Before so much as discussing the candidates I feel there is always an importance to stress what it means to be an MVP. Often times I’m never the biggest fan of how professional leagues around the world choose an award such as MVP while ignoring what that acronym stands for: Most Valuable Player. More often than not it feels like MVP is presented to the “Most Outstanding” player rather than one who was “Most Valuable” to their respective team. It’s an area of importance here because there is a distinct difference.
What made the Milwaukee Admirals group special from the start of Training Camp conducted at the MSOE Kern Center were the players themselves. It was a terrific mix of age and styles that meshed immediately. An important factor in something such as that being the case can be a sign of the coaching staff doing really well in bringing the group together but even more often often it comes down to the veteran leaders of the room. And the Nashville Predators organization brought in the perfect candidate to lead the 2016-17 Admirals.
Trevor Smith may never have had the flashy goals such as Pontus Åberg, Frédérick Gaudreau, or Vladislav Kamenev. He didn’t even play as many games in the NHL this season as Alex Carrier. What fans see is the on-ice product in action. What fans don’t see are the countless moments and conversations that build up to those 60 minutes or more of hockey. It’s all of those moments where Smith was a bridge between coaching staff and locker room. He was the leader of this year’s Admirals team and was rightfully voted by his teammates ahead of the season to become team captain. So, while Smith may not have had as “outstanding” of a season as Åberg or Gaudreau there really isn’t an option better when considering how “valuable” the captain was in getting this year’s Admirals to be what it was. And that is why Admirals Roundtable’s 2016-17 Most Valuable Player Award belongs to the man wearing the “C” on the front of his jersey.
Beyond the term itself: you cannot discount what Smith did for his on-ice contributions for the Admirals this season. Smith made his return to the North American hockey scene after a single season of hockey in Switzerland playing for SC Bern. He only managed to suit up for 17 games before making the return to the NHL/AHL scene that he played a great part with in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization before his splash in Europe. He had 106 games of NHL experience prior to joining the Predators organization on a two-year, two-way contract. And he very quickly made an impression at the AHL level. Smith’s 2016-17 season ended with 49 points (14 goals, 35 assists) in 74 games. It was his best offensive season since 2012-13 when he tallied 54 points (23 goals, 31 assists) in 75 games as a member of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. While Åberg hit 31 goals on the season, making him just the fourth Admiral in the AHL history of the team to reach the 30 goal plateau in a single season, Smith assisted on 11 of those goals. And for all of that production there is also great work in the face-off circle which sets him up well to be crucial in the power-play and penalty kill.
If there were one other player on this year’s team that I felt was close to matching Smith in terms of being “Most Valuable” it would be Marek Mazanec. His numbers might not have been “outstanding” or on top of any AHL lists for goaltending but time-and-time-again Mazanec was a primary reason why the Admirals kept games close and allowed for a lot of those “Cardiac Kids” comeback victories. Yet, those two head-to-head, Smith’s importance to the Admirals being the team that they were is too big to ignore.
What excites me for the 2017-18 season is that the high-end veteran leaders are already due back. Smith will be back and a fully-fit Cody Bass will be back in the fold come next season. You hope more of that mixture returns: Adam Pardy, Harry Zolnierczyk, Mike Liambas, and Adam Payerl. The need for quality leadership at the AHL level is essential for both team success and long-term prospect success. Smith’s example this season was a valuable reminder as to just why.
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