There was a very good reason why there was such a lengthy delay between the end of the Milwaukee Admirals 2016-17 season and this end-season report card being published: it felt as if the Admirals were still working.
The Nashville Predators extended their all the way into mid-June by marking their first ever trip into the Stanley Cup Finals. Sadly, things just fell short against the Pittsburgh Penguins in a six-game series. But the Predators will have a banner to raise after earning their first Western Conference crown.
It might hurt for some just how close the Predators were. In fact it might hurt for the entire Summer. Yet, what the Predators organization displayed throughout the season -and especially in the playoffs- was how strong they are and can be for a great many years to come. The Predators 2016-17 season was a success. And for that it is hard to argue that the Admirals 2016-17 season also wasn’t a success.
From the moment the Milwaukee Admirals started their Training Camp at the MSOE Kern Center you could get a sense that the 2016-17 squad was a special one. There was a huge carry over from the 2015-16 team that won the Central Division and arguably had one of the best regular season campaigns in the team’s AHL history. The losses in terms of the roster of that team were not as significant as what was added by way of prospect depth and veteran leadership. And that showed very quickly with an exclamation point being a month of November in which the Admirals played 10 games, won 8 games, and didn’t suffer a single regulation loss.
Where the season started to shift came during the months of December and January. The Admirals weren’t really in injury trouble much this season. Their parent club, on the other hand, was. In those two months there were swings in which the defensive and forward groups were hit hard and it shuffled the Admirals around a lot. In the long run, moments such as that help the team build and grow. In the short term, there is very erratic hockey being played and inconsistency can give life to further inconsistency. The Admirals were 12-13-0-1 in that span but the style of hockey was never quite as smooth as it was out of the gate and the team never really went back to that. Yet, how could it when certain players such as Juuse Saros and Harry Zolnierczyk aren’t there anymore?
The conclusion to this season was looking really good. The Admirals were trending upwards and integrating new blood long before the playoffs started. Unfortunately the Grand Rapids Griffins just appear to have the Admirals number. For a second consecutive season the Admirals were swept out of the first round by the Griffins. It has now been over four-years since the Admirals last won a playoff game. The Admirals have lost 11 straight playoff games and have been swept out of their last three playoff appearances in the first round.
What is bizarre, thinking in particular of these last two seasons, is that I wouldn’t consider the Admirals end result a failure despite the lack of playoff success. What are the Admirals at the end of the day? They are the American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate to the Nashville Predators. The Admirals mission is to best prepare their players for NHL success. That mission has been a huge success and has especially been so with Dean Evason, Stan Drulia, and Scott Ford behind the bench. The poor stretches in the season or playoff difficulties are moments and scenarios to experience, to learn and improve from, and make use of come the time the Predators need a player to fill a role. That came into view for a mainstream audience during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Finals. And that should continue in the future because the prospect pipeline is continuing to deliver great talent with the Admirals grooming them for the NHL stage.
It is tough for many to take that the Admirals have a longstanding playoff losing streak right now. I get that. I read that often. Yet, it is also important to stress the bigger picture. The AHL is still a massively competitive league. The 2014-15 season should have acted as a reminder that playoff hockey isn’t a guarantee. The Admirals make the Calder Cup Playoffs on a regular basis. That’s still a positive. The next hurdle is making something of that stage. And, much like the trickle over from 2015-16 to 2016-17, the season ahead offers another great opportunity at making a big run.
The AHL is all about the process. It can be a long one. The Admirals effort to win the Calder Cup for the first time since 2004 is a long process. It isn’t a failure, though. And year after year it feels as if the Admirals can make it happen. Not all AHL organizations get to say that and some frankly fade out of existence. The Predators and Admirals are with each other as NHL and AHL partners until 2022. The chances of a Calder Cup being won in that time frame as the Predators continue growing is very great. Patience is important for the players. Patience is just as equally important for fans of an AHL team.
