This time a year ago was either gloomy or so far gone from what happened to the Milwaukee Admirals that it wasn’t even worth giving much of a thought back on. The Admirals finished dead last in the Midwest Division and saw the franchise’s streak of twelve consecutive playoff appearances come to an end. That was the 2014-15 season. This was the 2015-16 season and I feel it might be something we will all keep coming back to for numerous reasons. It was a special season on and off the ice.
If there was any great way to shake off the cobwebs that came with the 2014-15 season it actually came in the form of an image change. The Milwaukee Admirals officially unveiled a rebranding effort in mid-July of 2015 which saw new logos, colors, and uniforms. It wasn’t too far removed from the previous look but something that combined all previous installments to create something that felt perfect.
That was one area that made this season unique right away. If that wasn’t enough this season turned out to be the last for the Milwaukee Admirals playing in the Bradley Center. It was a 28-year long journey. The Pettit family had that building built for the purpose of professional hockey. And they succeeded at doing that. It may not have been NHL hockey but it was Milwaukee hockey whether it be played in the IHL or AHL.
When reflecting back on what was the Milwaukee Admirals last season as tenants of the Bradley Center you really can’t help but smile. The Admirals started the season with the second youngest team in the entire league and exceeded expectations. The year prior? A last place finish in the division. Those that were part of that team had to have taken great satisfaction in knowing their improvements and contributions ended with the reward of the Admirals first divisional title since the 2010-11 season.
There are many several talking points from what the Admirals record was alone. Yes, that divisional title was impressive but attaining a record of 48-23-3-2 (101 points) put this year’s Admirals team in rarefied air among the franchise’s AHL history. Their 101 points was the first time since the 2010-11 season that the Admirals eclipsed 100 points in a season and the sixth such occurrence of that feat happening. Yet, in the five previous 100+ point seasons for the Admirals those were contested when the AHL played an 80-game regular season. The 2015-16 Admirals became the first team in franchise history under the AHL’s 76-game regular season schedule to eclipse 100 points. This actually gives that term of the past season “points percentage” a great use because it quantifies how this year’s Admirals stacked up against the 14 previous squads that came before them. The 2015-16 Admirals 0.664 points percentage slots them in as the third best team in the Admirals AHL history behind the 2005-06 team (0.675 points percentage) and 2008-09 team (0.669 points percentage). That means your head coaches at the top of that list reads: Claude Noël, Lane Lambert, and Dean Evason. You can say the same for wins, as well. The Admirals 48 wins were the most ever from a 76-game regular season and was second to the aforementioned two teams which earned 49-wins from an 80-game regular season.
So much praise should be given to the job that Evason and his coaching staff, consisting of Stan Drulia and Scott Ford, did in 2015-16. I have to imagine there was a weight on the Admirals coaching staff at the start of the season. Knowing how last season ended the first month of the season saw the Admirals go 2-4-1-0 while conceding 3.9 goals per game and scoring 2.1 goals per game. It wasn’t all that pretty. That was October. Then came a franchise record 10-game winning streak. From that point on the Admirals seemed to have grabbed a firm hold of their identity and stuck to it regardless of injuries, roster moves, random additions on PTO basis from the ECHL, and on and on the roster swirled but the team stayed on target to earn results. That only happens because of two key points: great coaching and a great leadership group from within the locker room. That balance was felt very quickly and was responsible for such a strong season.
Another point to make of the coaching staff this season was their short leash on all players in the locker room who made stumbles off the ice. There were a few occasions in which players were late to a practice or team meeting and the result of doing that led to team mandated suspensions that lasted, typically, one-game. This didn’t matter if you were a first round draft pick, the recent record setting for most goals scored in a KHL season, or a veteran. Accountability to professionalism was held to that standard. Acting in that manner at the NHL level isn’t going to yield a lot of respect so, regardless of age or profile, the lessons needed to be learned through swift in-house punishment. Just because you’re on the road to Nashville shouldn’t mean you’re above acting lackadaisical in going about day-to-day pro hockey operations. Call it your short term slap on the wrist but a long term lesson learned.
If there were another lesson learned it would come from the whole of the organization and how it structures a defense in the AHL. Early into the 2015-16 season the Admirals found themselves in a place similar to the year prior with only one right-handed shot (Taylor Aronson) out of their defensive group. You would have thought, if that was an issue, it would have been handled going into this past season but players such as Kristian Näkyvä, Conor Allen, and Trevor Murphy to join a mix of Johan Alm, Jonathan Diaby, Garrett Noonan, and Jimmy Oligny. That doesn’t even account for the addition of Victor Bartley who would clear waivers and reach Milwaukee to add yet another lefty to the mix. Where this put the Admirals wasn’t necessarily in a bad place but it clearly wasn’t something that the coaching staff felt was working as efficiently as it could be. This led to three eventual acquisitions that shook up the defense with Patrick Mullen, Stefan Elliott, and Corey Potter joining the ranks. This finally allowed the Admirals to roll three lefties and three righties on defense. In fact, late in the season it actually meant one of the rarest sightings I can remember seeing from an Admirals team: a defensive pairing of righty-righty. You can’t argue with the impact that this had on the Admirals season. From the debut of Mullen on 1/15/16 in San Antonio the Admirals record was 25-10-1-2. From the debut of Potter in the Admirals roster on 3/3/16 in Lake Erie the team’s record was 15-4-0-2. It begs the question then, if this three righties split on defense was something that Evason wanted to have so much, why weren’t those changes made all the way before the season started? I’m going to take a wild guess that mistake doesn’t happen once again for the start of the 2016-17 season.
For all that the regular season had going for it. For the incredible late season run that the Admirals put together in which the team matched a franchise record with a thirteen game point streak. The 2016 AHL Calder Cup Playoffs ended as they have so often in recent memory for the Admirals. It was a first round playoff exit and one that went without a win. With the AHL’s mind boggling regular season structure, allowing Californian teams to play eight less games than the rest of the league, the same level of “whatever” was given to a restructured playoff format. The Admirals finished the regular season with the second best record in the Western Conference. They didn’t face the team with the seventh best record in the Western Conference. Instead things were bracketed to Central Division and Pacific Division which meant the Admirals going up against the dreaded Grand Rapids Griffins who routinely over-matched the Admirals in the regular season. Guess what? That happened again in the playoffs and it meant an early exit filled with anger, more anger, and an almost unhealthy amount of anger. What if? What could have been? Why? Oh well.
As much as I’m sure everyone wanted this year’s Admirals team to have a playoff payoff on what was a highly successful regular season the fact remains that this is a developmental team. While achievements in the trophy room or rafter banners department might have gone begging that isn’t a fair assessment of success. Look at the Nashville Predators in recent years and you’ll see just why recent up and down Admirals seasons haven’t necessarily meant failure. The Admirals are creating solid NHL level talent. This season featured an incredibly young team who were all provided an incredible amount of high level professional playing experience. It’s something that may not be felt instantly but the years to come might just show a season such as this setting the stage for some special moments in the careers of Juuse Saros, Vladislav Kamenev, or Kevin Fiala. Sometimes you need some struggles and adversity to learn what is needed to overcome and succeed. I feel that the regular season featured several bouts of that for the Admirals, both individually and as a team, but the playoffs just handed a cold plate of disappointment for everyone. It’s the coming season that will define just how everyone responds to the lesson that the 2016 AHL Calder Cup Playoffs provided.
~End Season Awards~
Most Valuable Player: Félix Girard
Rookie of the Year: Juuse Saros
Best Forward: Frédérick Gaudreau
Best Defensemen: Jimmy Oligny
Best Goaltender: Juuse Saros
Most Impressive Player: Juuse Saros
Least Impressive Player: Kristian Näkyvä
Most Improvement: Frédérick Gaudreau
Least Improvement: Jonathan Diaby
Nashville Bound Next Season: Pontus Åberg
Player to Watch Next Season: Max Görtz
Rookie to Watch Next Season: Justin Kirkland
Sophomore to Watch Next Season: Vladislav Kamenev
It’s always important for me to preface any of these report cards I conduct by stating the following. These grades are purely my own judgement with no serious methodology of what classifies one grade over another grade. In the past I felt it was only fair to grade an “incomplete” to players that didn’t play a minimum of half the games that the Admirals played during the regular season or logged significant time with the Nashville Predators (NHL) or Cincinnati Cyclones (ECHL). That would mean 38 games worth of playing time. Considering a handful of players would come just shy of that mark I am lowering that bar to 25 games. That makes the grading cut-off right around one-third the total amount of possible games played in an AHL season.
The short and sweet of it: Any player who played 25 games or more with the Milwaukee Admirals during the 2015-16 season will be receiving a letter grade based on my assessment of their performance. Anything less than 25 games will be ruled an incomplete.
Of note. I reached out to get some added perspective for those players that did log significant time elsewhere this season from those with eyes and ears on the product. Those people would be none other than Cutler Klein of Penalty Box Radio and Dakota Johnson of Sin Bin Cyclones.
