Our position-based grades from the 2021 AHL season wrap up with the forward group Nashville sent to (mostly) Chicago last year. The core below will hope to reignite the relentless scoring attack they captured with the Admirals in the 2019-20 season that was shortened due to COVID-19.
Michael Carcone | 25 | Tucson Roadrunners [AHL]
Carcone, acquired in a trade for Zach Magwood, spent his 2021 season on loan to the Tucson Roadrunners. He struggled at the onset of the season—including a nine-game pointless streak—but recovered to notch a career-high 15 goals and 25 points in 35 games; 14 of those points were primary ones scored at even-strength. Despite Carcone’s offensive talents, there’s simply no room in the lineup for another player that Nashville isn’t actively developing; He signed a two-year, two-way contract with the Coyotes to stay in Arizona.
Lukas Craggs | 25 | Chicago Wolves [AHL]; Florida Everblades [ECHL]
Limited to just seven games with Chicago last season due to injury and lineup decisions, Craggs was about as ineffective as possible in the AHL. He’s proven he can score in the ECHL with 20 points in 20 games with the Everblades, but he doesn’t provide enough offense to differentiate himself from the other heavy-hitters in the organization.
RK: Craggs relies on his body to force possession changes in the defensive zone but doesn’t have the footspeed to make an impact off turnovers. He lacks offensive explosion, but he was trusted in some special-teams’ situations last year.
ED: It always seemed likely this would be Craggs’ last season in the organization, and so it will be; Nashville did not extend a qualifying offer to the now unrestricted free agent.
Luke Evangelista | 19 | Chicago Wolves [AHL]
Sidelined for most of the year due to COVID restrictions on the OHL, Evangelista joined Chicago late and got into 14 games for the Wovles, scoring four points. Confined to a bottom-six role, Evangelista struggled at times, as you would expect, but flashed his offensive skill in other moments too.
RK: Evangelista was getting his feet wet in the pro game this season, and he sometimes looked a bit like he was trying to do too much at one time. He’s at the stage where he should be a student of the game and not an eye-popping contributor. He’s not exactly a project, but he’s a work in progress. We have only just scratched the surface when it comes to Luke Evangelista.
ED: Evangelista’s mantra over the past year has been adding muscle and working on his shot. All indications from Team Canada’s summer camp (in preparation for the World Junior Championship) suggest that work is paying off. I won’t take much from Evangelista’s time in the AHL, but he’ll return to the OHL next season with a lot to prove.
Patrick Harper | 23 | Chicago Wolves [AHL]; Florida Everblades [ECHL]
Similar to Lukas Craggs in a sense, Harper found himself in and out of the Chicago lineup due to inconsistent play. In 15 games, he managed just two assists—a disappointing output for the prolific college scorer.
RK: I was not very thrilled with Harper this season. I was really hoping he’d find a home on the wing of a responsible playmaker...he didn’t, finding himself on the outside looking in this season. There are points where he was quite effective at speeding down the ice and also backchecking to prevent plays from going the other way, but the rest of the time, he looks disengaged and lost.
ED: Given his size, Harper has to fight extra hard at the AHL level to succeed. Adding muscle will help, but there is concern he becomes a mostly power-play scored at the pro level. He’s got good footspeed but not great enough to have a noticeable separating gear in the AHL. Should he be given the opportunity to succeed, 2021-22 will be a big year for Harper.
Tanner Jeannot | 24 | Nashville Predators [NHL]; Chicago Wolves [AHL]; Florida Everblades [ECHL]
All season long, the Wolves’ coaching staff made clear that if the team had a captain, it would be Jeannot. Of all the surprises in the weird 2021 campaign, Jeannot turning into one of the best offensive threats in the AHL was not one I saw coming. But, his ten goals and 21 points in 13 AHL games speak for themself, and he turned that into an excellent NHL debut with seven points in 15 games in Nashville.
