Last year, Karl Taylor coached the Milwaukee Admirals to their first playoff series win in over a decade, defeating the Manitoba Moose three games to two. This year, Taylor — in his fifth season as coach of the Admirals — is excited about his significantly different roster: “Well, like the other 31 head coaches, we all think we’re really good today. It’s a long, long season as everybody knows, but we’re excited to start and start challenging our group.”
Milwaukee—who is staying in the Central Division in an expanded American Hockey League (AHL)—will face many familiar divisional foes this year in the Chicago Wolves, Grand Rapids Griffins, Iowa Wild, Manitoba Moose, Rockford IceHogs, and Texas Stars. The recipe for beating this group starts with what Taylor considers one of the best, if not the best, rosters he’s had in Milwaukee.
“Our depth in the American League this year is much better than last season starting out,” said Taylor. “It will change as the season goes on, but...this is the deepest group we’ve had here.”
Below, Karl Taylor walks me through his expectations for the 2022-23 Milwaukee Admirals.
That group consists of a handful of veteran players—many of whom stuck around in Nashville’s training camp the longest—including captain Cole Schneider. He heads into his fourth season in Milwaukee after scoring 30 goals and 60 points in 71 games last season, and will be joined by NHL veterans Mark Jankowski and Tim Schaller.
“The guys up front...it’s a pretty impressive group that has an opportunity to create options for Nashville,” said Taylor. “There’s a group of eight or nine guys that were the last few guys to come down. I think they’re all very close to making Nashville.”
Alongside the veterans, Milwaukee will look for scoring from an infusion of offensive talent in the way of Egor Afanasyev, Luke Evangelista, Juuso Pärssinen, and Philip Tomasino.
Tomasino’s reassignment to the AHL—after a full season in the NHL last year—has surprised and angered some fans. But Karl Taylor has very few concerns.
“Phil played in Chicago... that was... we like to call it the American League-lite because it was just much different that year, but he had a ton of success,” mused Taylor. “I was working with him in Chicago; I ran the power play there, so we had lots of discussions, and it was probably a perfect scenario for Phil to slide into the American League that was a little different that year.”
Taylor continued: “Phil’s a young man who’s in a great spot. He’s got a lot of swagger and a lot of confidence in his game. He still has it! He’s [just] gotta take a step back here and dig in with us.”
In terms of usage, expect Tomasino to see plenty of ice time. “We will definitely see a very motivated player... and we’re gonna use him in all situations,” said Taylor. “Phil’s a really good player; he’ll be a guy that pushes for 1,000 games in the NHL at some point, and you can pretty much put that in ink.”
The Admirals will also look for a big step up from forwards like Evangelista and Afanasyev—the latter who scored 33 points in his first 74 AHL games last season but struggled with his footspeed and body positioning.
“Egor is a big guy,” quipped Taylor. “We all talk about his shot and his offensive ability, but last year we worked with him to get more physical, to win more puck battles, [and] to play with a little more aggression in certain areas and go to the net a little firmer. He improved last year and this year in training camp, and he’s in the right place to improve his game.”
“We all saw it in the rookie tournament... he’s definitely an offensive threat,” added Taylor. “But Egor is a guy who is really focused on improving the areas he’s been asked to without letting go of the special qualities that he does have.”
In speaking about Juuso Pärssinen—who appeared in nine playoff games for Milwaukee last year—Karl Taylor emulated the excitement the entire fan base is feeling.
“I will say, if he’s here for a full season, I’ll be shocked. He’s very pro-ready, mature, and physical... everything he does is detailed,” declared Taylor. “He’s playing with pace, determination, maturity, and attention to detail that shows he’s trying to demand another opportunity to go back to Nashville. That’s great for the other players to be challenged by how he’s going about his business.”
Taylor finished by adding: “I love working with him... very intelligent young man and very determined to find his way back to Nashville.”