~End Season Awards~
Most Valuable Player: Trevor Smith
Rookie of the Year: Alex Carrier
Best Forward: Pontus Åberg
Best Defensemen: Alex Carrier
Best Goaltender: Marek Mazanec
Most Impressive Player: Alex Carrier
Least Impressive Player: Max Görtz
Most Improvement: Jack Dougherty
Least Improvement: Jonas Gunnarsson
Nashville Bound Next Season: Pontus Åberg & Frédérick Gaudreau
Player to Watch Next Season: Vladislav Kamenev
Rookie to Watch Next Season: Tyler Moy
Sophomore to Watch Next Season: Anthony Richard
The grades given along the way in this report card are of my own choice and with no real procedure to come up with individual grades other than personal evaluation. The grading scale is a lovely: A, B, C, D, and F.
In addition, I feel last year’s end-season report card cut-off for an “Incomplete” grade of playing less than 25 games is fair considering the amount of ups-downs and injuries that caused 45 players to suit up for the Admirals in the AHL this season. The lone exceptions to the games played ruling would be the goaltenders as this was a season that saw 4 goaltenders start for the first time since the 2013-14 season when 5 goaltenders suited up.
For a matter of convenience I always like to list the players based upon the uniform number that they wore during the course of a season with the Admirals. Let’s begin.
2, Petter Granberg: Remember Granberg’s 2015-16 season where he was claimed off of waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs organization and then effectively rode the bench as the seventh or eighth choice defenseman for the Nashville Predators? That didn’t happen this season. Granberg was in the AHL from the start, had some coffee in the NHL, but ultimately was an Admiral this season. He’s under contract for next season and will enter it at 25-years old. I like a lot of what I see from Granberg’s game: he’s so physically strong and a good defensive-defenseman. What he suffers from is being a defenseman unlike the type of defenseman needed to fit the Nashville Predators system. He doesn’t skate that well. He doesn’t offer much of anything on offense. If he were in a different organization? It might be better for him. But he isn’t. And I’m not sure what the next season really holds for him if his ceiling into the Predators is getting thickened by the likes of Carrier and Dougherty. (Grade: D+)
3, Jonathan Diaby: Let’s cut right to the chase. The Cyclones regular season comes to an end. Diaby gets recalled, doesn’t report, gets suspended by the Admirals, and then placed on unconditional waivers by the Predators. Diaby’s time in hockey is over. He is moving on towards a new venture in his native Québec. For that I say I’m happy for him. He was a very positive locker room personality. He just didn’t have quite the game to go with the natural size and strength he possessed. He had a year left on his contract but walks away at 22-years old. Good for him. And best of luck moving forward. (Grade: Incomplete)
5, Jack Dougherty: The early part of the season was tricky for Dougherty. He was thrown from defense pairing to defense pairing. Yet, as the season went along -and he became more comfortable- he really blossomed into a great all-around defenseman. It’s so important to remember that this is finally Dougherty in a setting that he can finally gel with the same team and coaching staff for the first time since St. Thomas Academy when he was 16-years old. He has a lot of great tools that all started to shine by the end of his first professional playing season. To me, no one player this season progressed more from the start of the season to the end of the season than Dougherty. I’m very excited to see how he continues to evolve into his sophomore season. (Grade: B)
6, Adam Pardy: I can’t say enough good things about Pardy’s inclusion to the Admirals for this season. It started with a rare AHL trade. It turned into a proper NHL contract with some small NHL playing time. Yes, there was a bad injury -fractured left arm- that cost him time on the ice. But Pardy was tremendous as a leader on or off the ice. In particular, his role as a veteran leader for the young defensive group could go an extremely long way knowing how well Carrier excelled alongside him as a defensive pairing this season. I very much hope that Pardy returns for next season -but- he is also 33-years old not having played a single shift of European hockey. It’s that time frame when that question needs to be asked: Do you play professionally in Europe for a bit more money while seeing the world or continue to be a leader in the AHL while being right within knocking distance of the NHL’s door? Call me selfish – I hope a two-way contract comes from Nashville. (Grade: B+)
