In the age of COVID-19, AHL roster construction has become all the more important. Milwaukee Admirals General Manager Scott Nichol’s primary focus is developing Nashville’s draft picks, but he also has a responsibility to build a winning culture in Milwaukee. That involves surrounding the Predators’ pipeline with AHL veterans who solidify the team’s culture and top-of-the-lineup players who can serve as NHL depth when needed.
With a little more than a month to go in the AHL’s regular season, I took a look at what the Admirals’ roster looks like for next season and what holes Nichol will need to fill.
Signed: Grant Mismash, Cole Schneider (AHL), Egor Afanasyev, Mathieu Olivier, Navrin Mutter, and Michael McCarron
Restricted Free Agents (RFA): Cody Glass, Jimmy Huntington, Tommy Novak, Matt Luff, and Cole Smith
Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA): Mitch McLain (AHL), Joseph LaBate (AHL), Rocco Grimaldi, Graham Knott (AHL), Zach Solow (AHL), and Robert Carpenter (AHL)
Group Six Free Agents: Kole Sherwood and Brayden Burke
Potential Newcomers: Jachym Kondelik, Juuso Pärssinen, and Luke Evangelista
The forward group is filled with the most question marks for this team moving into next season. Nichol recently re-signed captain Cole Schneider to another AHL deal, and he’ll be in Milwaukee—anchoring the top six—until he retires. Olivier is a career AHL player but important in the team’s locker room. The coaching staff will expect Mismash and Afanasyev to take a step forward, and Navrin Mutter could add more edge to the team’s bottom-six (but he may start in the ECHL).
Given the competition in Nashville, I expect McCarron to start the year in Milwaukee, but that’s contingent on Cody Glass and Tommy Novak making the Preds’ roster out of training camp. I would be shocked if Matt Luff isn’t extended a qualifying offer, so does he edge McCarron out of the NHL, too? Jimmy Huntington and Cole Smith will be back. Brayden Burke and Kole Sherwood are more of question marks as Group Six free agents, but I don’t think Nashville will walk away from the former after acquiring him with just a month or so to go in the season.
On the UFA front, Rocco Grimaldi is undoubtedly gone. The rest of that group is all playing on AHL deals this year. Mitch McLain has been an important, versatile forward in all situations, and Graham Knott has been a pleasant surprise after starting the season on a tryout. I would bet Nichol wants to bring those two and Joseph LaBate back, which makes things difficult for Zach Solow and Robert Carpenter. I don’t think Carpenter will return; Solow has looked decent in his limited opportunities, but he’s maybe more of an ECHL player.
Provided he signs his entry-level contract (and I have no reason to expect he won’t), Jachym Kondelik will be in Milwaukee next year after finishing his collegiate career at the University of Connecticut. Juuso Pärssinen is expected to come over to North America although his recent concussion likely complicates any plans for him to join the Admirals in the playoffs this spring. Luke Evangelista will be old enough to leave the Ontario Hockey League, and he’ll add an electrifying scoring touch to the Milwaukee lineup.
Projected Depth Chart (16): Grant Mismash, Cole Schneider (AHL), Egor Afanasyev, Mathieu Olivier, Navrin Mutter, Michael McCarron, Jimmy Huntington, Jachym Kondelik, Cole Smith, Juuso Pärssinen, Luke Evangelista, Mitch McLain (AHL), Graham Knott (AHL), Joseph LaBate (AHL), Zach Solow (AHL), and Brayden Burke
Signed: Marc Del Gaizo and Matt Tennyson
RFAs: David Farranceand Jeremy Davies
UFAs: Josh Healey (AHL), Alex Biega, Matt Donovan (AHL), Dylan Blujus (AHL), Jake McLaughlin (AHL), Xavier Bouchard (AHL), and Stephen Desrocher (AHL)
Potential Newcomers: Luke Prokop, Adam Wilsby, and Spencer Stastney
On the blue line, I think the Admirals will look a bit different next season, but there is a clear path for most of these roster decisions. Del Gaizo and Tennyson will be back, and Nashville will re-sign David Farrance, too. Expect Jeremy Davies to make the jump to the NHL full-time.
If Matt Donovan doesn’t retire, Nichol will almost certainly re-sign him; much like Cole Schneider, he should retire as an Admiral. The team likes what Josh Healey brings to the lineup, so I would anticipate him re-signing as well. Blujus, McLaughlin, Bouchard, and Desrocher are depth pieces destined for the ECHL, so one or two of them may be back, but they are largely interchangeable.
Similar to Luke Evangelista, Luke Prokop will be eligible to jump to the AHL, and Spencer Stastney should join him if he signs his entry-level contract once Notre Dame’s season ends. I anticipate Nashville will get Adam Wilsby signed to a deal, as well, but I imagine he will be loaned back to the SHL for the 2022-23 campaign.
Projected Depth Chart (9): Marc Del Gaizo, Matt Tennyson, David Farrance, Matt Donovan (AHL), Josh Healey (AHL), Dylan Blujus (AHL), Luke Prokop, Spencer Stastney, and Jake McLaughlin (AHL).
Signed: Tomas Vomacka and Connor Ingram
RFAs: Devin Cooley
UFAs: Parker Gahagen (AHL)
Potential Newcomers: Yaroslav Askarov
The net will likely be an exciting, yet volatile, place for the Admirals next season. Connor Ingram will jump to the NHL to back up Juuse Saros, and Parker Gahagen may be back but just to start in Florida if there aren’t three goalies ahead of him on the depth chart.
That leaves the crease open to Tomas Vomacka, Devin Cooley, and (maybe) Yaroslav Askarov. I’m not sure either Vomacka or Cooley have proven they are ready to be an AHL starter yet, and I wouldn’t be completely shocked if Nashville doesn’t extend a qualifying offer to Cooley after the shaky year he’s had. If David Poile can get Askarov signed, it will be his crease to lose in Milwaukee next season.
Projected Depth Chart (3): Yaroslav Askarov, Tomas Vomacka, and Devin Cooley