Kamenev Captains Russia to a Silver Medal
Not a huge medal favorite going into the World Junior Championships, Russia surprised many going undefeated until their final game against Finland. Scoring the opening goal 4:50 into the gold medal game, Nashville Predators prospect and Russian captain Vladislav Kamenev ripped a one-timer from the point past the opposing goalkeeper's glove for his team-leading fifth goal of the tournament.
In the third period, Finland's top line came up big with a game-tying goal from the future 2016 top five draft pick, Patrik Laine. On a side note: Laine had a fantastic tournament and propelled himself to being a good candidate as a a top two or three pick in the draft. Russia quickly responded with a nice breakaway snipe from forward Andrei Svetlakov.
In what was a very undisciplined period for the Russians, consecutive penalties were given to Ivan Provorov and Dmitry Sergeyev and the Russians went up against the best power-play in the tournament for four straight minutes. As one would expect, Finland took advantage when the Carolina Hurricanes' 2015 second round draft pick Sebastian Aho slid a cross-crease pass underneath Georgiev's leg.
With just under 3 minutes left in the third period, Kamenev decided to say a few choice words to the referee after a questionable no-call, earning him a 10 minute misconduct. In response, Kamenev broke his stick on the penalty box door and accidentally hit a penalty box official who was found later to be hurt due to being hit with a piece of the blade. That got him a 20 minute misconduct penalty.
Still, Russia was able to come back with six seconds to go when a shot from the point by Provorov ricocheted off forward Svetlakov into the net for his second of the game. The game went into overtime and Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Kasperi Kapenen was able to seal the deal for Finland with a wrap-around goal.
Overall it was a solid tournament for Vladislav Kamenev, who scored 5 goals and had 1 assist in 7 games. He played on the top line and penalty kill, and was placed in the quarterback/shooting position on the right wing on the power play. He was a very key defensive zone contributor and showed great shooting and passing and some dynamic attributes offensively. Right now he's looking like he could be a good middle six player for the Predators in the form of a Mike Fisher; but with better playmaking skills. He would be a great compliment to the offensively talented Ryan Johansen as a more defensive minded center.
Playing Within Their System Has the Ads in Second Place in the West
Last season was a bit of a mess for the Milwaukee Admirals, who finished six points out of a playoff spot and in eleventh place in the West. Several players from Europe and Canadian Major Junior had to adjustments to be effective in the North American pro game and a few key players got injured at one time.
"The players just didn't handle injuries and lineup changes all that well and things became an individualistic and dysfunctional mess by season's end," says Daniel Lavender of Admirals Rountable. "The Admirals were in control of their own destiny as far as playoffs last season were concerned. Instead they fell apart and missed the Calder Cup playoffs for the first time since the franchise's inaugural season in the AHL (2001-02)."
Determined to turn things around in the 2015-2016 season, returning players and new players alike have committed to play a team game and play within the system.
"Those who were rookies to the North American pro game had a season's worth of experience under their belt, knew the process, their coaches, teammates, and surroundings and could focus that much more on the job at hand. All the new additions have entered in and performed very well. But what ties this all together is that the players operate as a team. The individualistic side of last season where team chemistry would breakdown and players would panic and try to do too much on their own is gone. This team stays very calm."
This level of play has been extremely impressive with team leaders and veterans including Colton Sissons, Viktor Arvidsson, Austin Watson, Miikka Salomaki and Anthony Bitetto being called up to the NHL for significant periods of time. As a result of the consistent success the team has brought to the ice, Admirals Head Coach Dean Evason has been named the head coach of the Western Conference in the AHL All-Star game.
A Confident Freddy Gaudreau Leading the Admirals in Points
Signed to an AHL contract after playing several seasons in the QMJHL, Frederick Gaudreau split time last season as a Milwaukee Admiral, Cincinnati Cyclone, and healthy scratch. He even started off his season this year as a healthy scratch. Since then, Gaudreau has turned it on and become a key contributor for the Milwaukee Admirals, leading them in points with 9 goals and 15 assists in 35 games.