7, Matt White: Europe has already called this man. And that’s bittersweet. White showed so quickly in an Admirals uniform how very wrong so many other AHL teams were to not give him a shot sooner. It’s shocking that it wasn’t until December-2015 that the Admirals gave White his AHL debut. He repaid the organization, who gave him a swift two-year contract, with 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) in 125 games. White had skill, pace, leadership, and poise on both sides of the puck. The first half of this season for him was fantastic. The second half was a lot more defensively based than tallying up on offense. But he still did a great job. (Grade: B)
8, Trevor Murphy: I’m conflicted with what I see from Murphy. There are times when he can do everything right. He can QB a power-play, smash that howitzer slap shot past any goaltender you can name, get in other teams’ face and get under their skin, and play smart on defense to back up all the chirping. Yet, he can also do the opposite and pass blindly into big time mistakes, forget defensive assignments, get into penalty trouble, and look lost. There is a really talented player in Murphy. Consistency in execution is the problem. Sometimes, it isn’t that first professional season that is the hard one – it’s the sophomore season when you’re no longer a mystery man. Perhaps “Year Two” for Murphy could be more of that than anything. Next season will go a lot further in showing just what Murphy is: NHL caliber or consistently AHL inconsistent. (Grade: C+)
10, Max Görtz: Going off of the conversation in Murphy’s report card – you can paint a similar picture for Görtz. His 2015-16 season was stunning. He scored 47 points (18 goals, 29 assists) in 72 games. His 2016-16 season with the Admirals was stunning for all the wrong reasons. Görtz scored 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists) in 30 games before the Predators traded him to the Anaheim Ducks organization in exchange for Andrew O’Brien. Görtz would go on and score 19 points (4 goals, 15 assists) in 28 games as a member of the San Diego Gulls and record 2 assists in 8 playoff games. Sadly, Görtz time in North America is already over. He signed a two-year contract with the club whose youth academy helped groom him for a professional playing career in his native Sweden: Malmö Redhawks. It’s sad, because you could see all the reasons why he could do great things. He just fell flat in “Year Two” is all. (Grade: F)
10, Miikka Salomäki: If the Hockey Gods can spare this 24-year old Finn from here on out? It would be appreciated. His 2014-15 season was shot to pieces just as it was shining its brightest after an NHL debut that saw him notch his first career NHL goal – shoulder surgery. This season, for him, was pretty much a blackout. He broke his hand blocking a shot in the Predators second game and proceeded to suffer a bizarre lower-body injury in his comeback bid on conditioning assignment with the Admirals. He would appear again late in the season. I know he’s still the same “Bull in a China Shop” player. But, injuries stacking up, is that playing style doing him more harm than good? Sadly, that is becoming a very real question. (Grade: Incomplete)
11, Adam Payerl: About the only thing that Payerl didn’t do this season was suit up for the Nashville Predators. He had a phenomenal season and -statistically speaking- it was his best offensive campaign of his professional playing career: 38 points (16 goals, 22 assists) while participating in all 76 games during the regular season. Payerl wore an “A” for a good part of the season. And that comes from the leadership he displays on and off the ice. The 26-year old was just about as reliable of a presence for the Admirals as it gets this season. I very much hope he comes back for the 2017-18 season. (Grade: A)
12, Kevin Fiala: What stood out the most for me with Fiala this season was seeing him taking steps forward in his maturity on the ice. Yes, he does like to mix it up in the talking and his competitive flair can overwhelm him at times. That said – it was refined this season. His great set of offensive skill was starting to see additions in his game on defense and heads up play out of his own zone. It’s so unfortunate that he suffered a fractured femur in the Nashville Predators second round playoff series. He was beginning to show on a big time NHL stage what he’s becoming. As bad as a setback as that might be he is still only going to be 21-years old once next season starts. He will miss a good off-season of proper conditioning. He might need to start next season in the AHL to get on song before heading back up. But he’ll be back. And I believe he will be back to the level he was performing to rather quickly. (Grade: Incomplete)
