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Checking in with the Admirals: New Faces, Playoff Races, and Black Aces

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Dan Lavender from Admirals Roundtable graciously answers some questions about the Milwaukee Admirals, including their recent acquisitions, prospects, Calder Cup chances, and which Admirals could bolster the Nashville lineup come playoff time.

It’s pretty much common knowledge that the road to Nashville goes through Milwaukee. There are even t-shirts to that effect. Guys like Pekka Rinne, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Viktor Arvidsson, Kevin Fiala, Colton Sissons, and Austin Watson benefitted from their time in the AHL. The Admirals have one job: to prepare players to play in the NHL.

Dan Lavender from Admirals Roundtable took some time to answer some questions about the Milwaukee Admirals as they close out their season. The Admirals have gone through several personnel changes this season, most notably at the trade deadline.

The Admirals won in yesterday’s School Days game against the Manitoba Moose, the AHL affiliate of the Winnipeg Jets. Below are the game highlights...it was a shootout win!

Which players could we see make the leap to the big club next season? Who might be recalled to provide depth during the playoffs? Could our overseas and college hockey prospects make the leap to Milwaukee next season? Dan answers my questions below.

Which Admirals player has impressed you the most this season?

What’s funny is that the player who had impressed me the most this season was just traded away: Trevor Murphy. He had finally sorted out a lot of his defensive responsibility woes to go with all that offense he can provide from the blueline. But, being a contract season and the Nashville Predators having a boat load of defensemen as it is, I don’t think it was wrong to move him for a more veteran anchor such as John Ramage.

That said, the most impressive player who is here now is Frédérick Gaudreau. Nashville has had the chance to see him in recent times but the journey that he has been on has been incredible to follow. Last season was him at his most explosive and dynamic level. By the time he had left the Admirals to join the Predators in the Stanley Cup Playoffs he was probably the best of the bunch going up for the form he was in.

This season, with all the ups-and-downs of recalls and how the Admirals form has been, it hasn’t been easy on him at all and his numbers were reflecting that. The coaching staff of the Admirals challenged him to be one of the best players on the team -and- it doesn’t take much to motivate him to be a better player. He’s always chomping at the bit to be better but quickly responded to that challenge. He’s had 16 points (11 goals, 5 assists) in the last 17 games. That’s on the ice. I think what he has done off the ice as a leader and mentor to someone like Anthony Richard has been just as impressive.

Which player leaves you with the most questions? A lot of us in Nashville were very excited for Yakov Trenin and Alex Carrier to improve this season.

This has been a rough, rough season for Yakov Trenin. I’m not sure if it is between the ears or if this is just how he is but I also think taking the hit he did and missing 24 games can’t have helped. It’s just been rough. He had a Russian buddy here to help him out in practices, in games, and around Milwaukee in Vladislav Kamenev - but he was traded.

It can be an isolated feeling when you keep going from being the best player on every team you ever played for and then emphatically are not in a league you might not have aspired to play in. It’s a harsh wake-up call going on right now. He has been healthy scratched in four of the last five games the Admirals played and only played that one game because Harry Zolnierczyk had been suspended by the AHL for a game. I hope he’s learning, calming down, or both.

As for Alex Carrier? I’m not sure how many took into account how freakishly good his rookie season was in 2016-17 - but while playing with a veteran defenseman alongside him named Adam Pardy. The Admirals this season haven’t had a veteran type defenseman until the arrival of Ramage and now those two have been paired up.

What is interesting is that Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason has often liked having three left hand shots paired with three right hand shots. He once only had a single right handed shooting defenseman named Taylor Aronson a few seasons back and now there is only Joonas Lyytinen as a left shooting defenseman.

Carrier has been playing on the left and I take that as a sign by the coaching staff that he has their trust to make plays off his backhand and still be defensively responsible. While many in Nashville may wish he made more progress -offensively- I think this has been the type of season that can pay off long-term for Carrier. He’s experienced a ton and grown better for it along the way.

The Admirals recently acquired goaltender Troy Grosenick from the San Jose Sharks. If Anders Lindback does not stay with the organization could Grosenick take on starting responsibilities in Milwaukee next season? There’s really no timetable on Karel Vejmelka or Konstantin Volkov.

Well, yes. One of the coolest things about the Brookfield, Wisconsin native coming home was that this wasn’t a rental. Prior to this season he had signed a two-year extension with the San Jose Sharks but now finds himself locked into next season with the team that brought his parents together, the team that gave him his name - named after Admirals goaltender Troy Gamble, and the team that inspired him to play hockey.

It is a great story and one where the organization is getting last season’s Baz Bastien Memorial Award winner. This guy is great and I certainly think it will help on that position after Jake Paterson and especially Matt O’Connor haven’t quite matched up as the Nashville organization would have hoped for goaltending depth.

Troy Grosenick

The Admirals recently swept a three-in-three weekend against some pretty powerful teams, including the Grand Rapids Griffins on the road and then the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. This continued on Wednesday with a win over the Central Division leading Manitoba Moose. What went right for the Admirals?