After a Paul Gaustad injury and a Colton Sissons call up, Gaudreau was given the opportunity to center the Admirals' top line; one he took advantage of by meeting it head on with confidence. It was him taking advantage of that opportunity that led to the success Gaudreau has seen throughout the season.
"The moment Sissons went up Gaudreau essentially played Sissons' roles for the Admirals and succeeded at all facets. Last season you could see how great he was on the penalty kill but I don't even know if he participated at all on the power-play. This season he has more power-play points than he had points in-general at the AHL level all season: 15 power-play points (6 power-play goals, 9 power-play assists) in 35 games. His all-around ability has exploded this season and it all comes down to his confidence."
With Sissons back down in Milwaukee, Gaudreau has been switched to the wing position but he still holds a spot on the top line. What's more is the young French-Canadien forward is now sporting a brand-new entry level contract with the Predators that he without-a-doubt earned every bit of.
Competition between Saros and Mazanec Bringing Out Their Best
Playing in the AHL is a grind. Players have to endure hours and hours of long bus rides, a 76 game season, and many back-to-back games, all while competing for a spot in the NHL. That grind and competition between opponents and teammates alike, however, can bring out the best in players. A good example of that is the battle between Milwaukee Admirals goaltenders Marek Mazanec and Juuse Saros on the Predators' AHL team, says Daniel Lavender.
"Mazanec wants to be in the net as much as possible. Saros wants to do the exact same thing. These two are pushing each other and displaying the beauty of in-house competition because their performances in net this season have been terrific."
A potential candidate to back up Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne in 2016-2017, Mazanec is under the gun to prove that he can be a reliable player when called upon and he certainly seems to be answering the call.
"Mazanec in particular is the one who has impressed me the most with the main reason being I've watched his entire North American playing career up close. This is the best he has ever looked, period. And he is doing it in a season where by the off-season Nashville needs to decide what they want to do for a back-up for 2016-17."
One reason Mazanec has been doing so well is that he knows Saros, who has won 13 of his last 15 starts, is usually going to put up a great game right after him; as they have split many of their starts in net.
"I remember earlier this season I had a conversation with Marek Mazanec where he simply said he was nervous about playing because Juuse Saros has been playing so well," says Lavender. "... [Saros] has been every bit as advertised. There isn't any sign of a European to North American rink or game lag that many I've talked to in the profession have expressed as a difficult adjustment to make. The game style is different, the rink is smaller and makes the game close in on you faster, and it doesn't matter for Saros. His lateral speed and hockey instincts are on full display with the Admirals."
After Rough Starts, Fiala and Gortz are Turning on the Burners
Fiala's troubles have been well documented. He got cut from the Predators roster in training camp and showed up to Milwaukee on a bit of a lull with some attitude problems, which resulted in on and off ice issues that got him suspended on multiple occasions. As for Max Gortz: he came over from Europe so he was already dealing with the transition and then he was late to two practices which led to a one game suspension. He was also demoted to the Predators' ECHL team, the Cincinnati Cyclones, for a short period of time as a result.
The month of December represented a great turnaround for both players with Fiala scoring 5 goals and 9 assists in 14 games and Gortz scoring 7 goals and 10 assists in 14 games (if you count the January 1 game where both players had 2 points.) What's more is that Gortz was named AHL Rookie of the Month for December.
Kevin Fiala really started to turn his game around after his game against the Lake Erie Monsters, in which he was suspended for giving the middle finger to the entire opposing bench.
"It seems the moment he came back from that he was a changed player both on and off the ice. He looks looser and appears to be having a lot more fun. That attitude off the ice I feel has translated on the ice and his game looks sharp."
What's more is that Kevin Fiala made the personal decision to stay in Milwaukee and work on his game rather than represent his country, Switzerland, in the World Junior Championships. That says a lot about his desire to prove he can make it in North America and also his commitment to his development in the AHL.
"His development on and off the ice are best done here at the AHL level. And I feel him being here in Milwaukee rather that going to the World Juniors spoke to that. He's bought into the process and his game is trending back up."