13, Tylor Spink: He played in late-November after he and his twin brother showed up to Admirals Training Camp. His ECHL season with the Toledo Walleye was outstanding: 76 points (28 goals, 48 assists) in 66 games. He only saw 5 games in the AHL this season with a single cameo appearance with the Admirals. I feel he is ready for an AHL opportunity. (Grade: Incomplete)
13, Blake Kessel: When the older brother of the Kessel family showed up to Milwaukee he did so while not reporting to the Kalamazoo Wings in the ECHL after they acquired him in a trade. After 8 games with the Admirals, and some thought, he did eventually report with the Wings and played 26 games. I’m not sure where he goes next in his playing career. Prior to this season he did play in Europe. Perhaps it is time to give that another chance. (Grade: Incomplete)
13, Garrett Meurs: He played a single game for the Admirals in January. He has mainly been an ECHL talent the last two seasons but did perform very well in 2016-17 as a member of the Wheeling Nailers: 55 points (25 goals, 30 assists) in 71 games. At 24-years old he could be in the mix somewhere at an AHL Training Camp competing for a gig. Otherwise, the time to work in Europe might be now. (Grade: Incomplete)
13, Stephen Perfetto: I very much enjoyed what I saw of Perfetto. In 10 games he played mainly on the wing and a touch at center but always played with a great pace and compete level. He produced 5 points (3 goals, 2 assists) in those 10 appearances with the Admirals. After going back to finish the season up with his ECHL team the Alaska Aces he rejoined the Admirals as an extra body in their playoff mix. Is that a sign he comes back next season? Who knows. But I wouldn’t mind that for AHL and ECHL depth. He showed good quality. (Grade: Incomplete)
15, Reid Boucher: What a bizarre journey this 23-year old had this past season, eh? He Went back and forth between the New Jersey Devils and Nashville Predators with a pit stop with the Milwaukee Admirals between. He then ended up with the Vancouver Canucks where he played 27 games and scored 7 points (5 goals, 2 assists). He is in the weird vortex that is being too good for the AHL but not completely there in the NHL. I’ll be curious where he ends up next season. (Grade: Incomplete)
15, Rick Pinkston: After a four-year collegiate career at Dartmouth this was the most AHL time spent for Pinkston in his career. He had 12 games prior to this season. He played 20 games with the Admirals. There were some hiccups along the way but -mostly- Pinkston’s play was steady and he looked AHL ready after starting his season off in the ECHL. It isn’t clear if he would be brought back into the mix for next season, even if to have waiting in the wings as an ECHL option, but he didn’t hurt his name for the work he provided in 2016-17. (Grade: Incomplete)
16, Félix Girard: I said it when he was traded and I will say it again: Girard was the heart and soul of the Admirals. He may never be flashy on offense but he is an ace at the face-off circle, a penalty killing machine, and a incredible competitor and teammate. Call me crazy but if the Colorado Avalanche were not let him walk – the Predators need to snap him back up on a two-way deal to get him right back into the Admirals locker room. This team missed him in the room and on the ice after he was traded away. (Grade: B)
16, Tyler Kelleher: How does a Hobey Baker Memorial Award candidate not generate actual NHL contract buzz upon turning pro? By being 5’6″ I’m guessing. Yes, it does look an awful lot like a take your kid to work day scenario when you see him on the ice -but- I’m hopeful that next season he can settle in and display what he is really capable of. To go from a full-season at the University of New Hampshire to a brand new experience such as the Admirals in the AHL is a lot to process. In the 6 games he did play he never looked that comfortable but its certainly understandable. Should he lock-in next season he could be quite a steal by the organization. (Grade: Incomplete)
17, Mike Liambas: When the AHL adopted its new fighting policy I had concerns what that could mean with Liambas’ return to the Admirals. 10 fights meant a suspension. His last season with the Admirals ended with 16 fights. Between that he had 20 fights as a member of the Rockford IceHogs. Where did he end up this season? 9 fights – a single major away from the policy being implemented. Scrapping aside, Liambas coming back to the Admirals locker room felt as if he never left. He provides such great leadership and his work rate on the ice is as good as anyone’s – all reasons why he made his NHL debut with the Predators this season – he earned that. Liambas certainly should be back with the Admirals next season. It isn’t a given. But he’s such an asset to have in a locker room. Having a person like Liambas on your team makes your team better. (Grade: B)