For the sake of reader convenience I will be listing the players based on their uniform numbers that were worn this past season with the Admirals.
2, Anthony Bitetto: One can’t help but smile when looking back on Anthony Bitetto’s pro career to this point. He is a solid model for what it is to be a Nashville Predators prospect. He’s played in the ECHL, AHL, and now finds himself in the NHL.
“The man known as “Tony” did not start the season on the radar in Nashville, but quickly found himself thrust into an NHL role once Seth Jones was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets. He looked strong playing on the bottom pairing, and used his unique combination of speed and size to his advantage. He looked relatively strong in the Playoffs as well, and was deserving of the ice time he got. At first, the team alternated between him and Petter Granberg, but seemed to feel more comfortable with Bitetto as the sixth defenseman. There was some concern about the Predators defensive depth after the Jones trade, but it looks like Bitetto is going to be a mainstay on the Predators blue line for the time being.” ~Cutler Klein
He constantly progresses and has a knack for taking the previous year of experience and bettering it the next. It was a pleasant time having Bitetto back in Milwaukee at the start of the season during his conditioning assignment. He’s one of the true good guys in the game and his locker room presence is now being felt in a place that it belongs in. It was fun seeing the Predators lock him up for two more seasons. It will be even more fun seeing him evolve at the NHL level during those next two seasons. (Grade: Incomplete)
3, Jonathan Diaby: You know how the Milwaukee Admirals debuted a new look this season? Your poster boy for that look just so happened to be Diaby. Slightly awkward in retrospect but it speaks to the level of expectations most have for the towering defenseman. It’s not misplaced. There is a lot of promise there. Yet, these last two full seasons of pro hockey have seen a mixed bag in which there is far more rough than good.
Diaby still looks uncomfortable on his own two feet on the ice. That’s about as simply as I can put it. He still found himself getting turned inside out and there is a reason why he only logged 5 games in the AHL this season. Instead, he spent the bulk of his time with the Cincinnati Cyclones.
“Very inconsistent defenseman. Throughout the course of the season, he did learn how to use his size to his advantage and established a bit of a physical presence as well as being able to put up a few points, including a double overtime game winner in the playoffs. However, he had a tendency to turn the puck over in his own zone, often ending up in a goal against, and just not making smart defensive decisions.” ~Dakota Johnson
Diaby is under contract until the 2017-18 season. If he continues to struggle I don’t see why another Mikko Vainonen (remember him?) situation doesn’t manifest itself. Why continue to roll with a project that clearly isn’t working? Diaby’s job next season is to provide a strong answer to that question. He has to. Because, pretty soon, you won’t be able to be where you are on potential alone. (Grade: Incomplete)
5, Petter Granberg: At the time he was claimed off of waivers I was a bit confused. In fact, I felt that it almost had to be done with a certain trade coming. It did happen. The Nashville Predators traded Seth Jones to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Ryan Johansen. One right-handed shooting defenseman out and there is another one added to keep the numbers steady. Amusingly, Granberg being claimed off waivers might have been the first in a chain of events that triggered Aronson’s decline in the organization (or more aptly his head).
“Granberg was claimed off waivers by the Predators midway through the season, and it wasn’t that he looked bad, he was just outdone by Bitetto. After the Jones trade, Bitetto and Granberg competed for the final defensive spot. The team wanted to keep Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis together as a pairing, so they tested the two out with Barret Jackman. The problem for Granberg was that he and Jackman play very similar styles. They are both strong stay-at-home defensemen with little offensive upside. Bitetto complemented Jackman with his active skates, skill, speed and ability to get far in the offensive zone. Therefore, the team kept Jackman with Bitetto and kept Granberg either in Milwaukee or off the ice. He has a future, but as long as Bitetto keeps playing like he does, Granberg might see a Victor Bartley-type “seventh defenseman” role unless he gets moved.” ~Cutler Klein
Granberg’s conditioning assignment in Milwaukee, his first bit of on-ice action in the 2015-16 season due to an injury heading into it, showed enough of what’s to like about his game. He is a strong -strong- defenseman with some upside. He’s only 23-years old and was put in a spot this season of NHL hockey or clear waivers to get to the AHL. The Toronto Maple Leafs, doing what they do best, saw no problem in eating an NHL contract at the AHL level and hoped to get Granberg to the Toronto Marlies (as if that team needed even more help). That didn’t happen. The result ended up meaning 27 games played for the Predators.
Granberg entered the season with 8 games of NHL experience. While he may not have been your go-to option on the third defensive line for the Predators he did take in a valuable amount of high level experience being part of every day operations with one of the best defensive groups in the entire NHL. Should he return next season I feel it would be beneficial for both parties that it be on a two-way contractual basis. Granberg now has a foothold on NHL level hockey. That shouldn’t mean forcing him in and out of the lineup. Irregular playing time tends to lead to irregular play. A solid baseline for Granberg should allow him to transition up that much easier. (Grade: Incomplete)
6, Kristian Näkyvä: The announcement of Näkyvä’s signing last off-season was equal parts interesting and exciting. By the numbers alone in Luleå HF at the top flight of Sweden in 2014-15, 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists) in 55 games, you had a feeling that the Admirals -long struggling for offense from the blueline- might just be getting an answer to that issue. That never manifested itself but it also wasn’t entirely Näkyvä’s fault.
This season Näkyvä scored 10 points (1 goal, 9 assists) from 69 games. He was never really afforded a permanent place on the Admirals power-play. And, perhaps more than most at the start of the season, looked the most uncomfortable of the European skaters adjusting to the North American game. It makes sense. As a defenseman when you get caught off guard by pace you are skating backwards and are going to get torched. Näkyvä improved by the end of the season, limiting his mistakes, but he was never anywhere close to what the Nashville Predators thought they would be getting when signing him in the off-season a year ago. It’s no surprise then that Näkyvä finds himself after a season in Milwaukee returning to Europe where he can perhaps recapture his all-around game that put him on Nashville’s radar in the first place. (Grade: D)
7, Conor Allen: This was another story similar to that of Näkyvä’s with an exception. Allen doesn’t have the “first year in North America” excuse. Allen had such a strong 2014-15 season in the New York Rangers organization. He logged 72 games with the Hartford Wolf Pack and scored a career high 34 points (11 goals, 23 assists) with 4 games played at the NHL level for the Rangers. Allen was being given chances on the power-play. He was doing plenty of “alright” things defensively. He just wasn’t what he was a season prior.
He ended up being shipped out of the organization to make way for the man that would take his number, and be graded beneath him on this list, and that wouldn’t even be his last change of scenery in the AHL this season. Between the Admirals, Binghamton Senators, and Iowa Wild this season Allen scored 14 points (3 goals, 11 assists) in 66 total AHL games. Perhaps his highlight this season is to say that he scored a goal for three different AHL teams in a single season. That’s pretty impressive. It’s also a sign that you must not have been impressive enough to stick to one place. (Grade: D+)
7, Patrick Mullen: Out of the three acquisitions that the Nashville Predators made that boosted the Milwaukee Admirals defense Mullen is the one that fans in Nashville didn’t get to see. He was swapped from the Ottawa Senators organization for Conor Allen, took Allen’s ol’ #7, and proceeded to play a very calm and measured game. He didn’t necessarily have the scoring prowess that Allen had when he entered this season but he did compare and perform favorably. In his time with the Admirals, which was shortened due to a nasty skate cut to his right hand, he played 29 games and produced 14 points (2 goals, 12 assists). That’s not too shabby when you consider he had 16 points (1 goal, 5 assists) in 36 games as a member of the Binghamton Senators.
I’m not necessarily expecting Mullen to make a return to the organization next year. With Aronson and Potter now out it wouldn’t hurt to bring him back but I just expect him to move on. I also expect, where ever he ends up, that Mullen will provide just what you’d want from a veteran style defenseman. He’s smart, stable, can manage and protect a young up and coming defensive partner if need be, and also can contribute on both sides of special teams. For someone who hit the age of 30 in the month of May I also feel his skating ability is great. Age hasn’t slowed down his wheels. So, should he return to an AHL outfit or move to Europe, I feel he’ll provide more of the same. Which isn’t a bad thing at all. (Grade: C+)
8, Trevor Murphy: When the Nashville Predators snapped up the undrafted 20-year old Trevor Murphy from the Windsor Spitfires it looked like an incredibly business savvy move. After his first professional playing season that signing by the Predators might have ramifications not yet entirely felt until we see just how far he goes in the coming years. He isn’t the biggest defenseman you’ll ever see, standing at 5-10, but he plays with every bit the feistiness you’d hope Jonathan Diaby played with at his size. Murphy’s game, skating, and especially his hammer shot remind me of another Spitfires defenseman that went on to join the Predators organization: Ryan Ellis. He has that high level ability ceiling. He packs a skill set that made for a few fun occasions of him helping out at forward. And he essentially wasn’t drafted due to injury. This was a steal by the Predators. I think the more Murphy matures on and off the ice, and the more professional playing experience he receives, he can better what was a stellar rookie season.
