Unlike yesterday’s choice for Rookie of the Year I am probably going to be dividing opinion today. The nod for being the best defenseman of the Milwaukee Admirals in 2015-16 is a tight race between two or possibly even more candidates. While the cases can be made for those, feel free to make your’s in the comment section below, I’m going to make mine because Jimmy Oligny is my selection for Defenseman of the Year.
When you look back on two of the real feel good stories this season they get their start as undrafted free agents the season prior. Frédérick Gaudreau‘s story from undrafted free agent to earning an entry level contract with the Nashville Predators this season was tremendous. It would be a mistake if the Predators didn’t follow that up by doing the same with Oligny in the very near future. Both members of the now famed French Fries enjoyed brilliant 2015-16 campaigns. While Gaudreau’s was put in a bigger spotlight with his AHL Predators contract, All-Star selection, and end-season recall as a member of the Black Aces that traveled to Nashville for their playoff run it was just as solid of a season for his buddy Oligny. Being a shutdown defenseman isn’t as flashy as taking home Goal of the Season, or any of those other Gaudreau items for that matter, but the dirty worth that Oligny brings to the table is what can allow for much of the flash that the forwards are meant to do.
Oligny’s progression from 2014-15 to 2015-16 was steady. Yes, his offensive numbers saw an increase going from 5 points (1 goal, 4 assists) in 53 games to 14 points (3 goals, 11 assists) in 74 games, but it was his defensive game that saw the biggest step forward. Oligny really became the man to take the role of Joe Piskula or Anthony Bitetto from recent years as the left-side defenseman tasked with those key defensive zone and penalty kill situations. By season’s end it was a formality that your starting defensive pairing was going to by Oligny with Corey Potter to set the tone.
Speaking of setting the tone, the Admirals grit on the back-end of the defense was pretty much all established by Oligny this season. The 23-year old posted 6 fighting majors this season. The next closest to him on defense, Conor Allen, had half of that before being shipped out of Milwaukee. The rest only had a single or no fighting majors to their names with the burden to bring the muscle falling on Oligny’s shoulders.
Now comes the name of the other defenseman who I feel is insanely worthy of this award but just comes up short in the grand scheme of a complete body of work when compared to Oligny, Taylor Aronson. My choice on this award comes down to the defensive aspects of the defenseman game. Is that to say Aronson was poor on defense? No, he was often tasked early in the season as a security blanket for the much shakier and less reliable likes of Jonathan Diaby and Kristian Näkyvä plus did excellent work on the Admirals penalty kill. Is that to say I’m scoffing at Aronson’s offensive output of 40 points (4 goals, 36 assists) in 64 games? No, in fact that output was the most by an Admirals defenseman since some kid named Roman Josi posted 40 points (6 goals, 34 assists) in 69 games during the 2010-11 season.
Aronson is every bit as deserving for this little pat on the back as Oligny in my book. I just always come down to the name in the job title being defense. Oligny was a rock for the Admirals on defense and excellent at that better than any other Admirals defenseman this season. Aronson is in that conversation and gets the big time bonus points for the added areas to his game but, defensively, he wasn’t as polished as Oligny. Great news for the Milwaukee Admirals? Their Man of the Year this past season Oligny is due to be with the team for the next two-seasons.
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