I think the recent trades just woke up the Admirals while also providing them with four players that are mature and proven professional hockey players. It wasn’t that anyone that was traded away was bad. Andrew O’Brien and Tyler Kelleher were both great. They just didn’t fit into the plans as well as a Mark McNeill would. It wasn’t that Trevor Murphy, Pierre-Cédric Labrie, or Derek Army were locker room problems. Quite the opposite as all were beloved by that group. It’s just that Tyler Gaudet and John Ramage would serve a better role to the team.

Troy Grosenick and Brandon Bollig coming in for a draft pick? Similar thing. It was a wake up call and one that brought a good reality into the moment as well as a “right the ship” feeling. This stretch of hockey might be the best the Admirals have played all season long and it is because they aren’t making mistakes. It’s made all the difference and there is still some potential for even better if the offense matches the battle level of the defense.

Do the Admirals finally have the right pieces in the right places to make a push in this year’s Calder Cup Playoffs? They’ve been eliminated in the first round by the Grand Rapids Griffins two years in a row.

Well, Admirals fans reading this will know there hasn’t been: a playoff win since 2013, a playoff series win since 2011, and a Calder Cup Finals appearance since 2006. The Admirals have been swept out of the first round of the playoffs three straight appearances and are 1-12 with an 11 game losing streak under Evason in four appearances in the Calder Cup Playoffs. It isn’t the coaching staff so much as it has been the team itself.

With the Nashville Predators now so top heavy with talent the depth has been getting thinned lately and it is hard to compete against the likes of a Grand Rapids Griffins group in back-to-back first round match ups all while the Detroit Red Wings are in a slight rebuild. What I know is that this season the Central Division is as tough as it has ever been and I wouldn’t be shocked at all if the Calder Cup winner comes from our division because iron sharpens iron.

The Admirals are already in playoff mode and they need to be in order to even reach the playoffs after digging themselves into such a big hole in the first half of the season. If they can get in on a hot run of form? They could be the 2015-16 Lake Erie Monsters. All it takes is that hot streak and making it into the playoffs. ...probably doesn’t hurt that John Ramage was a part of that same group, too.

Which prospects are you most excited to see suit up for the Admirals either late this season or next season? With the organizational depth, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a player Dante Fabbro get playing time in Milwaukee.

There are a lot that I am excited about but so many have gone the college route that I don’t even know when Milwaukee will necessarily see any of them. Dante Fabbro, David Farrance, Grant Mismash, Patrick Harper, and Thomas Novak. They would all be great. What I do wonder though is if Eeli Tolvanen comes over and finds himself in exactly the same situation Filip Forsberg did in 2013-14 and requires a season of playing in the AHL before becoming the NHL talent everyone hopes for him to be.

It’s actually something that has irked me a bit as “Tolvanen Watch” has gone on that there is a natural assumption that he joined the Predators roster and dominates offensively at an NHL level. He’s going to turn 19-years old later this month. Patience isn’t a bad thing. The Predators right now are built to tear through teams and have depth to rotate guys and keep them healthy. I would love to see him come over this season and drink in all that a Nashville playoff run is and possibly get worked into games.

Experience at this age is everything -but- you don’t want to set him up for a fall. The Predators did it right with Forsberg. The Predators did it right with Viktor Arvidsson. The Predators did it right with Kevin Fiala. And I’d love to see them do right by Tolvanen by allowing him to play a lot at the AHL level, make mistakes, learn from them, and be an NHL ready product by the time he gets there and stays there.

Should either Pekka Rinne or Juuse Saros become injured in the playoffs, could Anders Lindback provide stable backup goaltending for the Predators?

Without question. Anders Lindbäck has been the best player, full-stop, on the Milwaukee Admirals this entire season. Freddy might be impressive. Lindbäck has just been dominant.

His numbers might not entirely reflect that but when you have to face as many breakaways as he used to earlier in the season it adds up against him. Still, he has been such a calming influence for everyone - especially the young defense that the Admirals have had.

He is a no-brainer MVP of this team and would be a welcome addition for Nashville if needed. This isn’t the Anders Lindbäck of the last few NHL stops he’s had. The man has experienced a lot and I think blossomed to become a much better goaltender. My hope if he gets re-signed by the organization next season and the tandem for Milwaukee is already set with two veterans in net.

Anders Lindback

Which players could be called up as Black Aces in the Predators playoff push?

If the season started today: Anders Lindbäck, Frédérick Gaudreau, Harry Zolnierczyk, Alex Carrier, Emil Pettersson, Anthony Richard, Justin Kirkland, Anthony Richard, and Jack Dougherty. That’s a guess but, looking up top, it feels almost like the “Black Aces” are the guys healthy scratched and rotating in every once and awhile now. I’m not sure there is much to worry about for late season additions... though I said that last season and was pleased to be wrong and see the Admirals create some great moments for the Predators.

As always, folks, make sure you check out the Admirals Roundtable blog. Dan is on Twitter @DoctorAdmirals and the blog’s handle is @adsroundtable. I find myself checking the site about 3-4 times a week for updates on my favorite players. If you are able, you should consider making the drive to Milwaukee to see a game. It’s about an 8 hour drive from Nashville, but the game experience was well-worth the trip. The folks in Milwaukee are so proud of their former Admirals who play for Nashville, and rightfully so.

We thank Dan for taking time to discuss the Admirals with OTF!