Murphy produced 32 points (11 goals, 21 assists) in 59 games. That was the second most points scored from the Admirals blueline this season. It was also the most goals scored by an Admirals defenseman since Anthony Bitetto ripped home 11 goals in the 2013-14 season. Bitetto is in a good place now and that campaign of ’13-14 was his second full-season as a pro. I’m excited to see just what Murphy’s sophomore season can provide and he did leave a last stamp on his rookie season to get him ready to roll into it, as well. (Grade: B)
10, Max Görtz: I had been following this Swede’s career from the time the Nashville Predators drafted him in 2012. He’s my style of player: strong on the boards, quality shot, responsible defensively, and creative with his passing ability. Not all players who come over from Europe have instant impacts in North America. There is an adjustment period to go through. For some it takes awhile and others it just may never work out. I feel a player like Görtz is an unfair example to those players because he simply came overseas and looked the part right away.
Görtz was able to produce 47 points (18 goals, 29 assists) in 72 games for the Admirals this season and that includes a plus/minus rating of +14 which was second among the team with only Max Reinhart’s +16 being better. You’ll likely notice that Görtz did log a game with the Cincinnati Cyclones in the ECHL this past season. Why? Well, as Görtz himself was quick to point out, he was late twice to team meetings this season and that led to a few slaps on the wrist. That all came very early in the season, though, and he learned a quick lesson and then responded to it on the ice with results.
I’m extremely excited by what the 2016-17 season might be for Görtz. You can see what a difference can make from having a full-season baseline in North America by looking at his pal Pontus Åberg’s evolution this season. Getting rid of some of the unknowns, feeling out the pace, and measuring in the style of play are all question marks that have answers now. I feel like Görtz has set himself up incredibly well to push for NHL playing time with similar or better results next season. (Grade: A)
11, Adam Payerl: There were several great stories this season. The story of Payerl’s is up there as one of the best. After a spell of three-seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, mainly playing in Wilkes-Barre Scranton (AHL), he found himself last summer unable to find an AHL contract. He signed with the Cincinnati Cyclones on an ECHL contract. The Milwaukee Admirals coaching staff was allowed to take a few guys from the Cyclones roster as invitees for pre-season camp. Payerl was one of those guys. Payerl then did so well he stayed on as a PTO contracted player, then signed with the Admirals to a standard contract, and continued to play so well that the Predators signed him through to next season on a two-way contract. That all happens because of just how hard Payerl worked. He earned every piece of this 2015-16 season.
Payerl set career highs for himself this season with the Admirals: 29 points (13 goals, 16 assists) in 74 games with 114 penalty minutes (10 fighting majors). He spent much of the season alongside a line combination of Vladislav Kamenev and Kevin Fiala. That was undoubtedly the line combination of the season and for good reason. It featured a great blend of playmaking, skill, and grind. Payerl offers all three of those attributes but was often the one of the line to get into the dirty areas and protect his teenaged line’ies. They loved his work. The coaching staff loved his work. Nashville clearly loved what they were hearing enough to sign him. And it sets the stage for a 2016-17 season where Payerl might get an NHL opportunity if the Predators are in a pinch and want a stable two-way player to log time on their lower lines. He’s certainly capable of doing just that. As for what he’ll do for Milwaukee next season I’d be happy with more of the same. He’ll be an instantly respected returning face to the locker room and I think is possible captain material. (Grade: B+)
12, Kevin Fiala: In the almighty words of Big Ben, “So.. Kevin Fiala.. yeah.” At the start of the season that is pretty much all you needed to say, right? He set himself up huge to be on the Nashville Predators opening night roster, was one of the more early roster cuts in their pre-season camp, wasn’t scoring much for the Milwaukee Admirals, wasn’t even looking all that interested to be involved on the ice, lacked explosiveness, and then flipped off the entire bench containing the Lake Erie Monsters (you know, that team that is close to punching their ticket into this year’s Calder Cup Final).
I’m happy to say that was really the last of the “KEVIN!!!” moments. In fact, I think those in attendance when he scored his first goal of the season could see a sense of relief out of him. At some point the excuse of “he’s just such and such age” won’t be fair to use but I still say it is for right now. This was a massively important year for Fiala. At the very least it appeared that he made it one for himself. He grew a lot over the course of this season and that’s not purely an on-ice statement.
There is a lot a typical 19-year old needs to adjust to much less one playing professional hockey in a third different country in his career with a big spotlight shining down on him. It takes some deep breaths and, something a person of his mindset probably struggled to do, slowing down. With Fiala’s skill set the less is more approach when hitting the ice allows for more of his tricks and tools to shine. It takes time to be as polished as a lot of what fans see in Nashville and that polishing time wasn’t wasted by Fiala this season at all. He was the Admirals leading scorer this season with 50 points (18 goals, 32 assists) from 66 games. His plus/minus of -19 is dog rough but I wouldn’t hinge that all on a lack of defensive effort or ability because he did show some great signs of improvement in that area.
The biggest change for me in Fiala was how he was handling himself off the ice as the season progressed. He just seemed so much more comfortable in his own skin. Too often you can overlook the person and simply eyeball the player. Last year was an overwhelming rush of information to the head of Fiala. He was 18-years old then. He suffered some disappointment at the start of this season but little by little found a great place to be. It will be fantastic seeing what a more level headed Fiala could be handling a pre-season camp in Nashville later this year now that he has the experience of being there and being sent out of there in his mind. It shouldn’t be a worry. It shouldn’t be viewed as a setback. It should just be an opportunity to be himself and go about his business. He can be an NHL level talent next season, for sure, but a start or significant AHL time next season isn’t a bad thing. If this year taught Fiala anything I think it is him being fully aware of that last sentence and accepting the bigger picture. Everyone wants him to be great. Just don’t run yourself into the ground because you can’t be “NHL level” great right this second.
I, like everyone, have a lot of expectations for Fiala’s career. We’ve all seen a level of flash that he can provide. I’m a big fan of how feisty and nasty he can actually get on the ice. It can get him into trouble every now and then but that’s just how competitive he is. You want a player like that on your team. What Fiala’s 2015-16 season, and likely 2016-17 season, do for his long term outlook is finding a way to balance that competitive attitude of his constructively. He can be the best player on the ice and also has the ability to shoot his foot clean off thanks to his fiery on-ice motor. Less is more, Kevin. Less is more. You’ll get where you need to go soon enough. (Grade: B+)
13, Matt White: Another great story of the Milwaukee Admirals season came when they started to pluck talent out of the Manchester Monarchs ECHL roster and came across 26-year old, never played a game in the AHL before, Matt White. What a fantastic season he had for the Admirals. He quickly scored his first two career AHL goals in his second career AHL game, looked like he was part of the team from the start of pre-season camp, earned more than just a standard contract to stay with the Admirals, and is set to return for 2016-17.
There is plenty to like about White’s game. He plays very smooth on the ice in all three-zones. Doesn’t try to do too much. And often gets rewarded for being in the right place at the right time at the net. White joined the Admirals in December. He ended up scoring 27 points (12 goals, 15 assists) from 54 games. That is absolutely tremendous from a player who no one expected to be part of the team at the start of the season. (Grade: B+)
15, Zach Budish: Ahh, a man after my own big head. That’s right, Budish did make a return to the Admirals this past season. It was only for a brief spell of 4 games but he did his oh-so typical composed, defensively sound, and timely offensive work. Budish had a great 2014-15 season in the organization a season ago and it was really his first wire-to-wire season without nagging injuries. He sadly wasn’t brought back by the organization for this season, he only was invited to one AHL pre-season camp (Iowa Wild) and cut (by the Iowa Wild…), and turned to the Cincinnati Cyclones for the 2015-16 season on an ECHL contract.
“This was a break-out season for Budish. It was his most productive season yet with 58 points in 69 games. He makes a lot of smart on-ice decisions on both sides of the puck, and generates a lot of quality scoring chances every shift.” ~Dakota Johnson
I want so badly for Budish to get a fair AHL chance for the 2016-17 season. He has been fully healthy these last two seasons and has collectively scored 95 points (38 goals, 57 assists) from 146 games at the ECHL and AHL level with a plus/minus rating of +30. He’s a great player. Someone you want on your bottom six forward lines to provide timely offense but well-rounded defense to turn the table over for the snipers. It would be such a shame if another season comes and goes without Budish as an AHL name. He’s belongs in the AHL at the very least – not the ECHL. (Grade: Incomplete)
15, Jack Dougherty: The answer to all our Taylor Aronson issues showed up just when those issues began. Kidding aside, he really is the answer to an Aronson-less 2016-17 season. Dougherty just turned 20-years old and is fresh off of a great season with the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL: 52 points (11 goals, 41 assists) in 68 games. He came to the Admirals at the end of the regular season, logged his first three professional games, and even tallied an assist.
