The 2016-17 AHL season has arrived. It’s going to be a special season for the Milwaukee Admirals with the venue change into the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena. That said, the Admirals start the year off with a five-game road trip. Heck, in October the Admirals only have one home game from seven-games.
The funny thing is that the AHL schedule always manages to balance itself out nicely over time. If I had a preference? I actually really like that the Admirals have a heavy road trip to start the season off. Rather that get comfortable in the home surroundings the Admirals will be out as a team spending more time together during all this early travel. Everyone can start to really get to know each other away from the rink and bond. While the impacts of this might not necessarily be seen ASAP the importance of having a chance to group up early with these road games could prove well in the long run.
Standing in the Admirals way for this weekend’s opening games are the San Antonio Rampage. The Colorado Avalanche’s AHL affiliate finished last season with a record of 33-35-8-0 (74 points, 0.487 points percentage) which placed them in dead last of the AHL’s Pacific Division. Head-to-Head the Admirals more than took the edge over the Rampage last season. The Admirals won all four-games while outscoring the Rampage 17-7.
Curious about the season-to-season roster turnover? Well, yes, a decent amount of that team spills back into the fold for this season. Yet, the headline talent that you’ll recognize off the bat for obvious reasons isn’t one of those returning names. The Rampage will begin this season with former Admirals goaltender Jeremy Smith as part of the organization. The 27-year old will look for a far less dramatic season than he suffered a season ago with the Boston Bruins organization and will be side-by-side with 21-year old Spencer Martin who played in 18 games for the Rampage at the AHL level last season.
The real standout names from last season’s fixture won’t play a part in this weekend. Mikko Rantanen, last season’s leading scorer for the Rampage, was recently assigned by the Avalanche to the Rampage but the soon to be 20-year old Finn is fresh off an early season injury and it isn’t clear whether or not his reassignment is an indication that he will play. Borna Rendulic, who scored the most points and goals (3) in the head-to-head match up for the Rampage against the Admirals is now a member of the Vancouver Canucks and Utica Comets organizations. And Colin Smith was traded last season to the Toronto Maples Leafs organization.
Who picks up the slack then? Will it be former Stanley Cup winner Ben Smith? The eleventh overall selection of the 2011 NHL Draft, Duncan Siemens? Superior, Wisconsin native Mike Sislo who arrived from the Albany Devils? Or a returning face to the Rampage by the name of Rocco Grimaldi who scored 42 points (14 goals, 28 assists) in 64 games in the 2014-15 season?
The answer there is a murky one. While the Admirals really have three lines that could be considered the top line it’s hard to look at the Rampage and feel they have the depth that will see them and an AHL Calder Cup Playoffs caliber team this season. They will need to rely heavily on quality characters within the locker room and on the bench as well as tight defense to back-up their above average goaltenders. That’s all really needed to just keep things close with an offense that is a massive question mark. They scored 213 goals last season to sit right in the mid-pack of the AHL in that category at fourteenth. With who is on-board? That number should decline. At the very least, though, so too should their 240 goals allowed… which was the sixth most goals allowed in the AHL last season.
If you are the Admirals the hope is for last weekend’s exhibition games to have sunk in as a learning tool. The Admirals passing in those games was sloppy, execution lacking, and they conceded an opening minute goal in each game while losing to both the Rockford IceHogs and Chicago Wolves to a 4-1 loss. This week’s practices were passing drill heavy with an emphasis on maintaining pace in attack. We should all know just what sort of a game this could be if the Admirals start missing passes left and right in the opening few minutes of the period tonight.
Expectations for tonight’s season opener? How will the Admirals handle the San Antonio road trip this weekend? Should Juuse Saros start both games in net for the Admirals?
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