19, Eric Robinson: This season looked like one of redemption for Robinson after a season ending knee injury ended his 2015-16 season just as it was starting to look great. Instead, he was shipped off to the Springfield Falcons organization in a package deal in exchange for Adam Pardy. While he did log 40 games in the AHL for them this season he never really looked as though he settled in as he could have and was doing under the Admirals banner. At 27-years old, he could keep battling for AHL chances or he could turn his attention overseas. (Grade: Incomplete)
19, Justin Kirkland: He didn’t quite have the start to the season that he would have liked but it probably helped him in the long run. By the end of the season he was playing outstanding on the wing with the likes of Vladislav Kamenev and Adam Payerl. It seemed like he was going to be a center at the start of the season. I say, keep him on the wing and let him keep growing the way that he was in 2016-17 where he scored 21 points (9 goals, 12 assists) in 56 games. I feel it’s a better fit and one that could allow him the best chance for NHL success. (Grade: C+)
20, Derek Army: Of all the guys in on PTO that surfaced in Milwaukee this season I enjoyed Army the most. He played incredibly well for someone who bounced around in AHL stints in the past and seemed to settle right into the Admirals on and off the ice. He did good work at center and could factor in from the wing. He provided 12 points (7 goals, 5 assists) in 37 games. In a lot of ways he was the pleasant surprise to this Admirals season as Matt White was last season. (Grade: C)
21, Harry Zolnierczyk: He missed my grading cut-off by a single game but I’d say if he continued on where he was leaving off in his time with the Admirals he was en route to an A grade. Zolnierczyk was a spark plug for the Admirals. A lot of what he was bringing to their play made its way to the NHL with the Predators. He skates incredibly fast and can grind away to the dirty areas of the ice. It would make all the sense in the world for the Predators organization to keep him on a two-way contract. (Grade: Incomplete)
22, Shawn O’Donnell: Another of the Admirals Training Camp participants to make their way into the fold during the season. I did enjoy the times when O’Donnell did play. He’s a similar cut to Liambas in the sense he was very no nonsense in approach and was looking to be a physical presence on the ice. He didn’t show offensively what he was doing with the Cincinnati Cyclones where he had his best season of his pro career -but- he made an impact in his brief times on the ice. (Grade: Incomplete)
23, Trevor Smith: The Captain was my choice for MVP because of the leadership skills he provided to this team in 2016-17. He has such great experience and a locker room presence that helped many others become better throughout the season. And to top off the leadership his on-ice performance this season was his best in the AHL since the 2012-13 season. He did everything this season. And I’m glad that the Captain will be back for the 2017-18 season. (Grade: A)
24, Anthony Bitetto: This season was a blur for Bitetto. His pre-season was looking so strong for the Predators. Unfortunately he was snake-bitten by injuries and then passed over by the likes of Yannick Weber and Matt Irwin on the third defensive lines. What I hope is for a good off-season of conditioning and for the same level of play to shine in pre-season and into the regular season. Bitetto can still have a really good run with the Predators. Circumstances just dictated otherwise in 2016-17. (Grade: Incomplete)
24, Tyler Moy: It didn’t take long for the now Harvard graduate to show just how quick of a study he was in adapting to the pro game. At the end of the Admirals season Moy was thrust into Pontus Åberg’s role and responded with 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists) in 3 games. Moy is -the- rookie to watch next season in Milwaukee. He ended his Harvard career with a 2016-17 season total of 45 points (22 goals, 23 assists) in 36 games. While Kirkland got shifted to center in his last junior season and looked to make that a more permanent role – Moy is a natural center. I could see him settling in and having a great rookie season. (Grade: Incomplete)