It is always a great asset to bring these young players from the junior playing ranks up to the pros at the end of the season. It gives players the sense of the day-to-day life and operations of a professional hockey environment and a few of the faces you’ll be playing alongside the next season. I’m really excited to see what Dougherty can do. And I hope his previous hockey effort in Wisconsin (2014-15) can be wiped clean with a great rookie season for the Admirals. (Grade: Incomplete)
16, Félix Girard: I feel like I might have turned some heads when naming Girard as the Milwaukee Admirals Most Valuable Player for the 2015-16 Season. Those heads though were not heads that existed in Milwaukee to watch him play this season though. Anyone to have watched what Girard did for the Admirals this season know exactly how great he was. His face-off ability is top notch. He upped his scoring from a season ago. And he might just be the best penalty killing forward I’ve watched at the AHL level.
When you think about how Nashville is starting to shift a bit towards the youth movement at forward I feel that the eventual place for Girard will open in 2017-18 after doing more of the same for the Admirals in 2016-17. Colton Sissons might be shifting up but whenever Mike Fisher officially calls it a career that mantle of his could go to Sissons with Sissons’ old role on the fourth line going to Girard. If Paul Gaustad can do what he did for the Predators I don’t see why Girard couldn’t make as big of an impact.
When I mentioned Payerl as a great returning locker room guy with captain ability the same can be said of Girard. With many faces scrambled all over the place of what was or who were captains this past season Girard finished 2015-16 as an alternate captain. He could well be the captain of the Admirals in 2016-17 with players such as Sissons or Max Reinhart likely not returning back to the Admirals in the season to come. (Grade: A)
17, Jamie Devane: I’m not sure how many of you remember this, at this point, but Devane was acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs organization in exchange for Taylor Beck last off-season. Was he a similar player? No. Did he get NHL time like Beck? No. Does that mean he wasn’t worth the trade? No.
Devane was part of a slight reorganization effort of the Nashville Predators and Milwaukee Admirals to add some size to the team a season after being shackled with Rich Clune, Triston Grant, and Mike Liambas. Those three served their role and played alright in 2014-15 but all three were effectively the exact same player. Out they went and in their place came versatility with ferocity in the form of Devane, Bass, and Payerl. Devane stuck to the bottom-six forward lines of the Admirals this season and did a solid job. He was finally allowed to really let himself play an open game that he might not have really been afforded to do with the Toronto Marlies. The result was a career high in his professional playing career with 62 games played and 11 points (6 goals, 5 assists). He also was an immediate hit as a great locker room guy who kept things light while also providing the grunt work on the ice. It’s that combination that led to him wearing an “A” on numerous occasions during the season.
This off-season Devane is an unrestricted free agent. There are plenty of names I would like to see brought back within the organization. Devane is one of them. He really was given a great opportunity to play at a high level this season and performed well. There’s reason to believe he can better that next season as well. (Grade: C+)
18, Colton Sissons: It’s clear now that Sissons isn’t going back to the Milwaukee Admirals for the 2016-17 season considering the Nashville Predators end-season press conference basically outlined promoting him up full-time. That’s well deserved. The Admirals as a team vote for their captains and have done since Dean Evason took charge. Sissons was named alternate captain as a 20-year old for the 2014-15 season. He was named team captain at 21-years old for the 2015-16 season. It’s a massive credit to his work on and off the ice that he wins over his teammates so effortlessly and at such a young age.
This season Sissons split the deck in terms of AHL and NHL appearances. With the Predators he played 34 games, scored 6 points (4 goals, 2 assists), and had a plus/minus rating of +5 with 12 penalty minutes. With the Admirals he played 38 games, scored 19 points (8 goals, 11 assists), and had a plus/minus rating of -3 with 31 penalty minutes. Nashville hasn’t quite seen the best Sissons yet but I feel a consistent playing role can allow for that to manifest itself. He plays great two-way hockey. He’s strong at the face-off circle. And he can score on his own or set the table for his teammates to do the damage. He entered the organization to play his first full-season of pro hockey in 2013 as a teenager and acted the part right away. I trust him to enter Nashville and act the part right away in 2016-17. (Grade: B)
19, Eric Robinson: I won’t lie to you guys. I became a big fan of Robinson’s from his first interview with Admirals Roundtable a season ago when he answered my question of why, when he was drafted in the QMJHL Entry Draft, he took the college route over junior hockey route with a simple yet smart response. He wanted to get a degree. There is something to remind everyone that these are people not just athletes who look nearly indestructible when playing the sport of hockey. He got his degree, did so from a big-time place called Dartmouth, and can now focus on the game that he loves as the game that it is with a career fallback already in place.
It’s an absolute shame that what would have been his first full-season of pro hockey was cut short by a nasty knee injury around Thanksgiving time. He had started the 2015-16 season off white hot scoring 13 points (7 goals, 6 assists) in 13 games between the Milwaukee Admirals and Cincinnati Cyclones. He was setting himself up for an outstanding rookie campaign. It just didn’t happen due to a bad collision and knee injury.
“Similar to Jaynen Rissling, we unfortunately didn’t get to see a lot of Eric as he was side-lined in November with a season-ending leg injury. He had 9 points in the 8 games he played for the Cyclones. There is just so much potential there. He really could’ve been an elite rookie in the ECHL had he not gone down with an injury. I really hope he’s brought back because there is just something great brewing out of the young mind.” ~Dakota Johnson
I have to say, of all the “what if” scenarios that this past season provided you have to wonder about what of Robinson never got hurt? Would the Admirals have had Budish or Saponari come back? Would Matt White have been brought in and do what he did this season or would it have been Robinson? It’s all a lot of question marks but it was sad to see what was going to be a good season get stopped dead so early. Hopefully, in the same organization or elsewhere, Robinson gets snapped up. He has a great knack for scoring and plays real well defensively, too. I would like for him to make a return. I don’t know after the injury if he will though. (Grade: Incomplete)
19, Cody Hodgson: I’m sure many will now consider Hodgson as a, “well that move didn’t work out at all,” player. It is a shame. I think most can see what he’s capable of. It’s just a matter of consistency with him. He played 39 games with the Nashville Predators and scored 8 points (3 goals, 5 assists). He then cleared waivers and made it to the Milwaukee Admirals.
“Much like general manager David Poile did for Mike Ribeiro and Derek Roy in 2014, he gave Cody Hodgson the chance to resurrect his scoring ability with the Predators in 2015-16. It didn’t exactly turn out that way. He didn’t make that much of an impact on the ice, played most of his minutes on the bottom six, and only registered eight points in 39 games. With the Ryan Johansen trade bringing in another center, and many young, talented rookies pressing for playing time, the Predators had no choice but to waive Hodgson. No one claimed him, so he finished off the year in Milwaukee. There is little chance Nashville brings him back, but it’s really no-harm, no-foul, as his contract was for minimal term and minimal cost.” ~Cutler Klein
What I found to be the true mark of Hodgson’s season was how he conducted himself upon arriving in Milwaukee. Some might take the waivers process, no one claiming you across the board in the NHL (his contract was very easy to take on, keep in mind), and then being outrighted to the AHL. It’s a slap in the face moment that some can grit their teeth over or get with the program and look to rebound. Hodgson was immediately a team-first guy with the Admirals. He wanted to contribute and help out as best he could. And he really did: 11 points (4 goals, 7 assists) in 14 AHL games. Sadly, nagging and quite bad back spasms shutdown his 2015-16 season at the start of March.
I don’t know what the future holds for Hodgson. Mostly, I’m hoping his back spasms get managed so that he can get back on the ice and resume his career. Whether he looks to rebound in North America, in the AHL or an NHL invite to pre-season camp, or heads off to Europe I think most wish him well. He acted like a professional in the AHL. He has a great head on his shoulders. He just needs to get the back spasms under control and contribute as he can on a nightly basis. (Grade: Incomplete)
20, Miikka Salomäki: Remember when Miikka started off the season in Milwaukee? I vaguely do but -thankfully- the bulk of his season was right where it belonged in the NHL. In 2014-15 Salomäki suffered two shoulder injuries with the second one triggering surgery to prevent more repeated injuries. He turned up in 2015-16 looking great, playing exactly the same style that he’s known for, and earning a two-year contract extension from Nashville.
