson, Austin Watson, Colton Sissons, Anthony Bitetto, Marek Mazanec, and Miikka Salomäki. Who stands the best chance of significant playing time in the NHL out of that group and could there be a name not included on that list that could make the leap up from the AHL?
CK: Salomäki and Arvidsson are probably the first go-to forwards if the Predators find themselves bitten by the injury bug at some point in the season. They’ve both done it before, and they’ve looked good. Their playing styles also fit head coach Peter Laviolette’s speedy, fast-paced offense nicely. In addition, Bitetto would likely be the go-to on defense. Clearly the Predators see a space for him in the organization, as they just gave him a new contract. However, it might be harder for him to earn significant playing time this season, as the Predators are perhaps the deepest team on defense in the NHL. Finally in goal, Mazanec is probably going to stay in Milwaukee, unless there is another injury to either Pekka Rinne or Carter Hutton. I believe Mazanec is poised to take Hutton’s spot at some point, but I’m not sure it’s this year.
Outside this list, Austin Watson deserves a look for NHL playing time. His big size and offensive ability should fit nicely on the bottom six for Nashville. However, I don’t see him getting the nod over Salomäki or Arvidsson. He and Sissons would likely be the next two up after that.
In general, it will be very hard for prospects to see time in Nashville this season. This team is just so deep and so crowded at forward. There are a number of players that deserve a roster spot, but simply won’t get it because of the logjam of forwards.
Have a different take with some of the questions that were asked? Do comment below with your perspective.