After overcoming their slow start, the Milwaukee Admirals finished the regular season on top of the Central Division with 101 points, and a 0.664 point percentage which was good enough for second in the Western Conference (because the new California teams play less games, the AHL standings are based on a points percentage). Despite that great play, the Admirals were ousted from the playoffs in three straight games in a best of five series against the Grand Rapids Griffins.
In the wake of Viktor Arvidsson (who played at a point per game pace this season in Milwaukee,) Miikka Salomaki, and Colton Sissons graduating to the big club, this team stood strong. They were backstopped by Marek Mazanec, who had one of the better seasons in his career, and Juuse Saros, who broke into North American hockey and took most of the starts in net from his more experienced teammate. In front of those two, veteran defensemen like Corey Potter provided solid defensive play while youngsters like Taylor Aronson moved the puck up the ice and added a lot to the offensive zone play. One such young offensive defenseman, Trevor Murphy, had a great rookie season and even scored a hat trick and three assists in a single game while playing forward.
Up front, speedy offensive dynamos Kevin Fiala and Pontus Aberg started off slow but ended the season playing some of the best two-way hockey in their AHL careers and producing at over point per game paces. Pontus Aberg was even called up to play his first NHL game during the Predators playoff run. Vladislav Kamenev and Max Gortz broke into the league from Europe, were very productive, and played in all situations. along with teammate Frederick Gaudreau, Kamenev was named to the AHL All Star Team. Kamenev also captained the Russian World Junior squad to a silver medal.
Of course not all players were success stories. According to Daniel Lavender, Jonathan Diaby and Johan Alm experienced pretty big set backs this season. Diaby spent most of the season in the ECHL and only recorded 6 points in 53 games while Alm only recorded 3 points in 37 games in the AHL for the Admirals. Those players have gone from great prospects to questionable assets. For 21 year old Jonathan Diaby, there is definitely still time to resurrect his career. For Johan Alm, untimely injuries and other factors will likely lead to his return to the SHL with his two year contract finally up.
Also, it came out today (May 18) that Kristian Nakyva would be signing with Linkoping HC in the SHL. This comes as little surprise as he was never able to get comfortable on the North American ice surface, to the point that it didn't make sense for him to re-up on his one year deal.
With my two cents out of the way, as promised, here is our Q & A with Editor in Chief of Admirals Roundtable, Daniel Lavender!
That was one of the better seasons in Milwaukee Admirals' history. What were some of the big factors that led to that success?
I think the biggest factors in this past season come down to the leadership group, the new blood to the team not playing like they were new at all, and solid consistency from start to finish. Through the season the roster turnover with injuries or call-ups never seemed throw off the balance or chemistry of the team. That's a great credit to the Milwaukee Admirals coaching staff and the leadership group making sure everyone is on the same page night in and night out.
At the end of last season, we talked about the Admirals maybe needing some more veterans to set the example for of the younger guys. It seems such additions have provided that example, no?
Absolutely! When the Admirals saw the inclusion of Patrick Mullen, Stefan Elliott, and Corey Potter it did two great things. One, it solidified the Admirals defensive structure in finally having three-righties and three-lefties. Previously, and by that I pretty much mean last season as well, the team just had a right-handed shot from their defense in Taylor Aronson and not much else. Two, and the most obvious, their leadership qualities. I loved hearing from Potter in his exit interview when I said to him the teenagers didn't act like teenagers and he laughed at me suggesting that wasn't the case. And you know what? It probably wasn't off the ice at all times but that's why you love having a Potter type in the locker room to show the youngsters the right way. Those guys did as good of a job off the ice as they did on it.
From what I understand, the locker room dynamic in Milwaukee is fantastic. As someone who spends a ton of time around the guys, how has that dynamic unfolded considering there are so many different age groups and nationalities represented in the Admirals roster?