“Salomäki was another surprise to make the roster out of training camp, but looked very solid out of the gate. Much like Watson, he is a big body that can lay devastating hits. He seemed to have Corey Perry’s number as he laid him out multiple times, including in the playoffs, when he faced off with the Ducks. However, Salomäki’s abilities go far beyond his big frame. He has an underrated speed and a decent shot that can fool some goaltenders. He was able to shine in Nashville on the third line, and his scoring ability kept him off the fourth line. Even though many visiting announcers couldn’t seem to get his name right, it looks like Salomäki will be an integral player on the Predators bottom six for a few years to come.” ~Cutler Klein
I don’t think many have any problems with what they’ve seen out of Salomäki so far. I do think though that he’s yet to show the offensive ability that he did in the AHL in the NHL. Like a few of the names that have drifted into Nashville recently I do think that it’s a matter of comfort, consistent playing time, and getting up to speed at that level before the whole puzzle of the player can be properly seen. For right now Salomäki is a grinding style player. In time I feel his full body of work can be more appreciated in Nashville. (Grade: Incomplete)
21, Stevie Moses: It’s not that he was bad. It’s not that he was a waste of money. It’s simply that Stevie Moses wasn’t what he was in the KHL a season prior. This signing, especially for the money, really was a low risk high reward move by the Nashville Predators. The two mutually agreed to move on early in the season after all Moses could pony up was 7 points (2 goals, 5 assists) from 16 games with the Milwaukee Admirals. He opted to return to the KHL in Russia with SKA St. Petersburg and did well enough for himself: 16 points (10 goals, 6 assists) in 21 games as well as 6 points (2 goals, 4 assists) in 13 playoff games.
If European players come over and fall flat its understandable because they’ve adapted to a more open skill style game. Moses falls into that exact same bracket because its really where he’s latched onto a more successful playing arena for his skill set. He tried to capitalize off of the best ever goal scoring season in KHL history by getting into the NHL. It didn’t work. That’s not bad on him or the Predators. He’s just best suited for Europe is all. (Grade: Incomplete)
21, Stefan Elliott: Part of the defensive reshuffle, Elliott was probably the most productive of the three acquired by the Nashville Predators between both the AHL and NHL from the moment he arrived. It makes sense, as well. He was logging NHL time with the Arizona Coyotes at the time of his acquisition and was a season removed from a strong 2014-15 season. He bopped in 19 points (8 goals, 11 assists) from 35 games for the Milwaukee Admirals and ended up getting in for a pair of games with the Predators to bump is season total to 21 games in the NHL between the two organizations.
I don’t know what the asking price would be on Elliott come this off-season but, now that Taylor Aronson has chased himself out of the picture, he really could and should be a prime target for the Predators to re-sign as an NHL level talent. He could easily be a great defensive partner alongside Bitetto as both feature very similar playing styles and would feed off each other strongly. It would be nice to see that take place. I’m not certain it will. (Grade: A)
22, Joe Pendenza: It was another “Mr. Everything and Everywhere” season for Pendenza. He played between Milwaukee (45 games) and Cincinnati (21 games) once again just as he did in his first professional playing season a year ago when that split was pretty similar (48 AHL games, 13 ECHL games).
I’m a big fan of Pendenza’s skills and ability on the ice. I don’t feel he is quite NHL caliber but I probably could have said the exact same thing about Gaudreau a season ago. The two are actually quite comparable in terms of their skills. The difference just comes at work rate, offensive abilities, and face-off circle ability. Pendenza is a center but can kick out to the wing all the same. He did well at the end of the season for the Admirals but never really did anything that stood out or blew anyone away. He just went about his business and played smart/safe hockey.
He finds himself in a very interesting spot in his career now as he becomes a free agent. Should he return to the Admirals I’d be happy with that and hope for yet another Gaudreau level story to emerge. I don’t think he has that upside but what he does have to offer is good fourth line play and an ability to contribute to a penalty kill. He likely starts next season as an ECHL name needing to earn his AHL playing time but he’s already been in that boat and sailed the channel successfully in his first two-seasons as a pro. Will he be doing it in year-three in the same organization? That’s a fun question. (Grade: D+)
23, Taylor Aronson: It’s amazing what a difference in perspective one negative act can have against so many positive ones that came before it. Sadly, that’s Taylor Aronson’s 2015-16 season in a nutshell. The man who was winning so many doubters over the past two seasons finally couldn’t take being ignored anymore, quit the team, was suspended for leaving the team, and decided to sign with a Russian team for next season a week after the Nashville Predators end-season press conference in which General Manager David Poile cited immaturity in Aronson’s actions.
I’ve harped on the topic enough. I really have. It was an avoidable situation and just so unfortunate. This was Aronson’s best pro season. He was terrific and tasked with really being the Milwaukee Admirals go-to defenseman for numerous situations on the ice. He produced 40 points (4 goals, 36 assists) from 64 games with a plus/minus rating of +5 and 24 penalty minutes. It was the first time the Admirals had a defenseman produce 40 points since Roman Josi did it in the 2010-11 season and the most assists by an Admirals defenseman since Robert Dietrich produced 37 assists in the 2009-10 season. Brilliant. Aronson was brilliant. But he burned the bridge and the town it led to.
Aronson’s career path now takes him to Russia with HC Lada where he will hopefully replicate the performance that former-Admirals defenseman Jonathon Blum just displayed in the league with a great 2015-16 season. There won’t be room for excuses, finger pointing, or disappointment over opportunities. Aronson is on the big team next season in what I consider to be, money issues or not, still the second biggest pro hockey league in the world. It’s on Aronson to prove a lot of people wrong and himself incredibly right. If he focuses purely on the game itself I feel like he can achieve that. I’d like to see that actually happen. Yet, this past season sort of displayed a toxicity to caring an awful lot about off-ice situations and I question how much better Aronson may have actually played if his head was fully invested in himself, the Milwaukee Admirals, and the games to be played rather than the games that weren’t being played in Nashville. The less investment he makes in outside “why not” and more of just playing the better. (Grade: A)
24, Vinny Saponari: The Legend of Toe Drag City made his heroic return to Milwaukee… for 11 games. Alright, he didn’t even score a goal but Saponari did fill a role when the Admirals desperately needed bodies at the forward position. Eventually he would be pushes aside, along with the other returning face Budish, for the likes of Manchester Monarchs properties. He played with two other AHL teams this season, the Portland Pirates and Lake Erie Monsters, but mainly stayed with the most minor league sounding team in minor league history – the Greenville Swamp Rabbits in the ECHL. His career has fallen off a bit since his great 2013-14 season with the Admirals, sadly. I’m hoping he can get back on track somewhere next season. (Grade: Incomplete)
24, Eric Nystrom: After a good time out due to injury it was nice having an NHL’er such as Nystrom around Milwaukee even if it were for just a pair of games. He had the chance to chat among the young group and be the veteran locker room guy for a very brief period of time. He also scored his first AHL goal since 2008 in the process. He will not be back with the Nashville Predators next season. At 33-years of age, with dwindling on-ice productivity, I’m not sure where his career goes from here. (Grade: Incomplete)
24, Anthony Richard: I don’t care what level you are playing in. When you are given any sort of a debut in the playoffs it shows a tremendous amount of belief from the coaching staff that the player entering the mix can perform. Richard made his professional playing debut with the Milwaukee Admirals for the 2016 AHL Calder Cup Playoffs. He played in all games of the series against the Grand Rapids Griffins and may have been one of the few bright spots to take out of that series. He looked tentative in his debut, fair enough, but was a work horse with speed that started getting extra dashes of ice time due to his relentless effort in the games that followed. 2016-17 will mark his rookie campaign as a pro. He knocked off those debut jitters in a big spot to do it. I’m really looking forward to what Richard can do for the Admirals next season. (Grade: Incomplete)
25, Max Reinhart: Where people look to Aronson and raise eyebrows I’m not sure how many people read into Reinhart’s absence due to “personal reasons” and made the connection that he also went home for a bit this season. The reasons were similar. He felt certain players were getting called up over him that he was performing better than. The team and Reinhart collectively decided he let his head clear a bit. He rejoined the team and proceeded to go about his business like the pro that he is. In fact, he collected 18 points (12 goals, 6 assists) from 31 games after his brief absence from the team.
Reinhart was acquired from the Calgary Flames organization by the Nashville Predators last off-season for a conditional fourth round draft pick. Considering Reinhart actually didn’t log any NHL time this season, much less the required needed to trigger the conditions of the trade, that pick stays safely with the Predators. It was another of those “let’s see if we can get bang for our buck” moves that just didn’t fully pan out on the NHL stage. Yet, Reinhart did a great job for the Admirals and set career highs for himself at the AHL level: 73 games played, 23 goals scored, and a plus/minus rating of +16 (the best of the entire Admirals roster).
At 24-years old, Reinhart is in that in-between stage of his career where he could look for another NHL opportunity where he’d sign as a two-way player and hope to bump himself up into the mix from the AHL. The other option is the European route which I have to wonder, after a season like this where the latter situation didn’t happen, if that’s the more desirable choice. This was a great season for Reinhart. I think next season, wherever he might play, he’ll do himself and the team that he plays for proud. I’d certainly like to see him join his brothers at the NHL level next season but I don’t know who would be seeking him out to do that or if Europe is more attractive for him. (Grade: A-)
28, Zac Larraza: Another of the Manchester Monarchs splash, Larraza is a player that I felt did a great job as a member of the Milwaukee Admirals in the 10 games that he played for the team. He scored 3 points (2 goals, 1 assist) in that time and generally looked the part of an AHL caliber player. This was his first full-season of pro hockey after finishing a successful career at the University of Denver. He played some games for the Portland Pirates and San Diego Gulls but spent the majority of his time in the ECHL with Manchester where he tore things up: 30 points (20 goals, 10 assists) in 39 games. He ended the season on the Admirals playoff roster as a PTO signing and I’d hope that is a sign that he could transition into the organization for the 2016-17 season. I think the Admirals coaching staff liked what they saw. And I’d like to see more of it in the off-chance that ECHL goal scoring rate takes to the AHL. (Grade: incomplete)
28, Corey Potter: The final piece to the Admirals defensive reorganization came in the form of 32-year old Corey Potter. If the Admirals wanted added veteran experience and in-house leadership they got it with Potter. He was part of the Admirals go-to top defensive pairing with Oligny and was tremendous. He wasn’t much for scoring, just 3 assists in 18 games, but had a plus/minus rating of +2 while matching top lines on a nightly basis.