25, Andrew O’Brien: At the time, I was saddened that the best value the Predators could get for Görtz was O’Brien. Fast forward a bit because now one of those players is back playing overseas and the other signed a new deal with the Predators. Of the two in that trade, seeking a change of scenery, I think O’Brien found a niche with the Predators/Admirals structure on defense. Where Granberg can be a bit too stiff and immobile on defense O’Brien offers a very good skating touch for a guy with his size. I enjoyed how immediate his approach was on offense: get the puck to the net. I’m happy “Meat” is back for next season because I believe he has a lot to offer. (Grade: B-)
29, Mark Visentin: All that I wanted for Visentin this season was for a wire-to-wire healthy season. Sadly that wasn’t to be the case. In the ECHL he made 26 appearances with a 2.94 goals against average, 0.893 save percentage, and 2 shutouts. He made a single AHL start with the Admirals which came the day of the frantic NHL shake-up due to food poisoning. But that was that. Visentin’s career now shifts to Europe as he signed a one-year deal with Fehérvár AV19 in Hungary. I hope he can just stay injury-free and get on a run. I still believe he has the ability. (Grade: F)
31, Marek Mazanec: This was set to be the season where Mazanec was Pekka Rinne’s back-up in the NHL. Instead, he floundered in his few chances with the Predators all while the young Juuse Saros was lights out in the AHL for the Admirals. The change was inescapable. Saros up, Mazanec down. And that change became cemented before the halfway point of the season. What you appreciate most is how professional Mazanec conducted himself in the matter. There was no beating himself or his teammates up over the situation. He didn’t make things worse on himself. He just showed up to work again in the AHL and was the go-to choice just about every game once the switch happened. He was really strong for the Admirals. But I’d be shocked to see him back knowing that the top two in Nashville is solidified. (Grade: B+)
32, Yakov Trenin: Much like Moy, it was fun to get a glimpse into what next season can be like with Trenin strutting his stuff late in the season. Trenin is a big ol’ Russian with a great skill set. He will have a hard time scoring a better goal that the one he netted for his pro debut but I suspect he will have plenty of chances to try. It could be a fun pro debut season for him next season and he could stick at center or be tested on the wing alongside his fellow countryman Kamenev as his center – which could be fun to see. (Grade: Incomplete)
36, Cody Bass: You have to feel for Bass. He starts his season off by actually making the NHL squad out of camp. He needs to log game time so he gets sent back to the Admirals in the AHL and, before you know it, *POP* and he gets a season ending injury. It was so unfortunate. Even if he were just to play the season in the AHL he fills such a great role, can do plenty on the ice, and is a great locker room leader. This season was a bit of a wash. Which is sad to say. But he’s back next season. And the organization should be better for having him back healthy. (Grade: Incomplete)
37, Jonas Gunnarsson: When it comes to adapting to the North American game from Europe the two toughest positions to get comfortable in are defenseman and goaltender. The game’s pace is increased. The lateral speed is increased. And, in net, the placement of rebounds and use of screens are a night and day difference to European style hockey. Gunnarsson showed signs of just why he was well thought of to be brought over from Sweden but often had issues in settling down in games. He was either “on” or “off” this season. And I didn’t really see any real evolution in his game from the Gunnarsson I saw at the start of the season to the one at the end of the season. It was a one-year trial this past season. It’s hard for me to see that trial being renewed. (Grade: D)
38, Justin Florek: 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists) in 75 games. Not bad for a guy who turned up with at Admirals Training Camp, right? In particular I thought the best work from Florek was coming when the season was coming to a close. I thought some of his best qualities actually came out on the defensive side of the puck. He was making great plays being disruptive with quick reads with his stick and that defense kickstarted offensive opportunities. This was a great bounce back season for Florek after a less than stellar time in 2015-16 for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. His career is now off for Germany where he signed a one-year contract with Iserlohn. (Grade: B)
