With a new season of Nashville Predators hockey comes another year of regular Milwaukee Admirals coverage by Rachel and me (Eric). The Admirals kick their season off on Sunday, October 6 when they travel to Des Moines to take on the Wild.
Before we get there, Rachel and I are previewing the Admirals upcoming season by position. The past two days we’ve hit on the goalies and the blue line; both of those articles are found below:
Today we’re moving on to one of the deeper forward groups Milwaukee has had in some time. As a reminder we’re notching our thoughts on each player’s 2018-19 season, what we anticipate in 2019-20, contract situations, and a projected depth chart. For each of these position previews, we’ll be using the data viz work of our own Bryan Bastin (@ProjPatSummitt); that visualization can be explored further here.
2018-19 Numbers & Thoughts on 2019-20
Colin Blackwell – 26 – Milwaukee Admirals [AHL]
ED: Milwaukee is likely hoping for more than 43 appearances from Blackwell, who will ensure the Admirals are deep down the middle, this season. His 14 goals last season despite significant missed time were a guiding light for a team that struggled often. But half of those were on the power play and he shot at a 15% rate.
With the addition of Frédérick Gaudreau, Blackwell could face easier opposition, and hopefully that boosts his even-strength scoring and play driving.
RK: Blackwell spent a significant amount of time dealing with injury last season. He did earn a recall to Nashville and skated in six games for the Predators. He posted 26 points (14 goals, 12 assists) for the Admirals. He also served in a leadership capacity last season and will likely sport an “A” this season.
Veteran leadership, a lethal shot, and the ability to contribute on special teams: what more can you ask for from Blackwell?
Lukas Craggs – 23 – Bowling Green State University [NCAA]
RK: I’m not very high on Craggs. His penalty minutes with Bowling Green are concerning, and I’m afraid he might be a liability for the Admirals.
I really don’t know where he fits within the Milwaukee lines. I see him playing an Austin Watson-like game in the AHL, but he might be my biggest sleeper. He’s a third or fourth-liner who might find himself shuffled around a bit.
ED: I think Rachel is right regarding Craggs’s spot in the lineup. He was a very positive possession player for Bowling Green despite his discipline issues last year, but with this depth chart it’s hard to find a permanent spot for him to excel in.
Laurent Dauphin – 24 – Milwaukee Admirals [AHL]
RK: Dauphin is only 24. Hopefully a full season with the Admirals results in some consistent play in all situations.
ED: Overshadowed by the play of Adam Helewka, Dauphin was such an instrumental part of the Admirals’ success last spring. His 27 primary points (including three power-play goals and two shorthanded markers) while drawing tough assignments paved the way for production from the likes of Helewka and Yakov Trenin.
With Gaudreau, Blackwell, and Dauphin down the middle, Milwaukee has the absurd luxury of consistent, high-end playmaking ability that they can mix and match wingers around throughout the year.
Mathieu Olivier – 22 – Milwaukee Admirals [AHL]
RK: To me, Mathieu Olivier skates like a slightly more skilled Miikka Salomäki. He’s not afraid to get gritty in the corners and he’s often found in the penalty box after sticking up for his goaltender or teammates. He’s a sandpaper-type player that can also contribute on the scoresheet (12 points).
He was signed by the Predators earlier in the spring to a deal that extends him through 2021 with the organization. He won’t see NHL action, but Olivier will certainly see a lot of the inside of the penalty box this season.
ED: Rachel nails exactly my issue with Olivier—penalties. Him being offered an entry-level contract was baffling enough, as he was one of Milwaukee’s worst forwards in 2018-19; him being offered regular ice time in 2019-20 will perplex me further. It’s clear the decision-makers prefer him over Tanner Jeannot or Zach Magwood for the time being, but my expectations are minimal.
Tommy Novak – 22 – University of Minnesota [NCAA]
ED: Novak had an okay offensive year as a senior with the Golden Gophers. It’s clear he’ll never return to his pre-injury form and, because of that, it’s doubtful he ever moves beyond an AHL contract. But he’s a smart enough player that he won’t hurt to have as depth and his defensive assignments will never be too overwhelming.
