The Turnaround

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)
Who had Frédérick Gaudreau leading the Admirals in scoring as the 2015 side of the calendar comes to a close? Anyone? Anyone? ..Bueller? …Bueller? (Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

The Milwaukee Admirals, for all the injuries and roster moves that have stretched the team thin, are currently on a three-game winning streak with seven wins from a ten-game span. Their record at the moment is 20-9-1-0 (41 points) with a 0.683 points percentage through 30 games played. Last season, with the same amount of games, the Admirals record was 15-11-1-3 (34 points) for a 0.567 points percentage.

To see this year’s Admirals team not being flustered very much by all that’s happened so far is simply impressive. Per Elite Prospects, the Admirals were the second youngest team in the AHL to start this season trailing only the St. John’s IceCaps. The youth hasn’t felt like inexperience. A solid chunk of this team experienced the pains of what last season brought and so many of those first-year players are excelling this season.

Frédérick Gaudreau has been nothing short of incredible for the Admirals and the exclamation point comes when looking at the year-to-year difference he’s shown. Last season, as an undrafted free agent signing by the Admirals, he split time between the AHL and ECHL and produced a combined 18 points (9 goals, 9 assists) in 57 games for the Admirals and Cyclones. This season he has stayed up at the AHL level all season long, started on the wing before getting lined up at center, and leads the Admirals in scoring: 21 points (9 goals, 12 assists) in 29 games. He has already matched last season’s overall goal total and has more power-play goals for the Admirals this season than he did overall in Milwaukee all-last season.

Then there is possibly the forgotten Swede in the pipeline by the name of Pontus Åberg. Yes, Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson are great Swedish wingers in the organization but Åberg is playing the best hockey of his pro career this season and he’s plenty of the reason why the Admirals have stayed afloat during this roster squeeze: 11 points (8 goals, 3 assists) in 29 games. Half of his goals have been game-winning goals. Three of his goals were first-goals. He’s been both an igniter and a finisher this season.

This all is said without simply tipping the cap to the overall depth that has shined, as well. Félix Girard has been a workhorse all season long and has had no problem playing alongside the Manchester Monarchs PTO contractees Matt White and Zac Larraza. Max Reinhart has provided a veteran-like touch for the team down the middle while Colton Sissons is up with Nashville and Cody Bass is out with injury. Adam Payerl went from pre-season camp invitee on loan from Cincinnati, to earning standard AHL contract with the Admirals, and has picked up 17 points (5 goals, 12 assists) in 28 games.

Oh yeah. There’s that Kevin Fiala kid. He’s starting to finally look relaxed after a rough start to this season. While he was held scoreless these last two-games in Rockford his month of December has impressed: 8 points (3 goals, 5 assists) in 11 games. More than anything else he appears to have his explosiveness back. He’s beating defenders with skill and pace. And adds a much needed threat for the Admirals as so many of those sorts of players were all called up to Nashville.

Defensively things have also been different from one season to the next. Well, when I say defensively I kind of mean offensive productivity from the defense. In 2014-15 the Admirals defense produced 127 points (16 goals, 111 assists) among eleven different players. This season Admirals defensemen have already amassed 53 points (13 goals, 40 assists) in 30 games among the exact same amount of defensemen as last season. In better perspective, the Admirals are up to 1.76 points per game from defensemen this season as opposed to 1.67 last season. They’re only 3 goals from matching last season’s total.

Entering this season it was going to be a fascinating storyline to watch play-out as Marek Mazanec faced in-house competition in the form of Juuse Saros. The hype of Saros making the North American leap this season was huge. The 20-year old Finn has met it well. And, by the same trade, Mazanec has been far improved this season while competing for time in net. Last season the Czech had a 2.76 goals against average (GAA), 0.900 save percentage (SV%), and a rough 0.565 shootout percentage (SO%) while losing nine of twelve games that went to overtime (including losing four of four games in the shootout). This season Mazanec has a 2.68 GAA, 0.910 SV%, and an 0.875 SO% while winning four of five overtime games (including winning all three shootout games he has played).

It feels like ages since the Admirals had core players on the ice. Their team captain, Sissons, has played more games in the NHL (19) than AHL (12). Arvidsson, last season’s leading scorer and quickly found himself leading in that department when he returned to Milwaukee, has also now played more games in the NHL (17) than AHL (14). Not to mention, Miikka Salomäki started the season with the Admirals only to play 4 games and never come back from Nashville.

This season really has been a time when the coaching staff of Dean Evason, Stan Drulia, and Scott Ford have all really earned a pat on the back as well as a respective tip of the cap to so many contributors that have stepped above and beyond expectations so far to yield team results. The details are much more crisp than last season. Rarely it seems the Admirals are their own worst enemy costing themselves games. Momentum shifts don’t overwhelm the Admirals anymore it feels as if they ride the wave and adapt to how a game is being played seamlessly. That’s a true sign of a team. And, right now, it’s being performed with bits a pieces moving in and out of the lineup on recall or professional try-out basis.

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