The ups-and-downs of the 2017-18 season from the Milwaukee Admirals mostly reflected a very young defensive core struggling to find consistency. It’s not to say that there was a lack of high points or stellar efforts. It just wasn’t on display near enough to make a difference.
When looking at the field of contenders for Admirals Roundtable’s 2017-18 Defenseman of the Year Award I feel as though many can have a different opinion on who would be most deserving and that opinion wouldn’t really be wrong. For myself, I can’t help but keep coming back to the efforts and growth of Petter Granberg this season. He was a force on defense in a season when that element was badly needed.
For my money this was Granberg’s best season since joining the Nashville Predators organization. When you look back? It’s not that hard to understand why. When he joined he did so after suffering an injury, having a sluggish Summer that didn’t allow him to train well, he was claimed on waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, had to adjust to an entirely new framework of active defense for the Predators, and struggled to fit in.
The next season he was able to get to the Summer in good health and get a complete run through 2016-17 with the majority of action coming in the AHL. The biggest thing to note there though was starting a season healthy, playing through it mostly on a clean bill of health, working an off-season completely healthy, and entering 2017-18 healthy. His mind was more in tune with the system both the Predators and Admirals want to play and now his body was in 100% condition. The net result was Granberg being the -only- member of the Admirals to play every single game of the 2017-18 season.
What I saw of Granberg early and to the finish was a far more mobile, agile, and accelerated version of the strong man we’d become used to seeing. His biggest strength – is his strength. He might never possess high level attacking tools but his strength and in-zone awareness always made him tough to deal with in the defensive half of the ice and especially around the net. He had that again this season but was now able to escape better and really help in joining the Admirals on the rush and, as silly as it sounds, recorded a career best 3 goals this season in the process. Additionally, he had 11 assists this season which were the most he had in a single season since his second full AHL season (2014-15) as a member of the Toronto Marlies. Everything finally clicked into place and did so because of the preparations taken from one season into the next and into the next.
Then there is the defense itself. I know many don’t hold too much stock in plus/minus but in some instances it can pop. The Admirals were a team this season that conceded 235 goals while only producing 216 goals. Of the Admirals defensemen who played more than 60 games Granberg was the only one with a positive plus/minus rating (+7) while the next closest was Alex Carrier (-14). You can give a friendly shout out to both of Granberg’s defensive pairing partners throughout the season as coming within sticking distance of that: Trevor Murphy (-1 in 48 games) and Frédéric Allard (-1 in 55 games). Even then, what’s the Granberg factor for both Murphy and Allard’s success in that department?
It then is important to be to bring up the runner-up for this category: Jimmy Oligny. It was a long road back to Oligny ahead of this season. On the brink of last season’s playoffs he suffered an ACL tear in his right knee. He was back in action inside of a six-month window and once again showed why he has been one of the Admirals best defensemen these last four-seasons. It might not have been the easiest of rides given the grueling off-season of physical therapy on a knee rather than total conditioning but he ended the season looking and playing his strongest hockey.
What’s alarming, for the Admirals, is both Granberg and Oligny are completely up in the air as far as returning to the organization next season. Both are free agents. Considering how rough this season was with a youthful defensive core – imagine what next season could be like if veteran style defenders such as those two aren’t kept around.
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