Since the 2007-08 season the Nashville Predators organization was straightforward: Milwaukee Admirals (AHL) & Cincinnati Cyclones (ECHL). That has changed this season. The Norfolk Admirals have become the new ECHL affiliate and that has pushed the Cyclones off to a new adventure as part of the Buffalo Sabres organization. In the past few seasons the Cyclones depth from Milwaukee hasn’t necessarily been the best. It’s already clear to see that the organization is attempting to make the first season with Norfolk on board as impactful as possible.
Last season, the Admirals and Cyclones had the following common players for the season or on recall basis: Jonathan Diaby, Teddy Doherty, Justin Kirkland, Shawn O’Donnell, Anthony Richard, Jaynen Rissling, Eric Robinson, and Mark Visentin. O’Donnell was a Training Camp invitee in Milwaukee for pre-season but signed to Cincinnati and stayed there for the majority of his 2016-17 season. He only played 6 games for the Admirals last season. Robinson was quickly packed up for the Springfield Falcons as part of the trade to acquire Adam Pardy. Doherty played 2 games in Cincinnati before also being involved in the Pardy trade. Kirkland & Richard were around in Cincinnati for a combined 8 games. That left more extensive work for the likes of Diaby, Rissling, and Visentin as the focal point fixtures based in the ECHL on either entry-level contracts from the Predators or AHL contracts from the Admirals. For the whole of last season the Cyclones had the following games played from those three: Diaby (32 games), Rissling (66 games), and Visentin (26 games). For the 2015-16 season the Cyclones had 8 players connected from the Admirals with Diaby, Garrett Noonan, and Brandon Whitney being a trio that spent the majority of their time in the ECHL. The only real “O’Donnell” type from that season to be brought up on a professional try-out (PTO) basis from Cincinnati to Milwaukee was Zach Budish who only played 4 games.
Here is where things in the last two seasons have fallen off between the AHL and ECHL within the organization. The Admirals main supply of talent wasn’t coming from its own feeder system in Cincinnati – it was coming from everywhere else.
Let’s think of the last two seasons and the amount of PTO contracts that the Admirals have handed out to ECHL talent outside of the Cyclones talent pool: Derek Army (Wheeling Nailers), Blake Kessel (Kalamazoo Wings), Zac Larraza (Manchester Monarchs), Matt Leitner (Manchester Monarchs), Garrett Meurs (Wheeling Nailers), Stephen Perfetto (Alaska Aces), Rick Pinkston (Manchester Monarchs), Vinny Saponari (Greenville Swamp Rabbits), Tylor Spink (Toledo Walleye), and Matt White (Manchester Monarchs).
I can understand the idea of promotion for a player from the ECHL to the AHL by way of a PTO and eventual bump up in-season to an AHL contract. It worked especially well for the Admirals and White who made an instant splash in his first run in the AHL and quickly turned it into a two-year AHL contract. White produced 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) in 125 games with the Admirals after getting that contract. If the Ontario Reign, the Manchester Monarchs’ ECHL affiliate, weren’t going to give him a shot – someone else in the AHL should be allowed the chance and it works both ways. PTO contracts, ECHL up to the AHL, often fill a temporary gap in a roster to help out in a bad run of injuries or other roster hiccups along the way. It also provides an on the spot job interview from the player moving up to show to the AHL that they belong a level up from the ECHL and to prove their worth. It worked for White with the Admirals. It has since seemingly been proven to be the case with Army, Perfetto, and Pinkston who were all PTO signings from the ECHL by the Admirals last season that worked into AHL contracts with the Admirals for the upcoming 2017-18 season. Yet, if the idea of having a multi-tiered organization – a team – is of importance then what exactly does it say of the Cyclones during the past two seasons that the Admirals needed to effectively go outside themselves to find that kind of talent?
I believe that is a question that was presented this off-season and answered in the form of insuring the first year of having the Norfolk Admirals as part of the Nashville Predators organization wasn’t so disconnected as the Cincinnati Cyclones became in recent years.
Army, Perfetto, and Pinkston are the sorts of players good enough to hang around in that AHL/ECHL cut-off at the start of Training Camp. But, for the heck of it, let’s assume all start in Norfolk. They would potentially be accompanied with Emil Pettersson, Angelo Miceli, Trevor Mingoia, and possibly one or two of the goaltenders competing in Milwaukee – Anders Lindbäck, Matt O’Connor, and Jake Paterson. That’s going from back-to-back seasons where the Admirals ECHL affiliate had about 3 players that were solid depth options playing the majority of their season in the ECHL to starting a season off with potentially 8 players that could start the 2017-18 season in the ECHL. It all depends on further roster movement for either Nashville or Milwaukee but, as it stands, Norfolk is set to pack a punch out of the gate and do so with Milwaukee contracted talent. Better than that? The Admirals will really be one – AHL and ECHL. For a pleasant change of pace this season’s Admirals might not need to bleed the Manchester Monarchs of their roster but rather dig into their own ECHL depth.
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