RK: It was so much fun watching Tanner Jeannot play for the Wolves until he got recalled. That recall, by the way, was one of the most deserving, and Jeannot proved his worth with the Predators.
ED: If you had asked me before last season to pick an AHL player in the system who would graduate full-time to the NHL, I never would’ve guessed Jeannot. But Nashville has seemingly found a hidden gem that they’ve fallen in love with, and it’s hard to argue with his AHL and NHL production to date.
Sean Malone | 26 | Chicago Wolves [AHL]; Nashville Predators [NHL]
Replacing Colin Blackwell as a veteran, top-six center in the AHL last season, Malone excelled and gave the Wolves a dynamic one-two punch down the middle with Tommy Novak. In 23 games, Malone scored five goals and 15 points, including eight primary points at even-strength; He recorded a primary point on 53% of the even-strength goals Chicago scored while he was on the ice.
RK: Malone seemed to embody the type of game that Wolves’ head coach Ryan Warsofsky was a huge fan of. He plays a well-rounded game, and he’s not afraid of physicality in the corners and in front of the net. He cleans up pucks in front of the net with astounding efficiency, and has proven his worth as an AHL playmaker.
ED: Malone was a great stop gap to help a young group of players during a bumpy 2021 season, but with the return of Michael McCarron and emergence of Tommy Novak, his services are no longer needed in Milwaukee. Malone is returning to his hometown Buffalo Sabres for the 2021-22 season.
Tommy Novak | 24 | Chicago Wolves [AHL]; Florida Everblades [ECHL]
In 27 games with Chicago, Novak recorded 32 points, tying Philip Tomasino to lead the team and good for 12th in the entire AHL. Novak recorded a primary point on 67% of the even-strength goals the Wolves scored with him on the ice.
RK: At this point, everyone knows I’m a huge Tommy Novak fan. He should challenge for a spot at camp this fall, but Novak is the clear-cut 1C for the 2021-2022 Milwaukee Admirals; He should take on a leadership role, as well.
ED: Of all the players that I enjoyed watching last season, it was great to see Novak recapture his scoring touch that was dampened due to injuries in college. Nashville took a risk on him given that track record, but it’s paid off well so far.
Rem Pitlick | 24 | Nashville Predators [NHL]; Chicago Wolves [AHL]
Pitlick graduated (for the season) to the NHL, appearing in ten games for Nashville and just eight games for the Chicago Wolves. In the AHL, he dominated with eight goals and ten points and was a threat in all three situations as the team’s top center.
RK: Pitlick didn’t play too much with Chicago this season, and that’s a good thing; He’s pretty much shown all he can at the AHL level.
ED: Due to the number’s game, Pitlick will likely be in Milwaukee again next season, but he shouldn’t have any trouble being one of the team’s leading scorers. That’s all he can do in his forthcoming third pro season to hopefully earn a full-time spot in the NHL in 2022-23.
Anthony Richard | 24 | Chicago Wolves [AHL]
At the end of the 2019-20 season, it really seemed like Richard has maxed out in his pro career, struggling to match his offensive abilities with just 23 points in 60 games. In 2021, he put all of that to rest. In 28 games with Chicago, Richard scored 11 goals and 18 points—a career-best points-per-game output (0.64). In transition, Richard was one of the Wolves’ best forwards exiting the defensive zone with possession 75.0% of the time and entering the offensive zone with possession 64.1% of the time.
RK: Richard’s physical game improved a ton over this last season as he benefitted from a trusting coaching staff and consistent ice time in all three situations. He’s still got speed on breakaways, and his improved all-around play should allow him to see some NHL time this coming season despite the organizational logjam.
ED: At this point, it’s fairly clear that Richard will be no more than a ‘AAAA’ player in Nashville, providing depth when needed. But I still think he can hit another gear in the AHL and score 30 goals with the Admirals.
