Early & Positive Steps

Bobby Butler is one of eight Milwaukee Admirals to have scored 3 points or more in the team’s opening three games of the 2017-18 season. (Photo Credit: Greg Hamil)

It doesn’t take much more than to look at this season’s roster for the Milwaukee Admirals to know there are very good ingredients for success. There is a solid veteran leadership group. There were some good additions that worked around last season’s departures. And there were loads of returning talent that help make for instant chemistry from the get-go. That much has become immediately true. The Admirals started the season off with three road games and won them all while scoring 5 goals in each victory. As it stands, they are the AHL’s final team after two weeks of hockey to have an unbeaten record.

(Photo Credit: Todd Reicher)

There have been some key individual performances for the opening road games but it is the team dynamic that has helped the Admirals to success. You can best appreciate that through the way their special teams have performed. The Admirals have been shorthanded fifteen times so far through three games. It wasn’t until the Rockford IceHogs were able to get a power-play goal from Laurent Dauphin last evening that the Admirals penalty kill was cracked. That same Admirals penalty kill also had a shorthanded goal in the season opener. Their penalty kill through three games has produced as much as they’ve allowed. On the power-play the Admirals have started up with a 4/18 (22.2%) mark on the road. Bobby Butler  and Harry Zolnierczyk are responsible for those power-play goals and Jack Dougherty was a two-seconds shy in Rockford from being part of that mix. Still, Dougherty is one of six Admirals players to have recorded power-play assists. The short and sweet notion here: this team is working together and doing it well quickly.

Dougherty is one of a few players who is quickly showing well to start this season. He ended 2016-17 on a real high note. That’s followed into the start of 2017-18 where he is actually making big strides while working on the Admirals power-play. Alex Carrier, paired with a now fully fit Jimmy Oligny, have offered a nice, stable, and reliable top defensive pairing that can make defensive plays so quick that their work might not be fully appreciated until the game has completed. Anthony Richard ended his 2016-17 strong and opened up the first two games of the season with a goal in each and had a high energy game in Rockford. It’s an encouraging sign to see so many pieces from a season ago progressing well after putting in the work during the off-season.

(Photo Credit: Shane Abbitt)

One of those who best exemplifies that is Tyler Kelleher. The coaching staff in Milwaukee advised him to work on his explosiveness, speed, and elusiveness. When you’re a 5’6″ hockey player those would all be attributes needed to find better results in the pro game. Kelleher put in the work this off-season, had an incredible Development Camp and Rookie Camp, and is showing at the AHL level what made him such a great talent at the University of New Hampshire. He leads the Admirals with 3 goals scored in their opening games, yes, but it is the work rate around that which has allowed for his own personal success and his teammates around them splashing on the scoresheet as well. He only received a secondary assist for Butler’s power-play goal last night but Kelleher did such an incredible job of reading a one-timer by Emil Pettersson, crashing for a rebound, sticking with a loose puck, and then continually fighting from his stomach to force a puck all the way back to Pettersson that he manufactured a secondary and third scoring chance opportunity all because remained committed to winning a puck battle. When a 5’6″ forward is scrapping out pucks in the dirty areas around the net? It sets a tone. Viktor Arvidsson has won over the hearts of Nashville for his hustling abilities. Kelleher was told to work on attributes the likes of which make “Arvi Hustle” a thing in the NHL. And Kelleher is quickly showing signs that instructions have been very well taken and put into practice in game situations.

There was a Pettersson name drop in that mix. And, while he very much could use his own paragraph, it’s all of the Swedes that deserve mentioning. Pettersson has looked terrific working alongside Kelleher from Rookie Camp and into the start of his North American professional playing career. He’s just an incredibly smooth worker at center. I would say he hasn’t done anything overly flashy – but his toe-dragging shorthanded goal in Iowa was.

(Photo Credit: Todd Reicher)

Meanwhile, Petter Granberg might be the defenseman who has best benefited from the amount of competition in Nashville and Milwaukee. I’m not sure I’ve seen him play better or at a higher rate of speed. Granberg has always been incredibly gifted for how strong he is – but his quickness has limited his effectiveness to join the rush, pinch, or play to a more active Nashville style of defense. I don’t see that from him right now. His pairing with Trevor Murphy has been very effective and the two are really feeding off of each other. In net, it has also been a nice start from Anders Lindbäck. The Swede has won three-of-three and done so while helping out his defense, being active around his net in playing the puck, and staying composed in net. Yes, I’d say there were some goals Lindbäck would probably like to have back – but so would the Admirals while attempting to shut the door on Iowa and Rockford their last two games. He’s come up big at key moments so far. It’s been a welcome sight.

Has it been perfect so far? No, not at all. The Admirals would certainly like to clean up the amount of penalties that they have taken. It is a good and bad thing to be talking about a highly successful penalty kill that has blitzed through X-Number of opposition power-play chances. Still, this has been an early sample size. These have been early games all worked on the road against talented Central Division foes. And they’ve all been wins that have also provided plenty of talking points to dissect and evaluate and improve upon. It’s early. It’s very early. But this Milwaukee Admirals team already is showing some flashes of future brilliance. All that’s needed next is to see how consistent the team can perform at this level.

How have you enjoyed the Milwaukee Admirals start to the 2017-18 season? Who are the players that are standing out the most to you? What problem areas do you think need to be corrected come this weekend when the Admirals open up at home?

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