Joe Pendenza – 28 – Milwaukee Admirals [AHL]
ED: Pendenza was another quiet reason for Milwaukee’s success down the stretch last season, riding a 14% shooting rate to contribute eight goals and springboard dynamite play from Yakov Trenin.
His offensive production probably regresses this year, but I don’t think he’ll command more than fourth line minutes and some time on the penalty kill.
RK: I was pleasantly surprised to see Pendenza re-acquired by the Admirals this season. The 28-year-old skated with the Cleveland Monsters for two seasons after spending his first two professional seasons with the Admirals. His stats are not eye-popping, but he’s another serviceable addition to the Milwaukee lineup.
Rem Pitlick – 22 – University of Minnesota [NCAA]
RK: Oh man, I am excited to see what Pitlick does in the AHL. His training camp performance was incredible, and some playing time in Milwaukee will allow Pitlick to develop. Rem Pitlick will be the second call-up by Nashville after Anthony Richard. Much like Colton Sissons a few years ago, Pitlick is up-and-down this season and next before he cracks the roster.
ED: I’ve said it since March, and I’ll say it again: Rem Pitlick could score 30 points in the NHL this season with adequate linemates and deployment. That is all; he should find the AHL to be little challenge after he gets acclimated.
Anthony Richard – 22 – Milwaukee Admirals [AHL]
RK: Richard posted very good numbers in his third pro season. Using his speed as a weapon, Richard can leave defenders spinning in circles behind him. He skated in one contest with the Predators in December, and Richard should be one of the first call-ups in the event of an injury.
The time is nigh for Richard to become a permanent Predator. With Frédérick Gaudreau and Miikka Salomäki in Milwaukee, there is a prime opportunity for Anthony Richard. I predict that his recall will result in a permanent stay in Nashville, similar to what we saw with Rocco Grimaldi last season.
ED: It’s tough for me to anticipate something happening that affords Richard a permanent spot in Nashville this year, but, otherwise, he should dictate the pace of this team’s scoring and likely hit 60 to 70 points in a full campaign.
Cole Schneider – 29 – Milwaukee Admirals [AHL]
ED: Schneider is probably being overlooked on this roster, but he was just as important in 2018-19 as Blackwell and Dauphin, leading the team in scoring alongside Anthony Richard. It was a tidy bit of business by Poile and Nichol giving him a maxed-out AHL deal to avoid one counting against the 50-contract limit.
I anticipate him and Blackwell could line up together as they did to end the season and Schneider should again near 50 points.
RK: Schneider played 22 games for Milwaukee at a point-per-game pace (22 points: 10 goals, 12 assists); he has regularly posted good numbers at the AHL level.
Schneider is another veteran leader for the Admirals. I’d expect him to perform in all situations for the Admirals and possibly take on a formal leadership role.
Eeli Tolvanen – 20 – Milwaukee Admirals [AHL]
RK: Tolvanen was underwhelming for many last season. 35 points (15 goals, 20 assists) in 58 games is not nearly as bad as Twitter made it out to be. It’s evident he’s come back to Nashville/Milwaukee with motivation and without a few extra pounds. His preseason was notable, and Tolvanen will benefit from top-line minutes and power play opportunities that he might not be afforded in Nashville due to organizational depth at forward. I expect him to play around 7-10 games with the Predators because of injuries.
ED: Rachel is right: calm down everyone. No matter where in the top-six Tolvanen starts out, he will be surrounded with immense talent. His ability to drive team scoring only improved as the season went on, and his production was at the top of the league for his age group. With a full season, Tolvanen could approach 50 to 55 points as he has become less reliant on power play scoring and an excellent primary point producer (71.4% of his 2018-19 totals).
Yakov Trenin – 22 – Milwaukee Admirals [AHL]
ED: Trenin and not playing deserved top-six minutes: name a more iconic duo. 2019-20 seems like it will be another year of Trenin being underutilized, but maybe I’ll be wrong. I’d place a wager on Rachel’s prediction below if I could trust his deployment.
14 goals, scoring almost exclusively primary points, and dominating possession and scoring rates relative to your teammates should be enough to warrant a better look but, again, we’ll see.