I can't help but smile when thinking back on this year's team. I've also been using the term "special" ad nauseum but I can't help it. This really was a special group and a fun one to be around. I think at the NHL level you can take for granted the locker room dynamic because so many of the same faces are always there. At the AHL level the locker room doesn't just change year-to-year but sometimes week-to-week. There was a Russian teenager that didn't know the language here. There was a trio from Québec that had their own nickname, the French Fries. There was a Swedish trio and a Finnish duo. Returning faces for the briefest of brief times in Vinny Saponari and Zach Budish. A trifecta of players brought in on PTO contracts from the Manchester Monarchs in Matt White, Zac Larraza, and Matt Leitner with the first of those named doing so well he not only signed a standard AHL contract with the Admirals he'll be with the team for next season as well. This group was tight very quickly. Everyone got along and it feels like the concept of prospects these days is to bring in high quality people as much as just talented players. This team had great character. It was a joy to be around and I feel the carry over into the 2016-17 season will be there.
The early playoff elimination was really disappointing for the Admirals considering their great season. What positives do you see coming from that experience for the players, including some of the late-season rookie additions.
The Grand Rapids Griffins were a highly seasoned playoff experienced battle tested group. I think that really showed during that opening round series as, unfortunately, not many on the Admirals had Calder Cup Playoffs experience. Great news! They do now and I think losing paves the way to learning how to win in the near future. Everyone has something to take from that series. Guys such as Anthony Richard and Yakov Trenin actually managed to make their professional playing debuts in that opening round playoff series. They looked great in doing so, too. Late in the regular season Jack Dougherty and Aaron Irving factored into games. Meanwhile, players such as Janne Juvonen, Joonas Lyytinen, and Alexandre Carrier were able to practice and get a feel for the pro environment. It's always positive to get that look around late in the season so some question marks get answered prior to hopping into the full-swing of a season. With Richard getting to pal up right away with the French Fries (Jimmy Oligny, Frédérick Gaudreau, and Félix Girard) I think he has to be in great spirits knowing what awaits his first pro playing season with the Admirals in 2016-17.
Three players who set themselves up well for the future and three who didn't...Go!
Three that set themselves up well for success: Juuse Saros, Pontus Åberg, and Max Görtz. Three players that didn't: Jonathan Diaby, Johan Alm, and Jaynen Rissling.
Juuse Saros and Marek Mazanec did (friendly) battle all season over the starting position and ultimately brought out the best in each other. That's an interesting situation there involving those two this offseason. Thoughts?
For those that know Marek Mazanec he's such a goofball with all his teammates that when it comes to battling out for time in net he doesn't get slighted by someone like a Magnus Hellberg, Scott Darling, or Juuse Saros getting the start over him. He just goes about his business. There's a lot of that friendly competition at the AHL level because everyone's end goal is to ultimately end up in the NHL. Goaltending was a serious story for me this time last season wondering what happens if Saros arrives. Would it be Hellberg or Mazanec who bows out to make way for him? That was resolved and now that subject comes up with a spot opened up in Nashville for the back-up role to Pekka Rinne available this off-season. Does Carter Hutton come back? If not, is Mazanec the choice for the Predators or do they seek someone else? It's an interesting topic and one that will play out in the coming weeks or months. Knowing all the money Nashville needs to spend for upcoming RFA's in Filip Forsberg, Calle Järnkrok, and Ryan Johansen (a year from now) it would make sense for the Predators to go with Mazanec if it meant getting the most bang for your buck. If you remember back when Hutton first earned the back-up role he hardly had NHL experience to his name. Mazanec has that experience and has it with the Predators. I feel he can slot in. The question is if the Predators feel that way.
If you are looking for other information on the Milwaukee Admirals' season, look no further than the Admirals Roundtable website. Recently, "Doc" Lavender has been posting a "Best of" series and I have linked those articles below:
- Roundtable's 2015-2016 Defenseman of the Year Award
- Roundtable's 2015-2016 Rookie of the Year Award
- The Best of Chatterbox, Season 3
- Best Game of the 2015-2016 Season
- Best Goal of the 2015-2016 Season
- Best Save of the 2015-2016 Season
- Best Hit of the 2015-2016 Season
- Best Fight of the 2015-2016 Season