Down the middle, the Admirals will be anchored by AHL veterans like Jimmy Huntington and Tommy Novak. The latter, who split time between Nashville and Milwaukee last year, might be in a make-or-break season. Karl Taylor shared what more he needs to see from #17: “I want to see him set the pace. Novy’s a guy that likes to slow down the speed of the game sometimes, but I’m not talking about that. I want him to be the guy that leads the league in scoring; I want him to be the guy that just sets the pace for the whole team with how he prepares, how he plays, how he demands more from himself... all those areas.”
“He’s grown a lot over the years, but I think he’s still got room to go in that area,” said Taylor. “Once he adds all those intangibles, his elite skill and playmaking abilities will fulfill what we’re looking for [in] him and the opportunity for him to get another shot in Nashville.”
The Admirals’ forward group is rounded out by Jachym Kondelik, John Leonard, Navrin Mutter, Markus Nurmi, and Tommy Apap.
In keeping with the theme of roster turnover, Milwaukee has just one regular defender from last year’s roster back—Marc Del Gaizo—and expectations are high for the former UMass Minuteman.
When asked if Del Gaizo is ready to take on more of a leadership role, Karl Taylor was confident he’s already done so. “In training camp, he played great and did everything we asked. I think he’s growing into a leadership position... he got noticed in camp and opened some eyes up. So we’re going to rely on him and [he] will play in all situations.”
Del Gaizo is joined on the blue line by a trio of newcomers: Kevin Gravel, Jordan Gross (who led all AHL defenders in scoring last year), and Roland McKeown. The Admirals’ coaching staff will look to those three to fill the void left by the departures of Matt Donovan, Matt Tennyson, and Alex Biega, and each brings a different skill set to the game.
“Gravel is a big stay-at-home [defender] with a great stick and a very good reach,” added Karl Taylor. “You look at Gross as an elite power-play guy, but he’s a defender as well, and McKeown on the back end just does everything well.”
Milwaukee’s blue line will also feature some exceptional skating from the likes of Adam Wilsby and Spencer Stastney. Both got a small sample of the AHL last season, and Karl Taylor doesn’t see much downside to their games.
“There’s not a lot of bad,” he added. “There’s always going to be some adjustment for Wilsby to adjust from Europe, but he got a little bit of that in the playoffs last year and so did Stastney.”
Taylor continued on to gush about Stastney and agreed with me that he may be the best skater in Nashville’s pipeline: “They’re both really good skaters, but Stastney’s skating is elite. He skates himself out of trouble and recovers... I don’t know if I’ve seen a better skater. Both lateral movement, straight-ahead speed... [he’s got] very elite feet and very elite skating abilities.”
Taylor noted that Wilsby and Stastney will start the season paired together, and the blue line will be rounded out by Luke Prokop, Xavier Bouchard, and Keaton Thompson.
After losing Connor Ingram to the Coyotes and assigning Tomáš Vomáčka to the ECHL’s Norfolk Admirals, Milwaukee will go with Devin Cooley and first-round pick Yaroslav Askarov in-net. Expect a similar workload share to Ingram and Troy Grosenick’s platoon a few seasons ago.
“For a couple of years, we’ve just alternated the guys until they tell us not to with how they play,” said Taylor. “So I would anticipate us starting that way and seeing how it goes through ten games or eight games or whatever. But we’ll give them both an opportunity and see how it develops from there.”
2022-23 Season at Large
As noted above, Cole Schneider will serve as team captain again, but the coaching staff has not settled on the rest of the leadership group. Karl Taylor suggested they might pick four alternate captains and go with two at home games and two at away games.
In terms of an ECHL affiliation, Nashville is without a formal one, but Vomáčka and forward Todd Burgess have been loaded to Norfolk. Taylor added: “We’ll have to spread our wings a little more and have conversations with people, but we want to work with all [ECHL teams]. There are a lot of good players that... have been missed or didn’t get the opportunity... so we definitely want to just stay current on who’s doing what at that level.”
Milwaukee will suit up for 72 regular-season games (congruent across the league, unlike last year), beginning tomorrow night against the Chicago Wolves. The AHL will once again use an expanded playoff format with 23 qualifying teams, including five from the Central Division. The three highest-seeded Central Division teams will receive a first-round bye, and series will be structured as a best-of-three in round one, best-of-five in round two, and best-of-seven in rounds three and four.