With the injury bug that hit the Nashville Predators this season, the Preds fan base has seen their fair share of young guns. The question is, where are they coming from? A hole in the ground? Antarctica? Outer space? All would be fine—but certainly quite unreasonable—answers. The correct answer is they are coming from the Predators’ AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals.
So, it is always nice when we get an opportunity to take a look down and see how certain Admirals players are performing because you never know when one will get called up. To add to that, you will never know when a player...cough...Juuse Saros...cough...cough...will burst onto the scene...unless you read this article and THEN you might have an idea.
With much thanks to Daniel Lavender of Admirals Roundtable (check out his website), here is an in-depth look at the Predators system in Milwaukee.
Bryant Fair: The Predators have used the most players of any team in the NHL this season; most of them Admirals players. Based on the standings, it seems the Ads weathered the storm the Predators’ injury bug/actual bug sent their way. How has that affected the team overall?
Daniel Lavender: It has, but I always appreciate Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason’s approach which is that it doesn’t matter who is up, down, or injured – the team has to compete. The Admirals have really been fighting themselves since December and, while losing bodies frequently due to recall causes some inconsistency, some of the dips in concentration are more individualized and happen in spurts. “It’s always something else,” has been my recent line used lately. Right now the defense-first mentality is getting improved but is doing so at the cost of a lack of offense.
BF: Pontus Aberg and Kevin Fiala are two such players that have bounced a bit between the NHL and AHL. They seem to be very productive down in Milwaukee but just haven’t been able to crack a Nashville Predators roster that is dying for more consistent offence. What is holding them back? What are you seeing from them that would allow them to push for an NHL roster spot full-time?
DL: I think the only thing holding them back is the comfort level in playing at the NHL. They’re both fairly young, even Pontus Åberg for that matter, and they are processing the pace and quality in that pace. The more simple they attack the game at the NHL level the better they should find results. The consistency in doing that is what’s costing them from being up and remaining up for long-term spells with the Predators. They have it in them. Both are on the verge of taking another step forward in their careers.
BF: One player that really burst onto the scene this season was Alexandre Carrier. He was known as a consistent backbone, both offensively and defensively, for the Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL) in his four seasons there.
DL: Alex Carrier’s intelligence and maturity is what’s allowing him to have such great success so early. He is among the youngest players on the Admirals roster this season and he has never truly looked that way on the ice. When Matt Irwin was brought up to the Predators it opened up his responsibilities more: extra minutes, power-play, and penalty kill. He excelled quickly in the added pressures given to him. When Adam Pardy was acquired from the Springfield Falcons those two hit it off and Carrier has since done the same alongside Jimmy Oligny. Carrier is learning from some great players and has all the tools to be the sort of defenseman that Predators fans enjoy seeing game after game. I’ve really enjoyed watching him hit the ground running so effortlessly from juniors. It is by no means something that happens easily and especially on defense.
BF: Though he did it at a slightly younger age, Vladislav Kamenev did last year what Carrier did this year and hit the ground running, making the AHL All-Star team (but not actually playing due to the World Junior Championship.) Despite this, there are definitely some things the Predators development staff wanted him to improve on, specifically his offensive pop. Having said all of that, how has Kamenev improved offensively?
DL: Kamenev was slow, smooth, and methodical in learning things last season. That’s kind of what excited me in the years ahead because you could tell there was an extra gear and ability to his game. We’re starting to see that from him this season. He is still rocking at center, getting better on face-offs, and has been far more aggressive in his approach to the game. He still has some moments where he can be a bit sloppy or rely on making an individualistic skill play when he doesn’t need to. But, hey, that’s why there is an AHL. He’s still learning and I’ve been so impressed by his off-ice improvements too. People might forget that he arrived as a teenager last season in a country where no one spoke his language. He did that in stride. He’s improving more and more with the language barrier and is nestled in with the fantastic “French Fries” group in the Admirals locker room. He’s in a great place to succeed both on and off the ice around those lads.
BF: Frederick Gaudreau and Trevor Murphy are two guys that seem to be backbones on the Admirals roster but are not quite as well-known up in Nashville. What do they bring to the table?
DL: I couldn’t have been happier than seeing Frédérick Gaudreau make it to Nashville earlier this season. You simply won’t find someone who works as hard as that guy to get where he is. Gaudreau even in practice looks like he is battling to earn a job with the team. As an undrafted free agent that climbed from AHL to ECHL back to the AHL and in that NHL fringe category? You can’t blame him. He’s always going to work. And, as a center or winger that can do everything, he should easily be in the Predators future plans.
Trevor Murphy has had his ups-and-downs much like the team. He has a cannon of a shot. He skates very well. He might not be the biggest defenseman on the roster but he has a great mean streak to his game that can come out in the right times that fires up the group. Yet, he has been making a lot of bad puck decisions lately and seems to be on the ice for more breakaways against that breakaways created. If he can calm down and be more patient in his puck decisions he very well should be on the radar for the Predators. He had been talked up earlier this season for a possible recall. Carrier just edged him out when the time came because of his more composed and mistake-free style of hockey. Murphy is young in his own right. His sophomore season has been more positive than I’d say it is negative.
BF: To wrap it all up, if the Admirals (and Predators) are healthy going into the playoffs it seems like the Ads may have a chance to battle for a Calder Cup, yes or no?
DL: If you asked me this at the end of November? Yes. You’re asking me this now and I actually don’t know if I’m that confident in that being the case. I certainly believe the right pieces are in place for the Admirals to get there. Trevor Smith leads a fantastic leadership role for the team and there are many more that can help see them through these recent rough patches. What happened last season was a Lake Erie Monsters team got hot at the right time. The Pittsburgh Penguins last season got really hot at the right time. It might be rough going consistency-wise for both the Predators and Admirals but both have great players and are beginning to get really healthy. Now all that’s needed is to continue to grow and then get hot at the right time.