46, Pontus Åberg: This season was a master class by the Swede. Åberg was a non-stop worker in all three zones and ended 2016-17 in exclusive company as far as Admirals AHL History is concerned. Åberg led the Admirals in scoring and goal scoring with 52 points (31 goals, 21 assists) in 56 games. By recording 30 goals or more in a season Åberg joined the likes of Darren Haydar (2005-06), Rich Peverley (2006-07), and Chris Mueller (2011-12) as the only ever Admirals in the AHL history of the team to accomplish the feat. Before the Admirals regular season ended Åberg was recalled by the Predators. While it may have slightly hurt the Admirals to not have them for the Calder Cup Playoffs you can’t argue with him deserving the recall. He’s NHL good and was this entire season. To back that claim up he scored 5 points (2 goals, 3 assists) in 16 appearances for the Predators en route to their first ever Stanley Cup Finals appearance. It would be a crime for the Predators to not bring him back on a new contract next season. (Grade: A+)
47, Jimmy Oligny: I often think of Oligny as Mr. Reliable for the Admirals defense and, sadly, this was another area that hurt the Admirals in their playoff run. Oligny’s season ended with a knee injury that required surgery late in the campaign. He was once again doing great as a shutdown defenseman for the Admirals. He still has a season left on his AHL contract with the Admirals which will bring him back next season. The bummer is that he really deserved an NHL deal last off-season. Now? I’m not sure he’ll get that unless he comes back in full force following this knee surgery. (Grade: B)
51, Austin Watson: I know that this past season for all of us in this organization feels like it lasted a long time but can you actually think about how Watson was placed on waivers, cleared, and started his season with the Admirals after all that he has become throughout the 2016-17 season and playoff run? It amazes me what Watson has evolved into. He wasn’t the most physical of players when he was in Milwaukee and scored 20+ goals in three consecutive seasons. Now, it’s hard to not think of him as a force to be reckoned with for the Predators. (Grade: Incomplete)
52, Matt Irwin: Remember those 4 games that Irwin played with the Admirals this season? That was pretty neat. He never even ended up playing a game at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena but you can’t really argue reasons against that. He was the initial veteran depth defenseman but instantly vaulted himself back into the NHL picture that he belonged to be in: playing 74 games for the Predators in the regular season and in all 22 games during their run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He signed an extension in January that will keep him in the mix for 2017-18. That was yet another savvy signing last off-season from the Predators. (Grade: Incomplete)
55, Alex Carrier: I really can’t say enough good things of what this 20-year old did in his first pro season. After Irwin went up, Carrier was thrust into more responsibilities and excelled with increased roles on special teams. When Pardy was acquired he was paired with Carrier and the two established the Admirals top defensive pairing this season. Carrier is mature beyond his years and plays with poise, speed, and intelligence. After seeing what he was doing the first half of the season it was hardly a surprise that he would make his NHL debut in his first pro season and also add an AHL All-Star nod to the mix. They often say the sophomore season is the difficult one because the mystery is over, more tape is out there, and more eyes are on you to see if a good rookie campaign can be matched. 2017-18 will be a good test for Carrier. My gut instinct after watching him play this season tells me he will only grow for the better. (Grade: A+)
63, Mike Ribeiro: Once he hit and cleared waivers it was really a question of retirement or going down to the AHL in order to see out his current contract. I was there the first day he reported. I had my apprehensions because I’ve seen guys who had NHL on the mind get smacked with waivers and not even want to be in the AHL after the fact. Ribeiro was not that guy from the moment he took his first lap around the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena ice. It may have taken a small adjustment time getting on the same page with players but once he did he showed his NHL veteran quality: 26 points (5 goals, 21 assists) in 28 games. His work centering a line with Richard and Gaudreau was really, really good. And he seemed to adjust nicely into the locker room and offer the right wisdom to the next wave of talent coming up towards Nashville. Currently, Ribeiro isn’t in a great spot and I very much hope he takes care of himself first and the hockey career second. He could retire after this season and be proud of a professional career that he’d have made. (Grade: B+)
