The Road to Nashville Goes Through Milwaukee. That’s a slogan that has been sign posted around the Milwaukee Admirals for a long time now. Yet, it’s a slogan built upon a solid foundation of a proven developmental process that the Nashville Predators have continually built from since their arrival to the NHL scene. The Predators and Admirals work in concert. And some of the recent talent coming through the pipeline have featured some of the best examples of the organization’s scouting and developmental process at work.
At the point in which I write this a little Swede by the name of Viktor Arvidsson isn’t all that little anymore. Not to the fans in Nashville. Not to the fans of the NHL. He is a relentless on-ice worker who displays as much heart as he does skill – and goodness is he skilled. It didn’t take long for Arvidsson to show just what he is capable of in North America when he debuted with the Admirals at the AHL level. But this was a player that slipped through the cracks of the NHL Draft not once, not even twice, but three times. And it only took that debut season of 2014-15 to make people such as myself wonder just why the heck that was the case.
Arvidsson has skills for days. He ended up claiming a few more mentions in that year’s Best Goal of the Season, as well. He’s a highlight reel level player. More than that though, which by now Nashville fans easily identify with him, he never stops working when he is on the ice. When Arvidsson first arrived to Milwaukee in 2014 he arrived already with the presence and maturity you would expect of a pro. He was a constant in the Admirals weight room during the season and continually pushed himself for more. He ended that first pro season in North America as the Admirals leading scorer with 55 points (22 goals, 33 assists) in 70 games.
With how the depth is in the organization now having NHL level consistency is key for the Predators when it comes to seeing their lower line forwards playing a polished two-way game. When Arvidsson has a slow start last season he found himself back with the Admirals. Once you’ve had a taste of where you want to be, the NHL, it isn’t always the easiest to end up back where you climbed up from in the AHL. That said, the Admirals have been stockpiling talent that the Predators have drafted in recent years and it creates an environment that can really help springboard players right back to where they want to be. All that’s needed is the effort in response to being reassigned back to Milwaukee. And if there is anything that Arvidsson consistently delivers – it is effort. That’s probably why he delivered an AHL best thirteen game point streak upon his return to the Admirals before eventually finding himself in the situation he remains in today.
This springboard effect can be seen in a few situations in both current or past examples. Austin Watson started his season after having cleared waivers and ending up back with the Admirals in the AHL. He played in three games, scored a goal, got in a scrap, and was recalled once the Predators experienced a battle with food poisoning. He hasn’t returned. And hasn’t looked like a player that should: 18 games, 3 points (1 goal, 2 assists), plus/minus rating of +5, and 19 penalty minutes which stem from from three fighting majors. That was a short-term bounce back and a recent example. What of Filip Forsberg in the 2013-14 season? He was 19-years old at the time he turned up in Milwaukee and the aim was simply to find consistency in play, offensively and defensively, over the course of sixty-minutes of hockey. Forsberg played 47 games in the AHL that season, scored 34 points (15 goals, 19 assists), and experienced a playoff run with the Admirals for good measure. The next season he stuck to the NHL and contributed 63 points (26 goals, 37 assists) in 82 games.
The model for success and how to do it is there. And it’s a very simple one: Work hard. The Predators organization is one that really does reward effort that gets put in from the players that fight for it. Case and point examples can come in the form of two players that were recalled during this recent road trip by the Predators. And those two players weren’t even drafted by them.
Mike Liambas earned his first career recall during the Predators recent two game road trip. He didn’t suit up for a game but the sheer fact that he was recalled says enough. Liambas was someone who not too many years ago may only have been known for a hit against Ben Fanelli in a game in the OHL that saw Fanelli fracture his skull and Liambas receive a season-long suspension that ended his junior playing career. One bad moment doesn’t define the man. A professional career that sees him currently holding 99 fighting majors in the AHL and ECHL during regular season play doesn’t also define his playing ability. Liambas’ time spent with the Admirals from 2013-2015 saw him make massive strides in his all-around playing ability. Throughout his own developmental process though he was always a fantastic locker room presence and the sort of spirited on-ice leader that could make the likes of Pekka Rinne blush (audio). He wears an “A” on the front of his jersey this season because the locker room voted for him to wear it. His recall wasn’t a simple pat on the back for service time it came because of his tireless on-ice work and dedication to improving himself and those around him. Liambas earned that recall. And the Predators rewarded his hard work.
