The Milwaukee Admirals enter the Calder Cup playoffs this week as the top team in the Western Conference, ending the season with a 44-22-6-8 record, good for 102 points. Their first round opponent is the Texas Stars, affiliate of the (surprise) Dallas Stars, and they're a team that plays a similar style as the Admirals.
"We know exactly how this series is going to be," Coach Lane Lambert said after the season concluded Sunday. "This is going to be a grind and it’s going to be a chess match of detail. And I don’t think you can stress the five second rule enough in the game. We’re going to have to be aware of every shift, every second of the game."
Complicating things a bit for Coach Lambert is the amount of new blood on the roster. His challenge this week isn't only to get his team ready to play Texas -- it's also to get the new guys ready to play at the AHL level.
The learning curve for all of the new players is different, and after the jump, we'll take a look at how the new guys have been faring in Milwaukee so far.
The player with the biggest buzz right now isn't even a Predators draft pick.
Cory Conacher (F)
In his senior season, he was the leading scorer for the Canisius College team, with 42 points in 37 games. When his season concluded, he signed an ATO contract with the Rochester Americans. He was released after two games, and then signed on with the Cincinnati Cyclones (ECHL affiliate of both the Admirals and the Americans). Coach Lambert explains how he arrived in Milwaukee.
"He’s a guy that got handed to our affiliate in Cincinnati. (Head coach) Jarrod Skalde made a call, and recommended he come in and play here. And that’s a very professional move. He just felt he could play, and I think he’s getting better every game. He’s got speed, he’s got smarts, he’s got skill, and he competes."
In five games with the Admirals, Conacher has 3 goals and 2 assists...and all points except for one assist have been on the power play. He's a short guy at 5'8, but his speed and work ethic have made a great impression.
Michael Latta (C)
On the scoresheet, Latta has only registered an assist on an empty net goal in four games. But he has had some strong play along the boards, and has pestered some opponents into taking some stupid penalties. Coach Lambert liked his debut, and he has continued to improve each game. The last couple of games, he has played on a line with Taylor Beck, and you can tell that the two already had some good chemistry together. Latta will fit right in with Coach Lambert's systems during the playoffs.
Taylor Beck (F)
Coach Lambert said this after Beck's debut: "I thought Beck got an eye-opener tonight. He’s going to have to compete a lot harder for me, because he’s a big guy, but there wasn’t enough…..there were a couple of moments where he had the puck down below the goal line that he was pretty good…. But on their second goal, all he’s got to do is finish Tatar behind the net and it’s a dead play. (That ended up being the game winning goal in a 2-1 loss) These are little things here that when you get guys out of junior hockey, that you need to fix, and there’s not a lot of time to fix it right now." Beck has improved in each of his four games, and had a nifty assist on one of Conacher's power play goals Sunday, showing great vision and quick decision-making.
Austin Watson (C)
He is pointless in five games, but it's tough to miss him out on the ice at 6'3. He started out strong, using his size to his advantage, but according to the Coach, his effectiveness has tapered off a bit since. He was injured in the game against Peoria on Saturday on a clean but tough hit, and will miss some time due to......wait for it..... an upper body injury.
Atte Engren (G)
Played in four regular season games down the stretch, sporting a 2-2 record, with a 2.43 GAA and .914 save percentage. His biggest asset is his athleticism, and there have been moments where he has looked like Domonic Hasek out there. Engren loves to challenge shooters, and sometimes is a little slow getting back into the crease area to address rebound shots. His interest in leaving the crease makes us a bit nervous at times, but the talent is obviously there, and should he elect to play in North America next season, he would be welcome in Milwaukee.
Jeff Foss (D)
The least impressive of the players remaining on the roster with ATO contracts, Foss has been pressed into duty due to some injuries on the blue line (Aaron Johnson will hopefully be back sometime during the first round playoff series). Foss has an assist and five minor penalties in five games so far, and has been 'ok' at best in the defensive zone. At this point, he's a ways away from being considered one of the elite defensive prospects of the system.
Here's the Admirals playoff schedule, and you can follow our coverage at the Admirals Roundtable.
Game 1: Thursday the 14th in MKE
Game 2: Saturday the 16th in MKE
Game 3: Tuesday the 19th in Texas
Game 4: Wednesday the 20th in Texas
Game 5: Friday the 22nd in Texas (if needed)
Game 6: Monday the 25th in MKE (if needed)
Game 7: Tuesday the 26th in MKE (if needed)