The Nashville Predators are heading to their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise existence. Since joining the league in 1998 they have been affiliated with the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL and previously the IHL. (Milwaukee joined the AHL in the 2001/2002 season) The Admirals have been a very successful team, missing the playoffs only twice since joining the American Hockey League and winning the Calder Cup in 2004. Milwaukee also has five central division titles in their 15 years in the league. AHL team overall success is not always the best indicator of who has the best prospects (see 2012 Toronto Marlies, whos leading scorers were Mike Zigomanis and Ryan Hamilton) but in Milwaukee’s case, they have managed to find success with young players Nashville has drafted.
Milwaukee has produced several current players on the Nashville roster along with players around the NHL who have bounced around or have been traded. Nashville has been known for rushing their forwards into the National Hockey League and ruining their development. For example, Scottie Upshall was selected 6th overall by Nashville in 2002. He played two years of junior after that where he thrived with the Kamloops Blazers as an offensive player. After playing just 31 AHL games where he put up 24 points in his first year as a pro, Upshall was called up and struggled to find a spot in the lineup on most nights. He was bounced around between the AHL and NHL where he struggled to put it together. He was dealt to the flyers in the dreadful Peter Forsberg trade and began to find success in Philly. Colin Wilson is another example of this. After just 40 games of AHL experience where he put up 34 points he was called up. After being a great scorer in college Wilson has established himself as a second or third line guy who will give you 40 points at max. Keep in mind, I am not calling these players bad, I just feel like their development was mishandled and they could have been better. This also is the inner Leaf fan in me who has seen many prospects thrown to the wolves and never turned out to be anything.
It’s very clear that Nashville has learned from their mistakes of rushing forward prospects into the NHL. Viktor Arvidsson played an entire year of AHL hockey where he was outstanding in his rookie year where he played 70 games and put up 55 points. He started the next season in the AHL as well where he was over a point per game player and earned a fulltime NHL spot. Now he is Nashville’s top line right winger. Kevin Fiala began to find his groove as a top 6 forward before suffering a horrible injury in the playoffs. Colton Sissons played two and a half seasons in the AHL before becoming the Predators full time fourth line center. Pontus Aberg is also emerging after his 31 goal season in his thrid AHL season. Austin Watson has established himself as a great physical presence and penalty killer for Nashville. Vladislav Kamenev is also a young piece they have yet to rush into the NHL who has looked great in his two seasons in Milwaukee. Often times when teams call up players from their affiliate teams, they are slotted on the fourth line and don’t get that many minutes. This was the case with Arvidsson last season who worked his way up to be a top line player and was not thrown into the fire right away. In a few years we will be talking about Arvidsson as being one of the greatest NHL entry draft steals of all time. He was passed up until the fourth round after a 40 point season in the SHL.
Video Credit to the Milwaukee Admirals YouTube channel. Radio Broadcast by Aaron Sims.
One thing Nashville has always had going for them was their defensive development. Good lord, Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm are all products of Nashville. There are at least three number one defenseman in that category and two Norris candidates. All of them played for Milwaukee at some point in their career. Only Ryan Suter and Ryan Ellis were drafted in the first round out of those five guys. Josi and Weber were second round picks and Ekholm was a fourth rounder. Sometimes you can luck into a Roman Josi or Mattais Ekholm or even a Shea Weber, but to consistently develop top 4 defenseman found after the first round of the draft is something absolutely incredible.
It would be an insult to Pekka Rinne not to mention him in this as well. They basically backed into him selecting him in the EIGHTH round of the 2004 draft. He was great in his three years with the Admirals leading them to the Calder Cup final in 2006. Juuse Saros has also been a great backup for Nashville who came up through Milwaukee. Marek Mazanec has shown signs of being an NHL goalie but has not yet found the consistency he needs to stay in the league.
Nashville continues to find good young players in the draft. Vladislav Kamenev could be a great young player for Nashville in years to come. Alexandre Carrier had a great rookie season in the AHL as a defenseman. Trevor Murphy is also a good young undrafted defenseman to watch for coming out of Milwaukee. The Admirals have done a great job producing young pieces for Nashville and would not be having the success they are having without them.