A season ago the Predators allowed veteran defenseman Joe Piskula to walk. Considering the “want” and eventual “get” of a veteran defenseman into the depth of the Predators organization in Admirals-land it is a shame that another veteran defenseman in Potter has been lost. It wasn’t the most surprising thing in the world when he signed with Kölner Haie (DEL). In his exit interview with me he basically said he would weight up the options to determine where he would be going and did drop the word “Europe” in there. Sad that he won’t be back but someone that I wish well as he looks to be nearly finishing up a solid pro playing career. (Grade: Incomplete)
29, A.J. White: UMass-Lowell provided the Milwaukee Admirals with such names as Joe Pendenza and.. Joe Pendenza. So why not go back to that well again? In all fairness, White didn’t look too out of place in the games that he played for the Admirals. It was just 5 games but he ended up being released from his ATO contract ahead of some of the more bigger named (actually drafted by the Nashville Predators) players came into the team. Not sure if we’ll be seeing “A. White” back in the organization next season but his college career was such that I have to believe there’ll be good opportunities for him to play in the ECHL or AHL in 2016-17. (Grade: Incomplete)
30, Dov Grumet-Morris: Those times when the Milwaukee Admirals needed a goalie to help back-up but Whitney wasn’t available? Dov seemed to be a phone call away to bring his ol’ New York Rangers // Hartford Wolf Pack gear and serve as emergency back-up. As you would expect he never got in a game. He hasn’t played since 2013-14, actually. Still, it is always nice seeing him around. (Grade: Incomplete)
30, Janne Juvonen: If you thought the name above was obscure I’d say at the very least Dov dressed for a few games. Juvonen, the seventh round draft choice of the Nashville Predators in 2013, arrived from Finland late in the 2015-16 season and was able to practice and get a look-around life at the AHL level. That was about it though. I’m highly curious if he joins the goaltending mix away from Pelicans in Finland’s Liiga for next season. (Grade: Incomplete)
31, Marek Mazanec: So much of the talk around Milwaukee Admirals goaltending this season was centered around the young Finn making his debut to the North American scene. I do hope what wasn’t lost in that hype, which was well warranted and deserved, was an equally fantastic wire-to-wire season for Marek Mazanec. After our chat on exit-day the two of us talked abit more off mic about how he played. He had disagreed with me on the point but I say that this was his best season in North America. He felt his debut season and getting to play as many games as he did in Nashville was his best. I told him that NHL time shouldn’t be the true mark of performance as Mazanec didn’t once have a bad game. You could look at that last regular season game as a blunder but that wasn’t his fault – it was the team in front of him. Mazanec was solid every single game this season which came at a time when he had the pressure to perform in-house with Saros challenging him for the net and looking ahead to earn a possible shot as the back-up to Pekka Rinne depending on Carter Hutton‘s upcoming free agency.
Against the pressures he performed solidly: 19-15-5-2 record from 39 appearances (38 starts) with a 2.45 goals against average, 0.912 save percentage, and 4 shutouts. That last game of the regular season when the Admirals kept him in net for a night of horrors against the Rockford IceHogs, allowing 7 goals from 33 shots, that dented his numbers out of what would have been career bests. He and Saros truly pushed one another hard this season in a friendly competition to be the Admirals first choice starter. In the end, neither ever really was and both made 38 starts each with Saros being the only goalie to get pulled this season and that happening on only a single occasion. How about that for consistency at a position where you pray to get it on a nightly basis?
It’s once more a cloudy off-season at the goaltending position. Is Hutton re-signing with the Predators? If so, does that mean Mazanec will get the boot similar to his ol’ battery-mate Magnus Hellberg a season ago or do the Predators actually look to extend him for one more season? Would the Predators be willing to roll the dice, save a bit of money, let Hutton leave, and bring Mazanec in as the new back-up? Saving a bit of coin with some of the upcoming free agents the Predators have on their ledger might be smart considering Mazanec is probably just as serviceable as Hutton. But what really ends up happening? I don’t know. Juvonen was brought into the Admirals camp very late at the end of the season and it could be a sign he might turn up next season. Would that be at an AHL or ECHL capacity? All eyes focus on Hutton and Mazanec for all these questions to be answered. What I can answer for you all now is an assessment on Mazanec’s third full-season with the Admirals. It was his best at a time when it needed to be. That’s a big credit to him. (Grade: A-)
33, Viktor Arvidsson: Last season, Arvidsson was the Milwaukee Admirals top scorer with 55 points (22 goals, 33 assists) in 70 games of work. He played in 6 games for the Nashville Predators but didn’t get to really show off his offensive skills. This season Arvidsson has properly introduced himself to the NHL stage and that has been highlighted by his game-winning overtime goal against the San Jose Sharks that forced a Game 7.
“I’d like to label Arvidsson as “The Little Forward That Could.” He is the toughest, most skilled smaller-bodied forward I’ve ever seen. At first, I wasn’t very high on Arvidsson. He seemed to get bounced around a lot, couldn’t fit his small frame into the NHL game. Then, I took a closer look, and noticed that whenever he hits the ice (and it does tend to happen), he just pops right back up and gets back into the play. It’s an uncanny toughness from a player that small. He also has an underrated shot that has fooled goalies, including, most notably, Martin Jones of the San Jose Sharks, who was beaten on an Arvidsson wrister while falling to his knees in the regular season, and an overtime backhand during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Arvidsson is a budding top six forward, and could be headed for a Martin St. Louis-type output.” ~Cutler Klein
Arvidsson wasn’t around Milwaukee that much in 2015-16, for obvious reasons, but did make a heck of an impact when he did. He scored 18 points (8 goals, 10 assists) in 17 games which includes a point streak that spanned 13 straight games which was the best in the AHL this season until Frank Vatrano matched him in February. For the Predators Arvidsson contributed 16 points (8 goals, 8 assists) in 56 games but I feel he’s yet to full show off all of his offensive tricks. His nonstop work rate has carried straight into the NHL. And its really that alone which is going to make him a successful player. He works so hard on and off the ice. It’s just a matter of time before he starts providing even more offense for the Predators. (Grade: Incomplete)
36, Cody Bass: You couldn’t have really asked for much more out of Bass in 2015-16. He is a highly respected veteran and great locker room guy that delivered for not just the Milwaukee Admirals but also for the Nashville Predators. It’s always great seeing the AHL veterans get their NHL dues. This season was Bass’ first back in the NHL since a one-game cameo on 1/25/14 for the Columbus Blue Jackets. He played 17 games for the Predators this season while logging 39 games for the Admirals.
“Even though he was mistaken for Rich Clune by the fans in his first preseason game wearing the #16 for Nashville, Bass made his mark on the Predators whenever he was up with them. His scoring ability is slim to none, but he provides a lot of toughness on the bottom unit. He was out there in the playoff series against the Ducks to counter their hard-hitting style, and did it well until he got injured. In a league built on speed and the ability to score throughout the four forward units, Bass’ future might be in flux, but he did his job in Nashville and he did it well.” ~Cutler Klein
You get precisely what you ask for out of Bass. He’s solid defensively. Good in the face-off circle. Is a leader to his teammates. I’m really hoping that he returns to the organization next season. He’d make a fantastic captain for the Admirals and someone who would be serviceable once more for the Predators on a lower line capacity. (Grade: B)
37, Garrett Noonan: I’m hoping Noonan isn’t getting lost in the shuffle of defensive prospects. While his 2015-16 season was mainly spent in the ECHL with the Cincinnati Cyclones he had a brilliant season while being provided the significant playing time that -that- stage was able to provide.