For Max Gortz, the turnaround came through getting used to the team, settling in, and taking advantage of his opportunity when called upon.
"This team's success has really come from the familiarity everyone has had getting to know each other on and off the ice and performing as a group. Görtz's comfort level looked to have settled and then he was presented with a glorious challenge. Viktor Arvidsson was called up to the Nashville Predators. Someone needs to be that right handed shooter on the left wing faceoff dot for the team on the power-play and elevate your game at even strength. I think Görtz took it upon himself to be that guy and produce. He's done precisely that."
Novak Adjusting to College Game
Transitioning from the top American junior league, the USHL, to the NCAA was not exactly a cake walk for Nashville Predators prospect Tommy Novak. Through 9 games, the young top-six centerman had only 1 goal and 3 assists for the Minnesota Golden Gophers, which can greatly be attributed to that adjustment. In the last 8 games, however, Novak has been on a point streak in which he has recorded 1 goal and 9 assists. Part of that is playing with the very talented Buffalo Sabres prospect Hudson Fasching, and part of that is Novak learning to play to his strengths.
Nashville Predators' Chief Amateur Scout Jeff Kealty stated after the draft that Novak's style of play reminded him a lot of Mike Ribeiro's. Novak having to play a more speedy and skilled game and needing to avoid contact as much as possible is very comparable to what Ribeiro has to do in order to be successful. While Novak can and will put on muscle mass this year and beyond to be able to play a more abrasive game, playing to his "sneakiness" will greatly benefit him throughout his playing career.
"He adjusted to the college game," says Novak's linemate Fasching. "He's found his role on our team. I mean he's not going to outmuscle guys out there and that's the reality of it. But, he's sneaky and he makes great plays and great passes."
Dougherty Producing in Major Junior, Could Help Replace Jones in Future
With 4 goals and 9 assists in 13 games, Jack Dougherty has kept up his production from November, when he produced at just over a point per game clip. He also recorded his first multi-goal game of his WHL career, notching two goals against the Seattle Thunderbirds in the Portland Winterhawks' final game of the month. Dougherty has always been known for his strong defensive play and first pass, so it is great to see him better-developing his offensive game, which he will need some semblance of to be an effective defenseman in the new-age NHL.
The SB Nation blog, Sonics Rising, stated that he has become an extremely key component on the team with his defensive zone reads and monster shot. "...He was all over the ice, blocking shots, picking off passes and firing his cannon of a shot on net from the point. Dougherty has worked his way into being the power play quarterback for the Winterhawks and he currently has three of his six goals this year on the man advantage."
With Seth Jones now out of the picture the Predators are going to need to really focus on developing a right handed defenseman to help fill in the future void that will be left by Shea Weber. Right now both Jack Dougherty and Alexander Carrier are two solid options to potentially fill that void. They will be inserted into the Predators' system this spring, in either Cincinnati or Milwaukee, and will be likely be allowed to marinate in the farm system for a couple of years. Only time will tell in regards to how they turn out.
Petter Granberg Can Provide Big-Bodied Depth for the Predators
In late November, the Nashville Predators picked up defenseman Petter Granberg off waivers. As a right handed shot, it's pretty easy to connect the Swede to a potential trade of a right-handed defenseman for a center as a player who would fill the traded defenseman's spot once he was gone. That's what many deduced and rightly so with the trade for Johansen on Wednesday. What many couldn't deduce was who the heck this Granberg guy was? Well, here's the scouting report from Daniel Lavender after Granberg's fourteen day conditioning stint with the Admirals:
"What I saw from Granberg during his two week (fourteen consecutive days) conditioning assignment was a very physically imposing defenseman. He is incredibly strong and showed it by knocking down Manitoba Moose forward Patrice Cormier on a denial of an attacking zone entry at the blueline as if he was a stack of books. That's his game. He's your classic stay-at-home defensive defenseman and that's all that really jumped out at me. Moving forward the only think I see Granberg bringing to the organization is the depth he is currently providing should Nashville actually be considering a trade of one of their defensemen."