The 2017-18 AHL Season has arrived. This weekend the Milwaukee Admirals face-off against the Iowa Wild from the Wells Fargo Arena: tonight at 7:00 PM CDT and tomorrow at 5:00 PM CDT. The Admirals have a solid group set to begin this season but the entire AHL Central Division have taken strong steps forward. Iowa isn’t alone in that and the season they’re progressing from was positive.
The Iowa Wild finished last season with a record of 36-31-7-2 (81 points, 0.533 points percentage). That was good enough for sixth place in the Central Division ahead of the Manitoba Moose (0.447) and Rockford IceHogs (0.408). While that might not sound all that positive it’s important to remember what Iowa has been like since the team settled in during the 2013-14 season.
The Iowa Wild had finished dead last in their own division in every season since the Minnesota Wild shifted operations from the Houston Aeros. That run finally ended last season after a three-year span of futility which featured a 0.386 points percentage. By contrast, the Admirals run during those three seasons had a points percentage of 0.599 – and a last place finish in the division during the 2014-15 season which was still coming in at a clip of 0.533. The Wild have had hard times. Last season saw a great step forward.
A major reason why Iowa turned things around last season came by the addition of strong veteran leaders. Their top scorer last season, Pat Cannone, is back after producing 38 points (9 goals, 29 assists) in 73 games. While some members of that leadership core a season ago aren’t back they’ve replaced them in the form of Ryan Malone and Cal O’Reilly.
Malone hasn’t played hockey in two seasons but was added by Iowa to a PTO Contract on Thursday. Should the 37-year old regain his old form it would mean having a high caliber, grinding, and experienced winger that has logged 647 games of NHL experience.
O’Reilly is an instantly recognizable figure for Admirals fans. To this day, he ranks second in the Admirals AHL history of the club in scoring with 253 points (56 goals, 197 assists) in 262 games. Those 197 assists are the most in Admirals AHL history – the next closest is Darren Haydar who had 166 assists. It’s certainly been a long and winding road for O’Reilly. Him joining the Iowa Wild means entering the twelfth different team that he will have played for as a pro. At 31-years of age he provides Iowa with experience and -still- one of the best passers of the puck you can have in the AHL.
While he might not be in “veteran” status there is another familiar name in Iowa this season: Landon Ferraro. The 26-year old was a second round pick of the Detroit Red Wings back in the 2009 NHL Draft. He’s had his hand in playing against the Admirals as a member of both the Grand Rapids Griffins and Chicago Wolves. He had played the entirety of his 2015-16 season at the NHL level. So, only playing a total of 22 games last season with the Wolves in the AHL, you’d expect a healthy and motivated Ferraro to add nicely to the Wild.
In net, the Wild still have a familiar face with Steve Michalek. In 30 games last season Michalek went 13-14-1-1 for the Wild with a 2.63 goals against average, 0.919 save percentage, and recorded a single shutout. He will be joined by two new additions between the pipes for Iowa this season: Niklas Svedberg and Ádám Vay.
If you were a fan of the Boston Bruins you might remember Svedberg. He was something of an odd man out who ended up leaving the organization and North America as a whole. The past two seasons Svedberg has played in Russia’s KHL with Salavat Yulaev Ufa. He’s played 101 games in those two seasons in the KHL. His return to North America could provide a real jolt in Iowa as his career AHL numbers are great: 65-24-0-6 record in 97 appearances with a 2.40 goals against average, 0.917 save percentage, and 6 shutouts.
What are your expectations on Opening Weekend? How will the Milwaukee Admirals match-up against the Iowa Wild? Do you feel it could be smart for the Admirals to rotate Anders Lindbäck and Matt O’Connor right away or should this weekend belong to the big Swede?
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