Who's in Milwaukee (Defense Edition)?
Posted By: Aaron Sims
The last couple weeks I’ve posted my opinions as to which players we can expect to see in an Admirals uniform this season. We’ve covered the goalies and the forwards (add Chris Cahill to the forwards list), so now it’s time for the defensemen.
It has been well-documented that Nashville does well drafting defensemen. In the 14 drafts the team has taken part in
, a defenseman has been the club’s first pick five times and three of those have been named Ryan (Dan Hamhuis, Ryan Suter, Ryan Parent, Jonathan Blum & Ryan Ellis).
Kevin Klein, Shea Weber, Cody Franson, Teemu Laakso, Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm have also been drafted by the team. Each will have his name on the Predators lineup card (or has) at one time or another.
One should go to Laakso. He has been Mr. Steady for the Admirals the last few years and he just completed his first injury-free season. Laakso is a +34 in 162 games as an Admiral. He played 88 games in his first two seasons, missing significant time with injuries. Last year, he was a +15 in 74 games for the Ads. He also had the chance to put up some offensive numbers, posting a respectable 30 points. Admirals defrenseman Jeff Foss told me he tries to emulate Laakso in how hard he is to play against. Former Admirals head coach Lane Lambert remarked to me often about Laakso’s “nastiness” on the ice. Laakso will battle and has earned a promotion to Nashville. Predators President of Hockey Operations/General Manager & Alternate Governor David Poile has said as much
Barring a disastrous training camp, Roman Josi would appear to have an “in” for one of the two spots in Nashville. Josi had 40 points in 69 games for the Admirals last season and added seven points in the playoffs. Josi was a +4 in the postseason, but a -7 in the regular campaign. There’s no doubt he can dazzle with his puck-moving abilities. Everyone in Nashville is high on him and I think he will be promoted.
The last spot will be interesting. In my estimation, it’ll come down to one of three players: Brett Lebda, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis. Lebda is a veteran who’s played more than 300 games in the NHL. His presence would allow Nashville to let the kids play, whether in Nashville or Milwaukee.
Ekholm, I’m told, has an option in his contract allowing him to head back to Sweden if he doesn’t break camp with the Predators. Certainly, Nashville wants him to play. If he doesn’t break camp with the big club the team will have to convince him to play in Milwaukee. It’s easier to get to the NHL this season from Milwaukee than Sweden.
For being one of the greatest players in CHL history, Ellis is one of the most humble young men you’d ever talk to. I have yet to see an ounce of cockiness in my brief time with him. He’s so confident in his abilities that he’s cool. On Milwaukee Admirals Center Ice last night, Ellis said he’s hoping to break camp with Nashville, but if he doesn’t he’ll head to Milwaukee and work. It would’ve been easy for him to coast last year after being sent back to Windsor by Nashville. The Spitfires had a young team and Ellis had pretty much accomplished everything an individual could. All he did was lead his team deep into the playoffs and establish himself as one of the greatest in the history of Major Junior hockey.
I’m going to say, for the sake of the kids and the saying the Preds live by about the road to Nashville going through Milwaukee, Lebda remains in Nashville.
Again, it should be stressed that this is if the Predators do not add another defenseman to its roster. You could certainly see a waiver-wire transaction around training camp. Of the remaining free agents that seem fit for the NHL, the only one I’m jazzed about is Chris Campoli. Jordan Hendry
also intrigues me, if he can be ready some time this season after suffering an injury. Without further adieu, here’s who I think will be in Milwaukee this season:
Ekholm will need to be convinced to stay in North America. If Ekholm stays and the Predators add another defenseman, I would guess Aronson would go back to WHL Portland. I believe David Leaderer, who finished last season with the Admirals, will sign with the team, too.
I’d like to see the team add another rugged defenseman to take some of the load away from Scott Ford. Nashville was dealing with a couple defensemen that fit the bill, but those players elected to sign elsewhere this offseason.
There’s a lot of unknown in this group. Resumes are impressive for each of these players, but, aside from Ford, there are only 31 games of regular-season AHL experience and seven AHL playoff games in the entire group. Leaderer has played 212 games in the ECHL.
Compare this list to last season’s and experience is severely lacking. With Aaron Johnson, Brett Palin, Grant Lewis, Blum, Ford and Laakso, the Admirals boasted one of, if not the most experienced d-corps in the AHL.
Assistant coach Ian Herbers is an excellent teacher and he will have some good young players to work with this season.
This league is all about giving guys a chance. Still, I’m hoping another veteran is added to the mix in Milwaukee.
Nashville finally signed Madison native Craig Smith today after it was announced a couple weeks ago by the University of Wisconsin that Smith was turning pro. Smith was the star of a conference call earlier today. He said the decision to turn pro was not an overnight decision and he had sought counsel from a number of people (parents, coaches, former teammates including Blake Geoffrion). He explained he made a “Pros and Cons” list. He was offered the chance to turn pro at the end of the Badgers season but turned it down because he felt he still had things he wanted to accomplish at Wisconsin. However, he starred for Team USA at the World Championships in May. Smith was named one of Team USA’s three best players of the tournament after leading the team in goals (3) and ranking second in points (6) in seven tournament games. He termed that experience an “eye-opener” and a “confidence-booster”. He then went to Nashville for developmental camp and said he felt like a veteran. After the camp, the opportunity to turn pro presented itself again and Smith, after a lot of thought, made the decision to move up. He credited UW coach Mike Eaves for making him aware of the little details in the game the last couple years. He also praised his USHL Waterloo head coach, P.K. O’Handley. O’Handley, said Smith, “taught me how to conduct myself in a professional manner.” Smith said O’Handley was very hard on him but Smith was thankful for it.
Oh, I’m making it my goal to help Admirals goalie Jeremy Smith
get to 1000 followers on Twitter. Since I embarked on this journey, he’s added seven (yes, seven) followers. Please help by clicking on his name and following him. If you’re not on Twitter, you should be. You don’t have to write stuff, just follow some news-y type people/organizations. It’s a great way to get information quickly. (Follow me, too