Cole Smith | 25 | Chicago Wolves [AHL]; Florida Everblades [ECHL]; Nashville Predators [NHL]
After earning his NHL debut on opening night for the Predators, Smith never returned to Nashville and played in 23 games for Chicago. While he posted five goals and ten points, he was also one of the subjects of the coaching staff’s frustration over inconsistent play. But as head coach Ryan Warsofsky stressed, it’s all part of learning to be a professional.
RK: Like Sean Malone, I have very few complaints about Cole Smith’s overall game. He contributes all over the ice and is a reliable, albeit unexciting, presence.
ED: I’m not a huge fan of what Smith brings to the table, but I understand why the organization likes him. He’s a hard-working who sets a high bar on and off the ice with his work ethic. I don’t think he’ll manage to be much more of a scorer for Milwaukee, but he doesn’t hurt in the bottom six.
Zach Solow | 22 | Northeastern Huskies [NCAA]; Chicago Wolves [AHL]; Florida Everblades [ECHL]
Solow was a player I thought Nashville should’ve targeted during college free agent season, and they obliged bringing him in on a try-out contract for the balance of the 2021 season. The 5’9” center excelled at Northeastern, and he carried that game over to the AHL rather flawlessly, scoring five points in 13 games with Chicago. To wrap up the season, Solow got the chance to skate in nine games for his hometown Florida Everblades.
RK: Solow only played in a few games at the end of Chicago’s season, but he’s certainly going to be an asset for the Admirals next season. I have very few complaints about his game, but his skating sometimes appears clunky when attempting to reach top speed.
ED: Like Rachel said, Solow isn’t the most technically sound skater or flashiest player, but his work ethic earned him a permanent role in the bottom-six for the Wolves and significant power-play and penalty-kill minutes. He’s got a good shooting arsenal too that will add a boost to Milwaukee’s bottom-six next season (the Admirals signed him to a one-year AHL contract).
Philip Tomasino | 20 | Chicago Wolves [AHL]
In 29 games, Tomasino led the Wolves in scoring with 13 goals and 32 points. He recorded 16.73 shot attempts per 60 minutes of even-strength ice time, including 5.38 from high-danger areas. Possession wise, Tomasino was one of the Wolves’ best forwards with a 56.0% Corsi rating at even-strength.
RK: Tomasino truthfully never looked out of place last season with the Wolves, although he did seem to hang out in the penalty box a little more than we’d have liked. He continued to show us how much he can dominate in the slot, and how unafraid he is to cross defenders into the middle of the ice. I’d argue that all facets of his game improved last season, and his time in maroon should only help him shoot for a full-time role with Nashville.
ED: COVID-19 forced a conversation that many have been clamoring to have for sometime: should the league amend the ‘20-year old’ rule in the NHL-CHL agreement? This season, a few players, including Tomasino, were driving that discussion due to their explosion onto the AHL scene. He’ll have a fast track to a full-time NHL roster spot next season.
Josh Wilkins | 24 | Tucson Roadrunners [ECHL]; Florida Everblades [ECHL]
Like Craggs, Wilkins just couldn’t find his footing in his second year in the AHL. Loaned to the Roadrunners alongside Carcone, Wilkins managed just three goals and five points in 25 games for Tucson. Nashville chose to move on as they did not qualify the Raleigh, North Carolina native.
Next year’s forward group is looking like an exciting mix of veteran scorers with plenty of AHL experience and higher-end prospects. The Admirals will welcome back top-six regulars like Tommy Novak, Michael McCarron, Anthony Richard, Rem Pitlick, and Cole Schneider, and they could get a boost from Olivier, Jeannot, or Tomasino depending on how training camp goes. Second-year players like Patrick Harper and Cole Smith will look to take another step alongside veterans like Matt Luff. Milwaukee has also signed Zach Solow, Mitch McLain, and Joseph LaBate to AHL contracts for depth, and we could see the North American pro debut of Egor Afanasyev (unless Nashville loans him back to the KHL).