As for the other name that was recalled, and just so happen to play in both games during the Predators road tip, I feel the need to share a story.
When I was waiting to conduct interviews following the Admirals exhibition game at the MSOE Kern Center prior to the start of the 2015-16 season I was approached by one of the players in passing. “Hey, it is really nice to see you again,” he said before patting me on the shoulder and walking off to do post-game cool down work outs. It was Frédérick Gaudreau and, after all the chatter post-game was done, I quickly looked back to see if I had even spoken to him during the whole of the 2014-15 season where he had split time between the Admirals in the AHL and Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL. It turns out that I actually did… once… in December of that year… he still had 14 games of ECHL hockey awaiting him from that moment.
Why I bring that up is to speak to the incredibly humble nature of Gaudreau. He truly appreciates the moment and is as genuinely as nice of a person as you would come across in the game. The path that he’s been on only makes you smile that much more given the success he has been finding.
Gaudreau spent three-solid seasons in the QMJHL where he played mainly with the Shawinigan but finished his junior playing career off with Drummondville. He played 195 games, scored 134 points (50 goals, 84 assists), won the CHL Memorial Cup in 2012, and was awarded the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the QMJHL’s Most Sportsmanlike Player in the 2013-14 season. He was never drafted. He instead found himself signing an AHL contract with the Admirals in the 2014 off-season and his first professional season had him in-and-out of the lineup as well as up-and-down between leagues. Between the Admirals and Cyclones that first pro season he scored 18 points (9 goals, 9 assists) in 57 games. He would show up the next season in Milwaukee, wish a reporter who didn’t even know exactly who he was at the time the very best, and proceed to force the Admirals parent club’s hand into signing him to an NHL contract.
I’m entering my fifth season working around the Admirals organization. This is my fourth season as Editor-in-Chief of Admirals Roundtable. There are two players who I take great pride in seeing wear Predators colors: Anthony Bitetto and Gaudreau. Why? Because they 100% show that the developmental system in place works from ECHL to AHL to NHL and it works whether you were drafted or undrafted. There is something special that the Predators have in place system wide when it comes to getting the most out of the right players. Bitetto and Gaudreau are those such players. People who worked hard no matter what circumstance they found themselves in and each have managed to be rewarded for doing exactly that. Cincinnati to Milwaukee to Nashville.
When Gaudreau happened to earn his first career NHL point as a secondary assist last night I received a comment wondering if I had a tear in my eye from that moment. I’d never go that far but whenever I see members of the Admirals go up and find success at the NHL level that they’ve been fighting so hard for it makes me smile. Again, in this organization it is very much opportunity earned and reward earned and deserved. I imagine in that moment and into the coming days Gaudreau’s teammates both in Nashville and Milwaukee have to be over the Moon for him knowing the path he traveled had that culminated in that moment though. That’s the fun of getting to see life from the AHL level, as well. You get to experience moments that on the surface can be so small, just playing a single game – just 8:27 of ice-time, but for someone the likes of a Mark Van Guilder who battled so long to get there. Even in that instance it was opportunity earned and reward earned. Last night for Gaudreau? Much the same. It’s earned.
There are so many stories such as an Arvidsson, Liambas, or Gaudreau just waiting to surface. The beauty I find in the Predators developmental process is that they actually can surface and succeed. The structure across the organization from ECHL to AHL allows for NHL success. All that is truly required for one to make it under the Predators banner is a commitment to hard work. When looking at how this year’s Admirals team has been competing you find nothing but exactly that. The process is working. And it yields results across the board.
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