We’re a week away from Milwaukee Admirals Pre-Season Training Camp. Festivities will be taking place from the MSOE Kern Center next week Tuesday and will build towards two exhibition matches. The Admirals will travel to the BMO Harris Bank Center next Thursday before hosting the Chicago Wolves inside the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena next Saturday. The week that follows that is the final preparation before the 2017-18 season officially begins. The Admirals start on the road against the Iowa Wild.
To get everyone prepared before all the action picks up it is time to look over some of the key storylines heading into Training Camp and the 2017-18 season. This season proves to be a bit more mysterious than last season. Who is the starting goaltender? Where is all the offense going to come from? Is the Nashville Predators organizational depth finally starting to stretch thin at the AHL level? These are questions that should be answered quickly into the season. Let’s preview what to expect come Training Camp and into the start of the new season.
Tuesday morning at 9:00 AM CST will mark Game 3 in the Pre-Season Rookie Tournament. That will conclude the rookie slate of the schedule before the main camp begins on Thursday. And, with the wait before Milwaukee Admirals Training Camp gets underway, it feels overdue for a proper Admirals Roundtable Mailbag. Feel free to continually ask questions and have them added and answered below the jump.
Last season, I broke a rule of mine that was an important one for myself. When I started at Admirals Roundtable I didn’t want to be anything more than the byline. I had written on a few occasions how difficult things were becoming behind the scenes. I was mentally burned out. After spending five seasons around the Milwaukee Admirals it felt like I needed to hit the reset button on my career aspirations.
As I’ve continued getting things published here throughout the off-season, attending Nashville Predators Rookie Development Camp, revamping the website’s look and functionality, and making business partnerships for the 2017-18 season – I’ve been receiving a lot of “are you back” questions. The simple answer is: Yes. The more complex answer involves me breaking my rule again. I need to tell my story.
If you were to look over the Milwaukee Admirals run under head coach Dean Evason you would see a rather successful regular season squad that has yet to escape the first round of the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs. The playoff run in the Evason era is 1-12 with three successive exits via sweep and an eleven game losing streak. The Admirals last playoff win came against the Texas Stars on 27 April, 2013. They won 2-0 behind a 23-save shutout by Magnus Hellberg and received goals from Austin Watson and then team captain Mike Moore. Watson wasn’t the only current Nashville Predators player on the roster for that last playoff win for Admirals. Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm were both active in that game.
What can standout from the playoff exits that followed is the team’s youth and veteran leadership structure sometimes not providing for the greatest of on-ice consistency. In the season after that last playoff win, 2013-14, the captain was Scott Ford and his alternates were Joe Piskula and Mark Van Guilder. 2014-15, the Admirals went with Piskula as captain and saw a then 20-year old Colton Sissons join Van Guilder as an alternate captain. The Admirals streak of twelve consecutive playoff appearances ended that season. 2015-16, Sissons would be made team captain with a veritable hodgepodge of alternate captains behind him in a season where he played 38 games in the AHL and 34 games in the NHL.
Establishing a core leadership group comprised of veteran talent started last season with the arrival of Trevor Smith. He was on top of a leadership group that had many other solid and established players behind him: Cody Bass, Harry Zolnierczyk, Adam Pardy, and Mike Liambas. While some of those names have either moved on or are still free agents the process of keeping a veteran leadership group has remained a focal point for the Admirals. And it is almost already solidified after yesterday’s signing of Bobby Butler.
Around this time a year ago one of my biggest concerns heading into the season was the Milwaukee Admirals defense being too young and too inexperienced. And that was with Matt Irwin likely in the fold at the time. At the moment, the elder statesman of the Admirals defense is 24-year old Jimmy Oligny who suffered ligament damage that required season ending surgery in April. Despite that, the defense really should be one of the least concerning elements to the Admirals efforts in the 2017-18 season. Yes, they might be young -but- they’re a year better off than a season ago and last season proved rather well for that group.
The 2016-17 season was looking to be the stuff of dreams for a 29-year old Cody Bass. In what was the start of his tenth professional playing season he was making the Opening Night roster as an NHL player for the first time in his career. That story looked to be an awfully good one out of the first puck drop. It quickly turned into a season to forget.
These past two days have been really joyous ones for the Nashville Predators organization. On Monday, Frédérick Gaudreausigned a three-year contract. And, yesterday, Pontus Åbergsigned a two-year contract. Similar to the likes of Austin Watson & Colton Sissons before them it displays a great strength in the developmental process with reward for all the hard work spent with the Milwaukee Admirals in the AHL before being counted upon for an NHL role.
It didn’t exactly dawn on me until late yesterday evening though just what the ramifications of both signings signals as far as Vladislav Kamenev is concerned. For a nice change, the Predators forward depth up top is becoming solidified with quality options and with a bit of years attached to their contracts. As much as any player would like to break into the NHL as fast as humanly possible the importance of being a polished and prepared product when you arrive is something the Predators have been specializing in these last many seasons. The proof of it’s effectiveness can be displayed through the run to the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Finals and it isn’t something that needs to be adjusted.
It’s that sort of thinking that means a soon to be 21-year old Kamenev, about to embark on his third professional playing season in North America, is in a good place right where he is for the moment.
Today is Marek Mazanec‘s Birthday. And, with that, it is worth remembering and reflecting upon what the now 26-year old Czech netminder provided: stability. The 2017-18 season will be the first season since 2012-13 when the Milwaukee Admirals will not have had Mazanec between the pipes for them. In that four-year tenure playing in the AHL he was debatably one of the Admirals best goaltenders during the AHL era having played 165 games, earned 82 wins and 11 shutouts, provided a 2.59 goals against average and 0.909 save percentage, and even managed to tally 11 assists.
It was year-to-year stability with a goaltender that wouldn’t be that much of a question mark if tabbed as the third choice option for the Nashville Predators. At this moment, the organization is heading into a short span where having that is going to be a gamble contested on the free agent market and the 2017-18 season marks Year 1 of this window in Milwaukee.
At the end of an AHL season the arrival of young talents from the college and major junior hockey scene is commonplace. They don’t all have to be players that were drafted by NHL parent clubs and signed to entry level contracts. Several undrafted players generally turn up to make their first big impression on the professional ranks to make a statement heading towards that rookie season as a pro. The aim isn’t purely what’s performed on the ice on gameday, either. It is a great chance to experience what it means to be a professional hockey player away from the rink and see what it takes on a day-to-day basis to maintain a lengthy career.
When Tyler Moy arrived to the Milwaukee he did so the day he signed his entry level contract with the Nashville Predators on 10 April, 2017. He showed up to an empty hotel room and embarked on his practice with the Milwaukee Admirals the following day. The day after that? Moy made his professional playing debut and tallied an assist in a 2-1 victory for the Admirals on the road against the Rockford IceHogs. Following the debut, two-days later, Moy had two more assists in a 6-2 victory on his debut at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena which was also played against the IceHogs and then notched the first goal of his professional career the very next day. That goal would come in a 5-1 loss to the Grand Rapids Griffins and, sadly, his two games played during the 2017 AHL Calder Cup Playoffs were also in losing efforts to those exact same Griffins.
So, what about Moy’s experience at the end of the 2016-17 season was so unique compared to many of the others who were making that same step into the professional ranks? Homework. He was still doing homework so that he could graduate from Harvard University on schedule.