by Jason Karnosky
It is not every day that a team is able to add a reigning league Most Valuable Player to their roster. It is certainly not every day that a team is able to add a league MVP directly from their archrival.
Yet, that is exactly what the Admirals were able to pull off last summer when the Nashville Predators signed forward Daniel Carr.
Coming off a 30-goal, 71-point season with the Chicago Wolves that earned Carr the American Hockey League’s top individual honor, the talented forward was looking for continued professional growth. Carr found that opportunity with the Admirals and Predators, and he has helped drive Milwaukee to AHL’s best record this season (41-14-5-3), prior to the league’s suspension of play due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The reason why I chose this organization was the opportunity that was available to me,” said Carr, who leads the Admirals with 23 goals and 50 points. “I’m playing in Milwaukee right now, but I’ve had a lot of opportunities here and with Nashville, and Nashville’s been really good to me. As a player there is not much else you could ask for.”
Admirals General Manager Scott Nichol was thrilled to add Carr to the Predators franchise, as he knew the undrafted scorer would be a valuable asset for the organization.
“Daniel’s been an AHL MVP, and just the skill set he brings as well as his work ethic are great assets,” Nichol said. “You look at his points, how he creates on the ice and how he scores, but he doesn’t lose too many loose puck battles. He’s always around the puck and he competes for space all over the ice. He goes to the hard areas.”
Carr, who had exactly 100 games of NHL experience on his resume before signing with the Predators, knew he had a chance to earn a spot in Nashville. After a terrific training camp in the Music City, Carr found himself wearing a Predators jersey to start the season.
The veteran forward played well in his first three-game stint with Nashville, but struggled to score.
“Three years ago when I played for Montreal I went on a 10-game point streak, but honestly I think I’ve played better this year for Nashville,” Carr said. “It is just one of those things where sometimes the puck goes in for you and sometimes it doesn’t. It just didn’t for me when I was up with the Predators.”
The result was a return to Milwaukee, where Carr continued his terrific AHL play from the season before. In his first 11 games of the 2019-20 season in an Admirals jersey, Carr produced a pair of two-goal performances. The first came in Milwaukee’s 6-4 win over Manitoba on November 6, 2019. The second came against Carr’s former squad in a memorable 6-3 Admirals victory over Chicago seven days later. To date, Carr has 11 points in 10 games against the Wolves.
Teammate Alexandre Carrier found it easy to play with Carr from the moment the play-making forward stepped on the ice in Milwaukee.
“It is easy to play with (Carr), because he sees the game so well and he doesn’t give the puck away as he always has it on his stick,” Carrier said. “You just have to always be an option for him, because he creates a ton of great plays.”
Admirals coach Karl Taylor was thrilled to add the talented scorer to his lineup, and relishes opportunity to coach Carr rather than facing the unenviable task of game planning against him. Less than a month into his first year as an AHL head coach with the Admirals, Taylor watched Carr bury four Chicago goals in a 5-3 Wolves victory over Milwaukee on November 7, 2018.
“To have the 2019 scoring leader and league MVP on our team was an outstanding opportunity for me as a coach,” said Taylor of Carr, who scored 14 points in eight games for Chicago against Milwaukee in 2018-19. “Daniel is a very good player, and he’s a fun player to coach because he expects to do well. He expects a lot out of himself and his teammates, and he raises the bar for everyone around him.”
As the Admirals rolled to a franchise record 13-game winning streak early in the season, Carr was in the midst of a goal-scoring barrage. During a stretch of games from October 29 to November 23, 2019, he scored 11 goals in 12 games.
That strong play earned Carr a second stint with the Predators, this time for an eight-game stretch. It was opportunity Taylor felt the 6-foot-0, 191-pound forward fully deserved.
“When Daniel’s got the puck he’s always advancing, and when he gets a scoring chance he just shoots it in the net,” Taylor said. “At this level when he gets two chances he is getting two goals. He’s a good finisher and he was red hot when he got called up.”
On the day of his promotion (November 25, 2019), Carr scored a memorable shootout winner in Nashville’s 3-2 win over St. Louis.
“It was a really cool experience to score that game winner, and to get that opportunity with Nashville,” said Carr, who later added his first goal as a Predator in a 6-4 win over New Jersey on December 7, 2019. “After overtime, then (Nashville) coach (Peter) Laviolette came up to me and said, ‘Hey Carrs, you are going fourth.’ I’ve always been pretty good at shootouts, but that was my first shootout opportunity at the NHL level.”
It was a shootout goal that his Milwaukee teammates saw coming, as it was a near-replica of a move that Carr scored on in three different occasions while wearing an Admirals jersey.
“I saw his goal in the shootout and I thought for sure he was going low mitt,” Carrier said. “That is exactly what happened and where he shot it in. It was a pretty (cool moment).”
Sandwiched between a couple of stints with the Predators, Carr has been racking up goals and points with Milwaukee. Prior to the AHL’s March 12 hiatus, Carr moved all the way up into a tie for 10th place in league scoring (50 points). He also ranks in the AHL’s top-15 in goals with 23.
His impressive offensive output this season is a continuation of his record of accomplishment as a professional. At the AHL level, which included stints in Hamilton, St. John’s, Laval and Chicago, Carr’s been almost a point-a-game performer (211 AHL points in 238 AHL contests).
Over the course of three NHL seasons (2015-18), the Sherwood Park, Alberta native scored 14 goals in 94 games with Montreal. Carr has since added a pair of goals in 17 combined NHL games with Vegas and Nashville.
“We thought with Daniel that if we had some injuries on our top two lines in Nashville, he’s an easy guy to call up and plug into our lineup,” Nichol said. “We’ve had Mikael Granlund and Viktor Arvidsson each out for a little while this year and Daniel’s gone in there and had an opportunity to play. He hasn’t produced as much as he’s wanted to, but he was very serviceable and played well.”
Prior to his professional career, Carr starred at Union College during the school’s high-water mark. Carr’s time with Dutchmen culminated in winning the school’s only national title in 2014. In addition, the Schenectady, New York school reached the Frozen Four for the first time in 2012, when Carr was playing alongside future Admirals teammate Troy Grosenick as a sophomore.
With Milwaukee Carr’s found terrific chemistry playing alongside forwards Cole Schneider and Tommy Novak.
“When Daniel first came down to Milwaukee, it took a couple of games for him to get going,” Taylor said. “We made a little line change and put him with Novak, and they kind of hit it off a little bit. Then we added Cole Schneider to that group and they really got running.”
The three forwards have been piling up the goals and points for the Admirals, and rank as the team’s top three scorers. Carr leads the electric trio, while Novak ranks third on his team with 42 points in 60 games. Schneider has 46 points in 54 contests.
“When you are playing so well like we have been as a line, you don’t need to change things up much,” said Schneider, who leads the Admirals with 28 assists. “It is a nice thing when you get going, and develop chemistry with the guys.”
Nichol knows that if Carr keeps producing the way he was producing in Milwaukee once hockey returns, another NHL shot may be in the cards.
“Daniel needs to keep playing well in Milwaukee, get his scoring touch back and force our hand to bring him back up,” Nichol said. “He’s a good player and a good leader, and that’s what we are going to need out of all of these guys going forward (once the season resumes).”
As for now Carr and the rest the league-leading Admirals will have to wait for their chance to return to action. Milwaukee’s last game before the AHL suspended play was a 6-1 win over San Antonio, where Carr recorded a goal and an assist.
That win meant the Admirals became the first AHL team to reach the 90-point plateau this season. Milwaukee carries the league’s only point percentage above .700 (.714), which means that Carr and the Admirals should be the Calder Cup favorites once play resumes.