“Arguably the best defenseman Cincinnati had. He consistently was a threat on both sides of the puck. Led all Cyclones defensemen in scoring as well as being named ECHL Player of the Week for the week of February 8th-14th.” ~Dakota Johnson
Noonan was the Cyclones top scoring defenseman this past season with 43 points (9 goals, 34 assists) from 55 games. He only had a single point (an assist) from 17 games with the Milwaukee Admirals. He’s clearly not being given the opportunities that Cincinnati would give him as a power-play contributor but I would love to see Noonan follow the path that Aronson did before him. Aronson’s 2013-14 season was great in the ECHL and it set the stage for two great AHL seasons. Noonan deserves a better AHL opportunity next season. He can deliver on both sides of the puck. He just needs the chance to strut his stuff more. (Grade: Incomplete)
38, Joonas Lyytinen: I’ll best honest. When I went to Rockford for the last game of the regular season I spotted two people with the team who were clearly players that joined the fray but I couldn’t totally put the names to the faces. One, was Juvonen. The other, turned out to be Lyytinen. Just like his fellow Finn that he joined alongside he never logged any sort of game-time but did get a few practices under his belt. I don’t know if Lyytinen will make the full leap to North America next season but the last few European defensemen to make the jump haven’t panned out very well. I’m hoping someone bucks that trend sooner rather than later. (Grade: Incomplete)
39, Yakov Trenin: The Nashville Predators didn’t have a first round draft pick last year, insert Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli jokes here, but they did thankfully snap up a quality talent in the second round with Trenin. As mentioned with Richard, it is impressive to be given a debut in the playoffs and Trenin was given his pro debut with the Milwaukee Admirals when the matched up against the Grand Rapids Griffins in the opening round of the 2016 AHL Calder Cup Playoffs. He played in a pair of games and tallied his first career pro point with a primary assist in his second pro game.
It’s likely that Trenin will be returning to Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL) for the 2016-17 season. He’s already picked up consecutive seasons of 60+ points for the team and appears to be ever improving at center. I liked a lot of what I saw of him in an extremely small sample size. This is yet another forward to keep an eye out for in Nashville ever expanding prospect pool. (Grade: Incomplete)
46, Pontus Åberg: It wasn’t an overwhelmingly great season for Åberg as a rookie last year. There were flashes of absolute brilliance but there were also long stretches that left you wondering what happened to the guy. Perhaps it was just him really struggling to take in all that the North American game was throwing at him because so many positive things can be said of Åberg’s sophomore season of 2015-16. The instant thing to highlight would be his finish to the regular season in which he exploded for 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in the Admirals last 21 games of the season. During that span he was held without a point in just 5 games. When the regular season came to an end Åberg finished the season as the Admirals top goal scorer with 25 goals. That was a career best for him and the most goals he scored since the 2009-10 season with Djurgårdens IF in their Junior-18 program.
For all the focus on scoring, and especially that finish to the season which earned him his first ever NHL call up and debut during the Nashville Predators 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs campaign, you can’t ignore the complete game that Åberg displayed. The coaching staff of the Admirals were starting to really double shift Åberg by the end of the season and that comes with the belief in not just offensive ability but defensive responsibility. Åberg displayed a much better aptitude for his defensive game this season and was smarter in managing the defensive half of the ice. He wasn’t a penalty killer or anything but he was well improved at pressuring and attacking defensively.
By all means, Åberg is a challenger for an NHL role coming into the 2016-17 season. He may not get that shot out of pre-season camp but he should be one of the quickfire call up guys in the event of an injury or other need in the event of a recall. He really improved from his rookie season in North America and I’m fascinated what he can do to improve upon his sophomore season. He became comfortable in 2015-16. Now it is time for him to really make a name for himself in the fashion that his fellow Swede that debuted with him in 2014-15, Arvidsson, did last season. (Grade: A-)
47, Jimmy Oligny: It was a slight point of contention I feel when I named Oligny as my choice for Admirals Roundtable’s Best Defenseman for the 2015-16 Season. I understand that, too. Aronson had a terrific season. I just kept coming back to the name of the game and no Admirals defenseman defended better than Oligny this season. He was the nonstop first line defenseman. Finish the season as the go-to starter alongside Potter and was such a calming influence to the defensive zone when he played. The Admirals didn’t have Bitetto. The Admirals no longer had the veteran Piskula. But they did have Oligny. That’s the level of veteran-like ability and poise that he offered the Admirals on defense.
I don’t like using this word, or making incredibly bold statements often, but I think it would be criminal for the Nashville Predators to not sign Oligny to a two-way contract. He earned a new contract through the Milwaukee Admirals but is still able to sign an entry level contract elsewhere should another NHL organization reach out to do so. Barret Jackman is 35-years old and his contract ends after the 2016-17 season. I could so easily see Oligny being an instant replacement. Don’t let the height of Oligny fool you one bit. He is a beast. And I think he is due to get better as his gets the time to shine as he did with the Admirals in 2015-16 when leaned upon so heavily. There’s my bold statement. Here’s my request. Nashville, sign this man right now. (Grade: A)
49, Matt Leitner: The final of the Manchester Monarchs imports arrived on 1/23/16 to make his AHL debut in a road game against the Lake Erie Monsters. He was released on 1/25/16 after that debut. … That ends the ballad of Matt Leitner’s time with the Milwaukee Admirals. He did get to do a bit more with the Monarchs AHL affiliate, the Ontario Reign, where he scored 4 assists in 15 games but he really just stuck to the Monarchs and the ECHL. He had a great season there, too. Leitner scored 49 points (12 goals, 37 assists) in 51 games. He’ll turn 26-years old early into the 2016-17 season which would be his sophomore season of pro hockey after a lengthy college career at Minnesota State University Mankato. If Matt White can do what he has done – I don’t see why Leitner can’t position himself up into the AHL soon enough. (Grade: Incomplete)
49, Aaron Irving: The biggest clunker of the Milwaukee Admirals season was undoubtedly the regular season finale in Rockford. Guess who just so happened to be making their professional playing debut and was carved up a few times on the evening? Yeah, that’s a bummer.
You can’t slam Irving for that outing. It was his pro debut and seemingly everyone not named Marek Mazanec was flat in Admirals blue that night. Irving is a 20-year old defenseman fresh off of his best junior playing season with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL: 40 points (9 goals, 31 assists) in 72 games. Similar to Dougherty both have the ability to be great two-way defensemen. And, bonus points for what became a storyline in the Admirals season, they are also right-handed shots! With Aronson and Potter now heading to Europe I feel as if both could project to fight for AHL roles in Milwaukee. The problem right now is that Irving isn’t under contract to anyone and is up for free agency come June 1st. Hopefully a deal comes from either Nashville or Milwaukee soon enough. I think he can be a great contributor right away at the AHL or ECHL level. (Grade: Incomplete)
51, Austin Watson: “What? Why is this guy doing here,” you ask. Well, I’ve had Mr. Watson on the Admirals Roundtable’s Roster Page all season because -technically- he was on a two-way contract this past season. He just never ended up playing a game with the Milwaukee Admirals. That isn’t to say the team weren’t prepared to have him around if needed but that just never happened. He was with the Nashville Predators for the entirety of the 2015-16 season.
“Watson was perhaps the most underutilized of the Predators young forwards this season. He made a small mark on the score sheet with three goals, but his biggest impact was with his big body. His 6’4’’, 194 lbs. frame worked really well on the bottom unit for the Predators. In the playoffs, he didn’t see the ice at all. The team decided to go for more scoring instead of a big body. Next season, he should be a lock for a bottom-six spot with Paul Gaustad and Eric Nystrom departing. Hopefully, he’ll see an increased role and really be able make his mark on this team.” ~Cutler Klein
With the Predators he ended up logging 57 games while scoring 10 points (3 goals, 7 assists). It felt like his chances later in the season weren’t exactly there but I’m hoping he gets far more this coming season as a bit of a youth movement is in the works. Watson is still a young whipper snapper at 24-years of age. He now has 63 games of NHL experience. But I think the best is still yet to be seen… though I could watch his hit on Ryan Getzlaf on a loop. That was fantastic. Plenty more to be seen from him. He still needs to really improve his skating ability. Outside of that the two-way ability is there for him. If he can find an extra gear though it could really increase everything in terms of offensive, defense, and -most importantly- logging more games. (Grade: Incomplete)
55, Johan Alm: Last season Alm only played 44 games while missing 32 games due to injury. That felt bad. It’s hard enough for some European skaters to make the adjustment to North American ice as it is much less when they’re game action gets srambled due to injury or sitdowns due to performance. This season Alm once again was bitten by the injury bug and only played 37 games while missing 39 games due to injury. His season came to an end on 2/24/16 due to a knee injury. What’s sad is that his defensive ability was really starting to standout. He was a shot blocking machine the more he played.
I don’t feel there would be any shock at all if Alm followed Näkyvä back to Europe (and specifically to the Swedish Hockey League). This experiment, while plagued by injury, just hasn’t worked out. Perhaps a return to his home team Skellefteå would provide the best of everything for him. He’d be back home, at an organization where he was a two-time SHL champion, and is in a less physically demanding crash and bash league. (Grade: D)
57, Gabriel Bourque: I have a question that’s open to anyone. What was Bourque’s injury this season that allowed for him to have two separate conditioning assignments with the Milwaukee Admirals where he didn’t look or play injured at all yet never returned to the Nashville Predators? Was it some rare form of Wehavebetterplayersrightnowitis or what? I couldn’t put my finger on it. Especially after his last conditioning assignment in which he was thumping people around with hits the likes of which I’ve not seen since that Salomäki kid played. He looked good. Played well. He just seems to be on the out with Nashville. (Grade: Incomplete)
61, Brandon Whitney: The last two seasons the Milwaukee Admirals third goalie, or ECHL option, hasn’t featured in-game. Rob Madore was a back-up a few times. You can say the same for Whitney. The two mainly went about their business for the Cincinnati Cyclones, though.