74, Juuse Saros: Let’s get this out of the way. 13 wins from 15 starts, 1.86 goals against average, 0.934 save percentage, and a shutout. That is why it was undeniable to bring Saros, at 21-years of age at the time, up to the NHL for good. His AHL numbers are another reason why he really doesn’t have much more to prove: 42 wins from 53 starts with a 2.13 goals against average, 0.924 save percentage, and 5 shutouts. In the NHL this season he won 10 games from 21 appearances with a 2.35 goals against average, 0.923 save percentage, and a shutout. He will enter next season at 22-years old. He is the real deal, everyone. Him working alongside Pekka Rinne at the NHL level will only help him long-term. (Grade: A+)
89, Frédérick Gaudreau: A week ago you could look just about anywhere and find great stories on Gaudreau. What a story he became. And it is a story that fans in Milwaukee could see coming a mile away. All he needed was a chance and he was going to take it and excel. Gaudreau had his breakout season in 2015-16. He one-upped it this season: 48 points (25 goals, 23 assists) in 66 games. He played mostly on the wing but displayed with the Predators in the playoffs his ability at his more natural center position. In a lot of ways, Gaudreau has been the opposite to so many of the names you see in the AHL before making it. He’s brilliant on the penalty kill. He is so well rounded defensively. It has been his increased offense that finally thrust him into the NHL. He had all the abilities put together in 2016-17. He’s starting to show a new ability of topping himself. I hope the Predators wise up and make sure they see his encore to his showing in the playoffs. Freddy is ready for the NHL stage full-time. (Grade: A)
90, Anthony Richard: Honestly, the term “too fast for his own good” was what came to mind earlier in the season with Richard. His speed is blinding but at times put himself and “the rush” for the Admirals in trouble for the mistakes being created. This was his first pro season after making his pro debut in the 2016 AHL Calder Cup Playoffs. As he progressed off an ECHL stint and injury there looked to be a really nice progression in Richard’s confidence and game. He had the spark plug feel to him in the way the Zolnierczyk had it – and that was great seeing him raise his game by season’s end. I have really high hopes that lessons were learned and that the sophomore season for Richard continues a trend of how he finished 2016-17. He should be the sophomore talent we keep our eyes on the most because, if he gets it right, he is going to be explosive. (Grade: C+)
91, Vladislav Kamenev: After Kevin Fiala went up the next man that Nashville couldn’t wait to see was Vladislav Kamenev. Believe me – he is almost there. Kamenev played great as a rookie but looked even better with the proverbial training wheels off as a sophomore. He once again was locked into the center role, was tasked with doing just about every responsibility that comes with that, and ratcheted up his play to another gear. He finished second on the Admirals this season in scoring with 51 points (21 goals, 30 assists) in 70 games. Something that would have made his mentor Félix Girard at center proud? He also led the Admirals with a plus/minus rating of +11. Kamenev will be 21-years old when the 2017-18 season starts. He made his NHL debut this past season. Yet, if pieces fall a certain way with Mike Fisher coming back for a season and Freddy Gaudreau getting a shot at center, the pressure is less for Kamenev to be rushed into an NHL role. Outside of a stellar pre-season camp I feel Kamenev starts next season in the AHL before pushing hard for significant playing time with the Predators in the middle of the season. He’s close. But there isn’t a rush for him to be something more than he is right now. (Grade: A-)
94, Samuel Girard: If he was that little bit taller he would have been one of the top drafted defensemen in the 2016 NHL Draft. Yet, at 5’10” for whatever reason, he fell down to the second round for the Nashville Predators. My take: height doesn’t matter when the skill and work rate are there. Girard had a brilliant junior playing season. If he doesn’t make the Predators out of pre-season camp he will be back with Shawinigan (QMJHL) for one final season. But, his pro debut with the Admirals at the end of the 2016-17 season, showed a glimpse of just how good he already is as a teenager. He is so fast of feet and mind, didn’t look out of place, played mature, and was showing great confidence in his abilities on offense. I’m really excited to see “Little G” continuing to develop. He has NHL quality all over him. (Grade: Incomplete)
Do you agree or disagree with any of the grades or comments above? Join the conversation in the comment section and let me know how you would rate the 2016-17 Milwaukee Admirals.
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