RK: Where does Yakov Trenin best fit? That seems to be the question in Milwaukee for the Russian forward. Coach Karl Taylor has used Trenin in multiple situations and he put up the best numbers of his professional career in 2018-2019. 33 points (14 goals, 19 assists) are nothing to sneeze at for the forward who has been the victim of multiple unfortunate injuries. I project he will score over 20 goals this season with consistent and dependable linemates.
Josh Wilkins – 22 – Providence College [NCAA]
ED: If you take a look at that beautiful graph at the top of the page, you will notice we should be talking about Wilkins in the same breath as Rem Pitlick. The Raleigh native scorched the NCAA last season in Rhode Island as a prolific sniper for the Friars. Wilkins could be an absolute home run for Milwaukee this season and should be afforded ample power play minutes.
RK: Eric is pretty high on Wilkins, and I’m excited about his future in the organization, too. He could be due for a big season with the Admirals. After coming in as a free agent from the NCAA, Wilkins could use some time developing with Milwaukee and he will definitely be afforded the opportunity to develop as a middle-six scorer.
Note: Earlier this week, forwards Miikka Salomäki and Frederick Gaudreau were assigned to Milwaukee after clearing through waivers. Although unclear how long either will be with the Admirals, both are experienced, ‘AAAA’ skaters that will round out the top of Milwaukee’s lineup with top-six scoring rate expectations.
|Eeli Tolvanen||Milwaukee [AHL]||$925K||$925K||RFA||RFA||RFA||RFA|
|Laurent Dauphin||Milwaukee [AHL]||$700K||RFA||RFA||RFA||RFA||RFA|
|Anthony Richard||Milwaukee [AHL]||$688K||RFA||RFA||RFA||RFA||RFA|
|Yakov Trenin||Milwaukee [AHL]||$730.8K||RFA||RFA||RFA||RFA||RFA|
|Colin Blackwell||Milwaukee [AHL]||$675K||UFA||UFA||UFA||UFA||UFA|
|Rem Pitlick||Milwaukee [AHL]||$925K||RFA||RFA||RFA||RFA||RFA|
|Lukas Craggs||Milwaukee [AHL]||$925K||$925K||RFA||RFA||RFA||RFA|
|Josh Wilkins||Milwaukee [AHL]||$925K||$925K||RFA||RFA||RFA||RFA|
|Mathieu Olivier||Milwaukee [AHL]||$730K||$730K||RFA||RFA||RFA||RFA|
|Frederick Gaudreau||Milwaukee [AHL]||$667K||UFA||UFA||UFA||UFA||UFA|
|Joe Pendenza||Milwaukee [AHL]||AHL||UFA||UFA||UFA||UFA||UFA|
|Tommy Novak||Milwaukee [AHL]||AHL||UFA||UFA||UFA||UFA||UFA|
|Cole Schneider||Milwaukee [AHL]||AHL||UFA||UFA||UFA||UFA||UFA|
|Miikka Salomaki||Milwaukee [AHL]||$750K||UFA||UFA||UFA||UFA||UFA|
There’s not much major to note about any of these contract situations. Colin Blackwell, Frédérick Gaudreau, and Miikka Salomäki are all unrestricted free agents at the end of the year; you have to imagine one or two of them won’t be back.
Yakov Trenin, Anthony Richard, and Rem Pitlick will be finishing out their entry-level contracts and each may have a unique opportunity to make some noise for the brass in Nashville.
The team convinced Schneider to come back on a maxed-out AHL contract, and I doubt Pendenza or Novak earns an NHL offer either.
Anticipated Depth Chart
1. Eeli Tolvanen – Frederick Gaudreau – Anthony Richard
2. Rem Pitlick – Colin Blackwell – Cole Schneider
3. Miikka Salomaki – Laurent Dauphin – Yakov Trenin
4. Lukas Craggs – Joe Pendenza – Josh Wilkins
Extras: Tommy Novak, Mathieu Olivier
[Note: It is possible one more forward is assigned to the ECHL before the season starts. If so, my guess would be Novak.]
All contract information is courtesy of capfriendly.com. All statistics are courtesy of eliteprospects.com, theahl.com, and ncaa.com. The 2018-19 model is courtesy of Eric Dunay (@ERock_28) and C.C., and the viz is courtesy of Bryan Bastin (@ProjPatSummitt).