“A lot has been left to be unseen. He started out great but as the season went on, the wheels kind of fell off a bit and he never really found his game again as he rode the bench for about 98% of the 2nd half of the season. He had a tendency to give up a lot of rebounds as well as having a bit of a slow reaction to some shots he faced.” ~Dakota Johnson
That doesn’t sound good, does it? Well, let’s take a look at the stats. Perhaps that will help. In 21 appearances Whitney had a record of 9-8-1-0 with a 3.18 goals against average and 0.891 save percentage… in the ECHL. That doesn’t look good, either. He has one season remaining on his contract but, if certain moves happened (Hutton returns to the Predators, Mazanec remains in the AHL on a two-way deal, and Juvonen makes the leap and enters as an ECHL option), I can easily see Whitney getting dropped. He simply has to be better than what he was this season. He was working alongside a great mind and goaltender in Brad Thiessen this season as well. And nothing really rubbed off? It’s concerning. That’s not exactly something you want as a third choice goalie in the AHL, either. Scott Darling was the Admirals ECHL option. Madore was the following ECHL option. Both were guys that you felt comfortable with in playing if you had to do so. I don’t think you can say that about Whitney. (Grade: Incomplete)
64, Victor Bartley: Does anyone have a single bad word to say about this guy? The moment Bartley cleared waivers to reach the Milwaukee Admirals it was a bit of a shock to me. I almost expected it to be Bitetto making the trip down to see if he’d be the Admirals go-to top defenseman for the 2015-16 season but, instead, the Predators sent the then 27-year old defenseman down. He acted like the same ol’ Barts that I’ve known in his time around the Admirals. Class act. Great on and off the ice. And someone who just went about his business knowing there was a reason why he was back in the AHL and needed to improve to get back. He wound up being traded out of the organization and since did play games in the NHL with the Montréal Canadiens. Bartley is a free agent this off-season. As his offensive numbers from the blueline have dropped off the last three-seasons or so I do question what’s next for him. The good news? He’s still a class act and I feel that locker room presence will be welcomed wherever he ends up trekking to next. (Grade: Incomplete)
64, Alexandre Carrier: Yet another of the junior players that joined right around playoff time for the Admirals – Carrier simply practiced. There wasn’t any in-game action, like his junior teammate Trenin was able to do, but the time spent around an AHL environment still served a good purpose for his long-term outlook in the organization. Carrier turns 20-years old in October. His time in the QMJHL with Gatineau Olympiques has been tremendous: 137 points (29 goals, 108 assists) in 242 games. When he takes to the ice for his his pro season in the fall I’m looking forward to how well rounded he can be. If he can do some of what Murphy did this past season, as a rookie, I think that everyone would be rather happy. (Grade: Incomplete)
74, Juuse Saros: There was so much hype for Juuse Saros that the rumblings of the hype train could be felt long before he ever hit the North American scene. He was part of the goaltending question mark entering last off-season and officially decided to make the leap overseas to start his career off with the Milwaukee Admirals in the AHL. Hellberg would be traded to the New York Rangers organization. Mazanec would be his battery-mate in net. What sort of performances was this 20-year old going to deliver in his rookie season? I wasn’t sure. I didn’t know if the hype would live up to itself instantly – but it did. My gosh did it ever live up to the hype.
Saros made 38 appearances (all starts and was pulled from a game once) and delivered a record of 29-8-0-0 with a 2.24 goals against average, 0.920 save percentage, and 4 shutouts. He also participated in 4 shootout situations and stopped all 13 shootout attempts that he faced. He wasn’t just one of the top rookie goaltenders this season he was one of the best goaltenders, full stop, in the entire AHL. He did this while in his adjustment period from European style hockey to the North American style.
What comes to the forefront then is his incredible hockey instincts and lateral speed. He is fast of mind and of movement in the net and it made for a brilliant debut season. I cannot wait to see what Saros can be the more and more comfortable he becomes as a North American goaltender. He needs some slight improvements, often himself citing a better ability of playing the puck behind the net, but at 21-years old right now he really isn’t in a need to rush himself. He can be the first choice goalie for the Admirals next season and really log time in the net. That’s really all he needs before being the hopeful successor to the other Finn up in Nashville. If you look at Rinne’s career at the AHL level he played 145 games with the Admirals before really becoming “the guy” for the Predators. Saros has 38 games under his belt. The more he plays the better he’ll be moving forward. (Grade: A)
81, Jaynen Rissling: We were able to briefly see this guy a season ago when he was a defenseman. This season, knowing that path was jammed full of other defensemen in front of him, the 6-4 bruising Rissling transitioned to a role as a winger. Sadly, he has again suffered setbacks.
“Never got to see a whole lot of Jaynen as he was sidelined with an injury early in the season and only appeared in 10 games, tallying only a single goal. Never really played any major role or did anything noticeable during that time, he was just sort of there.” ~Dakota Johnson
10 games. Rissling only played in 10 games for the Cincinnati Cyclones this season. That’s following a campaign in which he also missed significant playing time due to injury. I’m really hoping the best for this guy. Anyone who suffers so many injury setbacks has a soft spot from me because you want them to at the very least play and see if they can make it on the ice. Unfortunately, getting on the ice has been the problem. That’s sad. He remains under contract for the 2016-17 season and I do hope that his body is recovered and able to enter the coming season fresh. As a forward I could see him being not too dissimilar to a Devane if channeled correctly. He’s just got to find a way to stay healthy. (Grade: Incomplete)
89, Frédérick Gaudreau: The best story of the 2015-16 season was the emergence of Gaudreau out of nowhere to earn himself an entry level contract with the Nashville Predators. He was an undrafted free agent signing ahead of the 2014-15 season in which he would play ECHL time for the Cincinnati Cyclones and then signed to stay with the Milwaukee Admirals for the 2015-16 season. He was a healthy scratch on opening night and proceeded to play every game from then on. He was incredible across the board.
I feel Gaudreau’s highlight came in December when he was tasked with taking on all the roles that Sissons filled. Sissons had been recalled by Nashville. Gaudreau suddenly became Milwaukee’s number one center, operating on the power-play, and more than just fitting in where Sissons had left off. He was bettering his performances. 12 points (4 goals, 8 assists) in 14 games. He had only produced 11 points (4 goals, 7 assists) in 43 games with the Admirals the season prior! It was his breakout party. His December paved the way for an AHL All-Star selection and his first ever NHL contract which came courtesy of the Predators. He would get brought up as part of the Black Aces when the season ended to get a look around at life in Nashville during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. And it gives him a slight taste of the ultimate goal. If his story keeps going as it has so far… wouldn’t that be something if he gets a game with the Predators next season? (Grade: A)
91, Vladislav Kamenev: Smooth. The word I said time and time again about Kamenev is smooth. He came into his first pro season of North American hockey and conducted himself on the ice with such a smooth and mature style of play that it was as if he’d been part of the AHL scene for two-seasons already. I was expecting him to be lightly introduced as a winger, considering the Milwaukee Admirals had so many centers at the start of the season, but he was put at the face-off dot from the opening game to the finish and looked the part.
Much of what excites me about Kamenev going forward comes from off-ice comfort. I always feel like certain Europeans, especially these last few seasons with teenagers coming in, might undergo a slight culture shock when arriving to the United States. Kamenev more than most I was worried about because he didn’t even have the English language figured out and had zero teammates around him who spoke Russian to help him out. Different country, different style of game, so much to adjust to on and off the ice, language barrier, etc etc – none of that ended up mattering. He ended up being roommates with Murphy. Buddying up with the French Fries. And, generally, never looked out of his element at all. He seemed to really enjoy all of his time in Milwaukee all while learning the ropes and slowly improving. That’s what impressed me the absolute most. He didn’t try to run full speed into things he was slow, methodical, and kept getting better the more he played.
Next season there will not be anywhere close to the amount of uncertainty hanging over Kamenev’s head. He can just turn up and play. My goodness, he even told me on exit day that next season he’d be comfortable doing an English interview! Once again, these aren’t just indestructible looking players on the ice – they’re people. Kamenev is going to turn 20-years old in August. Like Fiala there is much to learn before getting to where they want to be, Nashville. I’m even more excited for what Kamenev could mean to the Predators than Fiala on the basis of being an true top-six level center. It’s something that the Predators need and it is something Kamenev can be down the road. (Grade: A-)
Thanks to Cutler Klein and Dakota Johnson for their contributions to the 2015-16 Milwaukee Admirals Report Card. Agree or disagree with any of the above grades or comments above? Join the conversation in the comment section and let me know how you would rate everyone.
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