This was yet another golden season for the Milwaukee Admirals and their forward troops. I mean that in a very real sense. There were a total of twelve forwards that played their trade at the NHL level with the Nashville Predators this season who also called themselves Admirals. The depth of the organization is immensely talented and deep. And it just continues to grow each and every season.
When determining this award there are quite a few that deserve mention. The sophomore campaign for Vladislav Kamenev was a fantastic one and he has made great strides into his young career. Trevor Smith was a leader on and off the ice and did so through example and by his determination across all aspects of the game: face-offs, penalty killing, power-play, defense, offense, forechecking, you name it. Frédérick Gaudreau had his breakout season in 2015-16 but managed to blow it apart with something even more special this season. And there are countless other contributors who always brought it on a daily basis who could well go under the radar of the more flashy scoring talents. Guys such as Adam Payerl, Justin Florek, Matt White, and Mike Liambas. Even the rookies, Justin Kirkland and Anthony Richard, were really coming into their own by the end of the season. It was a supremely balanced group at forward this season: skill, pace, strength, size, and work ethic.
Yet, the man who took his game to a whole new level is the one who is most deserving of our end-season award here. Admirals Roundtable’s 2016-17 Forward of the Year Award belongs to Pontus Åberg.
What Åberg managed to do this season was a feat that only four other members in the AHL history of the Milwaukee Admirals had accomplished before: reach 30 or more goals in a season. Darren Haydar (2005-06), Rich Peverley (2006-07), and Chris Mueller (2011-12) were the first three to record 30 or more goals in the regular season. Haydar scored 35 goals in 80 games. Peverley scored 30 goals in 66 games. Mueller scored 32 goals in 73 games. Yet, Åberg’s goal scoring pace was one that topped those great names in Admirals history by recording 31 goals in only 56 games of work. In terms of goals/game: Åberg stands at 0.553 with the next closest to him on that list being Peverley at 0.455.
Åberg was staggering in goal scoring this season. And that also gets reflected in areas of extreme importance. His 9 game-winning goals led the Admirals this season. Almost as important these days is being the team to get on the scoreboard first: Åberg’s 8 first-goals also led the Admirals this season. His shooting accuracy was also worth noting as, of all Admirals who scored 10 goals or more, only Gaudreau (19.4) shot at higher percentage than Åberg (18.7).
The 23-year old from Stockholm, Sweden did serious damage offensively. That much is obvious. But, just as importantly, Åberg was just as good defensively. This season saw an extra step in the evolution to his game that made him just as fun to watch off the puck as on it. He was very sound and responsible on defense and it was his relentless work ethic on the ice this past season that often times meant seeing him get double or extended shifts when the Admirals required it. His team leading 15 power-play goals certainly were nice but his contributions on the penalty kill were just as important. He wasn’t shy to apply his full skill set in that department, either. Åberg led the Admirals with 2 shorthanded goals this season.
There is a very good reason why Åberg was recalled at the end of the Admirals season: he deserved it. While it might have hurt the Admirals to be without their top forward in the hunt for the Calder Cup all you need to do is tune in tonight and watch Åberg contributing for the Predators in the Western Conference Finals in the pursuit of the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup. He is right where he should be.
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