Admirals Ready for the Taylor Era
by Jason Karnosky
The 2018-19 season marks a new era for the Admirals—the Karl Taylor era.
On June 29, 2018 Taylor became the 21st coach in Admirals history, replacing Dean Evason, who led Milwaukee to four playoff appearances in six seasons and stands as the franchise’s all-time American Hockey League (AHL) wins leader with 242 victories (242-161-29-24). In the offseason Evason joined Bruce Boudreau’s staff as an assistant coach with the Minnesota Wild.
Taylor came to Milwaukee after serving four years as an assistant coach with the Texas Stars, a prior year with Chicago as an assistant coach, and six years of running the Reading Royals and Ontario Reign of the ECHL.
“I’ve always had a soft spot for Milwaukee because Claude Noel is from North Bay, Ontario and I knew him well when he was coaching here,” said the 47-year-old Taylor, who hails from the same hometown as the Admirals coach from 2003-07. “Being part of Nashville’s organization, they have a history of loyalty and staying with people, and I’m looking forward to that relationship.”
Taylor arrives in the Brew City highly regarded, after helping Texas reach the Calder Cup finals last spring. Working under the tutelage of Derek Laxdal, the Stars compiled a 152-108-30-14 record during Taylor’s tenure in Austin.
“For four seasons, (Karl’s) been the only assistant coach on a Texas club that came within one game of a 2018 Calder Cup title,” Milwaukee General Manager Scott Nichol said. “He comes to us with a great coaching pedigree and fantastic communication skills across many different levels working with both veteran and young players.”
Taylor brought Greg Rallo with him from Texas to join his staff. Rallo moved into the coaching ranks after a 12-year professional playing career highlighted by 11 National Hockey League (NHL) games with the Florida Panthers over two seasons.
“(Karl) wants the team to play with pace,” said Rallo, who contributed 11 points in 29 games with the Stars last season. “He wants to move the puck and he wants to score a lot of goals. As a player it’s a fun system to play in, and you want to play for him.”
Taylor rounded out his staff by retaining longtime Admiral Scott Ford, who became an assistant coach under Evason in 2015-16.
Though Taylor may not be well known to most Admirals fans, he carries a reputation within hockey circles as an individual ready to lead his own squad. Taylor will attempt to put his mark on a Milwaukee organization that fostered the growth of future NHL coaches Noel, Kirk Muller, Peter Horachek and Todd Richards.
“Karl comes highly recommended to us with a diverse skillset to coach and develop players, and we are happy to promote him to a position where he will take care of our top prospects,” Predators General Manager David Poile said. “We always say the road to Nashville runs through Milwaukee, and we are confident that Karl will continue that legacy.”
Taylor’s goal for 2018-19 will be to return Milwaukee to playoffs, while ensuring his squad continues to develop players ready to take the ice for the Predators.
“Karl’s done a really good job of communicating and telling guys exactly what he wants,” Rallo said. “He’s given everyone a clean slate and is allowing the players the chance to show what they’ve got.”
The roster Taylor inherits will feature plenty of turnover from a squad that came just a couple wins shy of postseason play. The offensive group will be a bit younger, highlighted by Eeli Tolvanen.
The Predators 2017 first-round pick will start the season in Milwaukee after a 19-goal, 36-point campaign for Jokerit Helsinki of the KHL.
“There are a lot of things that know I have to improve on (this year), including my overall game and my defensive play,” said Tolvanen, who dressed for three games with Nashville last spring. “If I’m going to play up at the next level I need to produce on offense as well. I think those are the biggest things I need to focus right now on, as well as battle strength.”
Tolvanen will join a forward group that includes Emil Pettersson and Anthony Richard, Milwaukee’s highest returning scorers (46 and 36 points respectively, in 2017-18). Other familiar returnees include Yakov Trenin, Tyler Moy and Justin Kirkland.
Four veterans, Tyler Gaudet, Colin Blackwell, recently acquired Nick Baptiste and Connor Brickley, are poised to make an impact on the squad in 2018-19. In 2017-18 Gaudet contributed six points in 21 games for Milwaukee after he was acquired from Tucson midseason.
Blackwell excelled in Rochester last season, scoring 17 goals and 45 points. Baptiste split 2017-18 with the Americans and Buffalo, and put up 10 points in 47 games for the Sabres over the past two seasons. Brickley joins the Admirals after spending all of last year in NHL, picking up 12 points in 44 games for Florida.
Nashville’s top prospect defensemen, Alexandre Carrier, Frederic Allard and Joonas Lyytinen, should continue their development under Taylor. They will be joined on the blue line by a pair of veteran acquisitions, Brian Cooper and Jarred Tinordi, who played for San Diego and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, respectively last season.
“It’s my third year so I want to bring more confidence to my game and also show more leadership,” said Carrier, who has 10 goals and 67 points in his first two AHL seasons. “Last year didn’t go as well as we wanted it to, but now it’s a new year with new energy and new people.”
For the second straight year Milwaukee will start the season with goaltenders that spent the majority of the previous season with a different team. Even so, the Admirals should be in terrific hands with the pair of veterans they will feature in the crease—Troy Grosenick and Tom McCollum.
A Brookfield native Grosenick, who has seven games in an Admirals sweater on his resume after being picked up from San Jose at the trading deadline last season, is the team’s lone returning netminder.
“I’m really excited to be here,” said the 29-year-old, who went 3-4-0 last season for Milwaukee after being acquired. “Even before I was born my parents were season ticket holders, and I grew up watching the Admirals play at the Bradley Center. That’s what really got me to fall in love with the sport, and it was pretty cool to put that sweater on for the first time last year.”
If McCollum’s name sounds familiar, it should. The 28-year-old goalie spent the majority of his career in the Detroit organization, backstopping Milwaukee’s rival Grand Rapids. Last season the 2008 first-round pick posted a 20-14-2 record for the Griffins.
“There is a lot of talent here, more than I was expecting even from playing against them,” said McCollum, who won a Calder Cup with Grand Rapids in 2013 and has three games of NHL experience with the Red Wings. “I think we are going to have an extremely good team. The guys work very hard, and they’re fast, so it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The 41st season of Admirals hockey begins Saturday night (October 6) in Austin, in a game that will represent a homecoming for Taylor. Right off the opening faceoff against Texas Milwaukee’s new coach wants the Admirals to play an up-tempo, aggressive brand of hockey.
“We want to be a team that is exciting to watch, attacks with speed and moves the puck quickly,” Taylor said. “We want to be a team that makes other teams react to us. The Predators play an attacking style and we want to be similar to that. There might be a few wrinkles that I might add, but we want to set the pace, get after people and get them on their heels.”
Milwaukee’s first game at UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena is set for October 13 as Milwaukee hosts the Hershey Bears.
“It’s new every year, but this year it’s especially new with the new coaching staff, but I think it is a very good thing,” Carrier said. “We have an exciting group, so I think it’s going to be a fun year.”