For the first time since I joined Admirals Roundtable I feel it is time to do some actual individual end-season awards. Admiral of the Month was a feature that started up for the 2014-15 season. The Roundtable Awards get their start at the conclusion of the 2015-16 season as a build to the eventual final Report Card feature.
The awards to come will be: Rookie of the Year, Defenseman of the Year, Forward of the Year, Goalie of the Year, and the Most Valuable Player. Those will all be unveiled over these next few days with the goal being for the 2015-16 Milwaukee Admirals Report Card to drop next Monday.
~Rookie of the Year~
There were some fantastic contributions this season from players making their debuts to the American Hockey League. This year’s newbies included: Juuse Saros, Max Görtz, Vladislav Kamenev, Trevor Murphy, Matt White, Eric Robinson, Jack Dougherty, Aaron Irving, and A.J. White. The Milwaukee Admirals also saw professional playing debuts in the playoffs for Anthony Richard and Yakov Trenin who might well see themselves up for this award in the near future.
All of those names did a solid job factoring in for the Admirals this past season. The team’s record speaks to how well all contributed to the overall cause. That’s really impressive when you consider the oldest player of those names was the previously ECHL battle tested White at 26-years old. The second oldest being Robinson at 25-years of age having completed his collegiate career at Dartmouth the season prior. And the bulk of that group being 20-years old or younger: Saros, Murphy, Irving, Dougherty, Kamenev, Richard, and Trenin. There weren’t many speed bumps to any of these debutants this season and all looked and played the part of pros incredibly well. That’s a great sign for the things to come knowing that’s the foundation for all of these guys to build from.
For all those rookies this season, and their various contributions and highlights, I feel the winner of the Roundtable’s 2015-16 Rookie of the Year Award is something of unanimous decision. Juuse Saros didn’t just put a stamp down in his first season of professional hockey in North America he made the transition from the European game look effortless.
The whirlwind of hype surrounding Saros prior to the start of the season could already be felt the season before that. He has been built up that big for that long at such a young age. His arrival marked the quickfire exit of former second round draft pick Magnus Hellberg in the off-season with the goal to be AHL hockey paired with Marek Mazanec in Milwaukee. At the time of Hellberg’s trade to the New York Rangers who could have imagined that Saros (38 starts) and Mazanec (38 starts and 1 relief appearance) would split time in net so evenly? When you factor in the minutes played during the playoffs Saros logged 2,365 minutes to Mazanec’s 2,405 minutes. That is a first year North American pro goaltender up against one in year-three. Not too shabby.
In addition, Saros numbers ended up being shockingly similar to that of Hellberg who played far more games for the Hartford Wolf Pack. Hellberg’s 2015-16 season: 30-20-3-0 record from 53 appearances, 2.40 goals against average, 0.918 save percentage, and 3 shutouts. Saros’ 2015-16 season: 29-8-0-0 record from 38 appearances, 2.24 goals against average, 0.920 save percentage, and 4 shutouts. For added comparison’s sake Mazanec’s 2015-16 season: 19-15-5-2 record from 39 appearances, 2.45 goals against average, 0.912 save percentage, and 4 shutouts. Numbers alone Saros, who was 20-year old the majority of this season, is there with the Admirals goaltending tandem of the previous two-seasons with room to be even better. That’s flat out scary.
At the moment Saros is in Russia as part of Team Finland competing in the 2016 IIHF World Championships. He has played in a pair of games and, wouldn’t you believe it, has logged back-to-back shutouts while stopping all 27 shots he has faced against Hungary and Slovakia. Finland’s next opponent will be a stiffer test in the form of Canada who they will be facing today. It’s not a lock that Saros gets back in net for the final preliminary round and subsequent run to the 2016 IIHF World Championships Final but even if those two games were it you’re getting that same ol’ Saros. He competes his butt off in net and doesn’t let his height or size factor into his game. The reason for that is his between the ears sharpness. He reads the game so well and that IQ is what has allowed for such a seamless transition to the North American game.
When he arrives as a sophomore for the 2016-17 season he’ll still be only 21-years old. The Nashville Predators have their future starter. His path to get to and stay in Nashville is probably going to be similar to that of the Finn he projects to replace, Pekka Rinne. For those needing to be reminded Rinne played 145 games with the Admirals at the AHL level before firmly cementing himself as the go-to option in net for the Predators in the NHL. That came over the course of three-seasons. Should Saros take that same path, fulfilling his entry level contract in the process, Rinne would be 35-years old at the end of the 2017-18 season. Would that be around the time when the torch gets passed from one Finn to the next? Time will tell but time is what the Predators, Admirals, and Saros have. He’s young and he can only get more comfortable over time.
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