Yes, the calendar still reads March but the Milwaukee Admirals slate of games for the month came to an end last night with a 3-2 victory on the road over the Grand Rapids Griffins. The Admirals went 8-4-0-1 in March and saw several key contributors along the way.
This is an immensely hard choice this time around. The scoring race between Pontus Åberg and Frédérick Gaudreau has been staggering to sit back and watch them in their “anything you can do I can do better” contest develop. Yet, behind their high octane efforts, the level of play by Trevor Smith and Marek Mazanec deserve serious recognition for how well both have played. Let’s review all four players.
Åberg scored 14 points (11 goals, 3 assists) in 13 games during the month of March. I would say the only reason you have not seen the 23-year old Swede more in the NHL this season is because of how thick the glass ceiling has been for the organization’s topside forward depth. If Craig Smith continued at a snail’s pace for scoring there is a good chance that Åberg could have been brought up and given a chance to capture in the NHL what he so firmly has in the AHL. This has been his best season as a pro. Not only is his scoring touch evident but his all around game. His defensive work rate is just as skillful as his offense and he has been very reliable in all situations. This past month was as good of a run as he has ever had and he is a pair of goals shy of becoming the fourth ever Admiral in the AHL era of the team to hit 30 goals in a season. He even still has the time to pass Wade Megan and become the first Admiral since Danny Lecours in 1982-83 to win a league goal scoring title. When you are looking to do something that was last done ten-years before you were born – that’s a thing.
Last season, Gaudreau burst on the scene with the Admirals by playing his way into the AHL All Star Classic and then earning an NHL Contract from the Predators. What he is doing this season, and specifically right now, is special. Gaudreau is so polished defensively and it is his offensive game that has been needing the boost to make him an NHL caliber name. It’s the reverse of what you normally see as far as prospects go. The evolution of Gaudreau has been amazing. Gaudreau recorded 13 points (8 goals, 5 assists) in 13 games during March. To give you some perspective, Gaudreau’s first pro season of 2014-15 saw him record 11 points (4 goals, 7 assists) in 43 games – the entire AHL season. You will rarely see someone work harder than Gaudreau – either in practice or during a game. He is now putting together all aspects of his game at a high rate of skill and success.
While those two were off scoring goals like bonkers the Admirals captain, Smith, was playing a huge role. As this team transitions towards playoff style “defense-first” hockey Smith’s play has stood out. I’ve heard countless times of his leadership skills but they are really evident on the ice at this point in the season. His work rate has been phenomenal and his contributions on face-offs and special teams has been huge. You can’t get a much better example of that than last night’s game. Smith’s goal scoring rate dropped off from where it had been in the earlier stages of the season but he ended a goal scoring drought for himself this month which had spanned twenty-three consecutive games without a goal. Perhaps that would feel more noticeable if he wasn’t creating so many for others. In March Smith recorded 14 points (1 goal, 13 assists) in 13 games.
Many might view this as a lost season for Mazanec. He looked set to be the Predators back-up this season. That didn’t happen. He arrived to the AHL. And you never would have known that he was hurt by the situation. All he has done is work hard, learn, and grow. This might be a really important season for Mazanec’s growth as a goaltender. He will become 26-years old this Summer and is looking to play his way into a new contract elsewhere that could afford him NHL opportunities. This month, when the pressure starts to ratchet up, Mazanec has responded in a large way. Mazanec played in all but two games for the Admirals this month. He went 8-2-0-1 with a 0.924 save percentage. As the Admirals gear up for playoff style hockey and a “defense-first” approach the growing pains comeback to Mazanec to bail his team out. He has. And he has often and often -so- well.
This is as tough of a decision as I have needed to make for this Admirals Roundtable monthly award. All four richly deserve the distinction for how well they played. But, there should be only one to claim it. If I think more and more of it I can’t help but settle on the Swede. This has been the month where all I see of Åberg is an NHL player playing in the AHL. Your Admiral of the Month for his contributions in March, Pontus Åberg.
~Admiral of the Month Award~
October: Juuse Saros
November: Alex Carrier
December: Harry Zolnierczyk
January: Marek Mazanec
February: Frédérick Gaudreau
March: Pontus Åberg
Who do you feel was the top performer for the Milwaukee Admirals during the month of March? Was it Åberg, Gaudreau, Smith, Mazanec, or someone else? Tell me who your Admiral of the Month was in the comment section below.
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